Sunday, December 7, 2008

What I learned from Jane

I don't know about you but I really enjoyed Jane Eyre.

First if all I must admit that it started totally different than I expected. All I had ever heard about Jane Eyre was that it was a good book and that Jane and Mr. Rochester was someone's favorite couple. So I almost expected another Pride and Prejudice type of book. So when it started off with Jane as a child, and a severely mistreated on at that, I was immediately sucked in. I wanted to know how she would over come these hardships.

I thought that school was the answer to those questions when it was first mentioned. Then she got to school and I found one more thing that she would have to overcome.

I fell in love with Helen and I think that she deserves to be Sainted.

I was very impressed with how Charlotte wrote in a way that you understood why Jane felt the way she did. When she had been a short time at Thornfield and was feeling bored and like there was so much more to the world. I remember thinking that I would just be happy to not be at Lowood anymore. When she started wanting to leave I thought, "Oh, be careful what you wish for." But I understood how Gateshead and Lowood, were all she had known and she wanted to see more.

I also like how she was so comfortable with Mr. Rochester when he mistreated her. I thought it was true to the character of Jane.

I liked the mystery part of the book. I've always liked mysteries but not the blood and gore kind, which seems to be all that is put out anymore. So I was dying to know why Mrs. Poole was allowed to stay. And why Mrs. Fairfax wasn't happy about Jane's and Mr. Rochester's engagement.

I was very upset with Mrs. Fairfax telling her to act differently. I thought THAT would cause wedding problems.

When the wedding day arrived, my heart broke when the wedding was interrupted. I couldn't believe that it was all being taken away from her. I wanted to scream at the book. "It's not fair, she survived such a rotten childhood! Where is her happy ending?"

I was amazed at her composure. She had never asked questions about Mrs. Poole or Mr. Mason, she just followed along. She treated her cousins and Aunts so civilly when she went back there and then, when her world crashed down around her, she kept her cool and listened to him. I could not have done that. I'd have lost it.

I also ached with her in her decision to leave. I knew she had to, I knew I would have to if it were me. But I would have wanted to stay as much as she did.

I instantly feel in love with the people of Moors Head. Especially the caring sisters. I liked how she took on Morton School and I loved how blunt and open she could be with Mr. Rivers. St. John never totally won over my feeling though and when he asked her to marry him I was incredibly angry. When she actually considered it I worried and when she said,"No." cheered. Yes, I literally squealed "Yeah!"

When she found Mr. Rochester after finding out about Thornfield I couldn't have been happier. I truly thought that he needed a happily ever after as much as she did. And I was so excited that they did get it, but in the right way. Patience is a virtue for a reason I guess.

This is definitely up there on my list of favorites now. I really did love it, especially the religious tone of the book.

As soon as I finished it I remembered how Mrs. Brooke had said she had hated it in High School and I thought, "I probably wouldn't have liked it as much then either." It definitely is a book that I think you like better as an adult. As a kid without many life experiences, I think I wouldn't have forgiven Edward for lying. I would have been upset that she was once again thrown into terrible experiences that she had nothing to do with. But as an adult, I understood that life is full of things we have no control over, except how we handle them. I admired her strength and I revealed in her ability to move on. And even though Mr. Rochester had been disfigured, I still saw it as a "happily ever after" ending, and appreciated the unconditional love even more. It's amazing how much you change over the course of your life isn't it.

(You all have my apologies for being late posting this month. The holiday preparations got away from me a bit. I have copy and pasted Sharon's comments from Jane Eyre in the comments, since she did it on time a couple of days ago.)


Anonymous said...

I apologize if this isn't where you intended our -Jane Eyre- thoughts to go.

The last time I read -Jane Eyre- I remember I thought it was too contrived. All the little incidences of Jane’s uncle, her ending up in Morton where her cousins happened to live, etc. But this time I appreciated them as Charlotte Bronte not only wove a story together but intended, I believe, to show us the mystery of how God works in our lives.

There were a couple of things I found hard to believe other than they fit the author’s purpose. One was where Mr. Lloyd asks Jane what makes her miserable and Jane can hardly form an answer, yet in just 3 months time, by the end of the next chapter, Jane is able to give Mrs. Reed quite an earful. Jane has no difficulty from then on out forming those “round and ready” answers that Mr. Rochester so appreciated. Also, Mr. Rochester, from the beginning of his relationship with Jane, is brusque and can’t remember his manners, or “civilities”, at all. Yet with Blanche Ingram he is sickeningly charming.

