I just finished reading Jane Eyre and wanted to record my impressions and thoughts about it. When I began, I thought I was going to hate the book because I had seen trailers for the movie (I had never seen the movie) and also knew the basic plot. When watching movies or reading books, I tend to hold grudges against the male characters. As a kid, I always rooted against Jasmine giving Aladdin another chance after his lies, I was disappointed in Belle for falling for the Beast after he kidnapped her. I also remember enjoying