I thoroughly enjoyed the humor of Charlotte Bronte’s writing. I don’t recall that I noted before in Blanche Ingram’s exclamations as she’s “rattling away” on the piano that basically she says, “You’re old and ugly but I’ll still marry you because you have money and I’ll still be beautiful.” OK, my paraphrase, but Bronte is surely mocking the transparency of the artifices of the desperate husband hunters like Blanche. And so many of the conversations between both Jane and Mr. Rochester and Jane and St. John are wonderfully entertaining. I marked (the only one of the lot of us, I know, who so desecrates their books!) several exchanges with smiley faces or “HaHa”.

I thought this time too of how similar Mr. Rochester and St. John were. They both wanted Jane for their own purposes and used self-justification and manipulation to achieve their desired ends. Mr. Rochester so justified for himself that he didn’t have a “wife” that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, consider how horrified Jane would be to find herself in a bigamous marriage. St. John’s self-justifications and manipulations were more sinister because they were done in the name of God. To violate his desires, which he believed to be God’s will, was to violate God’s will! (What do I ever so carefully justify until I can no longer concede that it is only my own peculiar way of thinking or seeing? Humility is in great demand!)

Today’s lottery winners or Home Makeover winners rarely react as Jane did to her inheritance. Jane’s very sober spirit is one reason I like her. She sees herself living before God and in that position, added money brings added responsibility. Her instantaneous decision to split the inheritance with her cousins is a joy and a relief to her. And as she throws herself into home preparations for her family, I am reminded of the joy and privilege of “keeping house” for my family, that I all too often take for granted.

There are many other ideas I noted this time around but I want to focus on what I enjoy and appreciate and am most encouraged by in -Jane Eyre- and that is Jane’s faith. My impression from reading Jane Austen’s works is that for most people, then as now, their religious ideas touched their daily lives very little. I believe, as a clergyman’s daughter, Charlotte Bronte could not leave out of her personal romantic fantasy, which is what I see -Jane Eyre- being, her faith in God. For the fantasy to feel real it had to include not only the desires of her flesh but also the desires of her spirit.

Early in the novel Charlotte Bronte uses the character of Mr. Brocklehurst to expose a common technique, still used, of getting souls into heaven by frightening them away from hell. Jane simply needs to be a “good little child” by believing and obeying whatever is told her. This is to “be good” and avoid hell and so get into heaven. Mr. Brocklehurst is the Pharisee who ties up burdens for others to carry and doesn’t give any aid in carrying them. Jane and the others at Lowood are to be humble and modest. Of course, this does not apply to Mr. Brocklehurst’s own family.

But it is at Lowood that Jane meets Helen Burns who “considered things by a light invisible to” Jane’s eyes. She tells Jane to “Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how he acts; make his word your rule, and his conduct your example.” She demonstrates for Jane how to endure, how to do good to those that hate you. She teaches Jane to see that not only others have faults but she does too. Helen Burns makes Christ’s love for Jane real by loving her. I am thinking especially of when Helen contrived to walk past Jane, twice, while Jane was perched aloft in humiliation and again after her punishment ended when Helen came and brought Jane food and consoled her. Helen teaches Jane the secret of being led by the Holy Spirit when she tells her to live so that her own conscience approves her, regardless of what others say about her. She teaches Jane that God is someone to run toward, to anticipate meeting with happiness; “God is my father; God is my friend; I love him; I believe he loves me.”

This friend and father God is the one Jane thanks upon her safe arrival at Thornfield Hall. And it is before this God that Jane forms her “round and ready” answers. She does not speak flippantly. Jane points Mr. Rochester toward God just as Helen had pointed her a few years before. “Sir, a wanderer’s repose or a sinner’s reformation should never depend on a fellow-creature. Men and women die; philosophers falter in wisdom, and Christian’s in goodness: if any one you know has suffered and erred, let him look higher than his equals for strength to amend, and solace to heal.” And it is before this God that Jane is willing to die quietly on the Rivers doorstep, accepting whatever is God’s will.

I see again, when Jane returns to Gateshead at the end of Mrs. Reed’s life, Jane is spiritually sober, wondering at what will become of Mrs. Reed’s spirit after her death. She ponders this eternal mystery and recalls Helen Burn’s faith at her death and also her “doctrine of the equality of disembodied souls.” Jane later expresses these thoughts, very passionately, to Mr. Rochester, “it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal, - as we are!”

Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte both comment upon the subject of women and marriage. Both, I believe, long for freedom and equality. It seems to me that Austen based her reasons for women’s equality upon the intellect and integrity and character of the women themselves. Bronte based her reasons for women’s equality on their position with men before God into eternity. I believe Bronte makes the stronger case.

I know, from -The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English-, that -Jane Eyre- was shocking in its day. I think perhaps this clear breaking with traditional barriers based on an equal position before God was a major reason for its having seemed written by “an alien…from society [who was] amenable to none of its laws.” (By reviewer Anne Mozley, 1853)

In Jane’s relationship with St. John I believe there are many contrasts between the religious life of duty and obligation that doesn’t bring any peace with God and the faithful life of love and joy and peace and all the other fruit of the Spirit…not the fruit of man’s own efforts but the fruit of God’s Spirit within us. And how often do church leaders, in their own desire to have a task done, declare themselves to be speaking for God, placing themselves between us and God, rather than directing us toward God? Jane, by contrast, is a good example of a “lay” person trusting that she can have a relationship with God and talk to Him and hear from Him in her spirit.

I’ll wrap up. I loved Mr. Rochester’s conversion, by the way.

Charlotte Bronte ends -Jane Eyre- with “Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!”, the next to last verse of Revelation. Bronte has written a tale of love, a romance, but she is always reminding us that this world is not our home. We live before God. She reminds us to keep the tragedies and joys of this life in an eternal perspective. She also reminds us that God is a loving Father who works in and blesses the lives of his children, even here on earth.

I still love this novel!

Sharon in KY

Shimmy Mom said...

Sharon, first of all thank you for being on time, even though I wasn't.

I agree with all your thoughts. Especially your points about how many justify their actions and learning to question ourselves if we are doing that.

I too loved how Jane handled her inheritance!

And the religious substance really is what made the book for me. So many lessons were taught in this book. I took so much away from this beautiful story. And like I said this is now one of my favorite books.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for moving my comments.

Absolutely NO apology necessary for not having your comments in on Day 1. I'm just thrilled to read your excitement and suspense and anger and joy through your first-time experience with this book. I am envious. Yes, I still love -Jane Eyre-, but I'll never again have the "first-time" thrill for myself.

Having read the story before, I interpreted Mrs. Fairfax's cool reception of Jane's engagement as her knowing about an existing Mrs. Rochester but not being willing to betray her "master". But in Chapter 27 where Mr. Rochester is telling Jane all about his wife, he says, "At last I hired Grace Poole, from the Grimsby Retreat. She and the surgeon, Carter (who dressed Mason's wounds that night he was stabbed and worried), are the only two I have ever admitted to my confidence. Mrs. Fairfax may indeed have suspected something; but she could have gained no precise knowledge as to facts." Bronte never says, but Mrs. Fairfax's suspicions, like the suspicions of others, may have been that G. Poole looked after an insane sister. When Mrs. F. says to Jane, "Gentlemen in his station are not accustomed to marry their governesses", I believe she is expressing the honest reaction of the readers of the day.

This was a shocking novel when it was written. From the Anthology I mentioned earlier, I also read this quote by reviewer Elizabeth Rigney, written in 1848: "Jane Eyre is throughout the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined spirit." I think the readers of her day were a bit like Jonah not wanting to take God's message to Nineveh because he personally didn't like the Ninevites. The readers of Bronte's day didn't like a person of low station ending up with all the high station "goodies". I think they resented Jane's "happily ever after".

Ah, and like you, I definately see -Jane Eyre- as having a happily ever after, though not the sugar-coated fairytale kind. The Rochesters' marriage is more deeply satisfying for all the suffering, for all the looking to God rather than to each other for their "heaven", that preceded their coming together.

Sharon in KY

Amy said...

I read Jane Eyre in high school, but I really didn't appreciate it back then. It was for AP English, so there was a lot of homework involved, and I think I focused more on that. Also, my husband and I were in the musical in college. I got to play Miss Scatcherd (somehow I always get the mean characters) and my husband was the Priest who is going to marry Jane and Rochester the first time. We also had numerous ensemble roles. Anyway, neither of us really enjoyed the show all that much and Jane Eyre being a classic has always been kind of a joke to us.

Well, I must admit to a huge change of heart! This book is now in the top of my favorites! I don't think I was mature enough to understand the lessons taught in this book, during my previous experiences with it. I also read books in a different way now. I focus more on what I can learn from any book I am reading. I love to mark quotes that stand out to me and make an impression, and this book had a ton of markers in it! I checked it out from the library, but I definitely need to buy this book now. :)

I find Jane such a wonderful example. She's a selfless, humble person who sticks up for her morals. She had a difficult childhood, but she learned a really important lesson from Helen. A lot of it is summed up when Helen tells her, "It is far better to endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you." I think Jane really took that lesson to heart, because she becomes a very humble and compassionate person.
I was impressed with her choice to leave Thornfield. She could have easily stayed with Rochester and lived a life of luxury and love but she knew that it was wrong. She was able to walk away, and leave everything behind. She knew if she stayed any longer that it would be too hard to leave. She wanted to be able to respect herself, even if that meant she would be solitary and friendless.

You learn a lesson from Mr. Rochester that you shouldn't be so quick to judge a person's character. He married Bertha quickly and recklessly without really knowing her and her family. Even before he knew she was crazy, he didn't like her. It would be so sad to be stuck in a marriage of that sort. Before you make a commitment of that magnitude, you should make sure that you know the person who is going to become your spouse. He is also to be admired for taking care of her. Sure, he kept his wife a secret, but he says that he would never physically hurt her, and he made sure that she was taken care of.

Mrs. Reed is such a sad character. She had such hate for Jane, simply because her husband was found of her as a baby. As she said though, the things that we don't worry about in health, seem to plague us on our death bed. I found it interesting that she didn't consider Jane a blood relative. I mean, sure she wasn't related to her, but she was related to her children. She obviously regretted her previous behavior in her last hours.

I was glad that Jane didn't want to settle for a loveless marriage with St. John, although she was pretty close to giving in before she heard that fateful "Jane! Jane! Jane!" on the wind. She admitted that she would probably grow to love him if they got married, but he wouldn't want that. John seems like a good guy, but he has his weaknesses too. He's so obsessed with his "higher calling" that he doesn't always think of the little people. I liked when Jane said "it would be folly for the feeble to wish to march with the strong." She didn't feel that stirring or prompting to serve as a missionary. I think that is really important. We all have different abilities and gifts, some people can touch and affect large numbers of people, but others are meant to influence those close around them.

Jane was a pretty independent woman, full of integrity and honesty. That would have been hard in her situation and class in society when she had nothing. I think the separation of Jane and Rochester was necessary. Jane was able to find her cousins and help the kids at the Morton school. Mr. Rochester learns that God has a larger view of the world, He "judges not as man judges." It was good to see him acknowledge God's hand in his life, even through his tragedies - he was eventually able to feel remorse and a desire for repentance. He humbled himself greatly through his infirmities. When Jane comes back, they are both in a much better place to make the most of their love and relationship.

Shimmy Mom said...

Thank you Amy, I agree completely!! And I'm very glad that you were able to enjoy it this time around.

Anonymous said...


I enjoyed hearing of your previous experiences with Jane Eyre. I also liked the way you said that you read books differently now, judging them by the lessons they offer you personally. I agree totally. From K-12 to college to Sunday School, I learned to study for the sake of giving correct answers to a teacher. Not anymore. Now I read looking for what interests me, what offends me, etc. and try to understand WHY I'm encouraged or repulsed. Has this opinion of mine been formed by God, by my studies of the Bible, or what? I am learning far more about myself and far more about God this way...and it is far more interesting because it always applies to my relationships...with God, with things, with time, with people, with goverment, etc.

I also liked the lesson you saw in Mr. Rochester's impulsive choice of a wife. Should my son or daughter read this book while still at home that will be a very good lesson to highlight.

Your thoughts on Mr. Rochester reminded me that I did notice and appreciate about him the high value he set on life. He never hurt or abused his wife and he risked his own life to rescue the servants and Bertha from the Thornfield fire. How sad that today many are willing to destroy their own unborn child because it is an inconvenience. Certainly, Bertha inconvenienced Mr. Rochester in a number of ways. And though he justified marrying Jane with a Mrs. Rochester already in existence, he never justified the taking of that Mrs. Rochester's life.

Sharon in KY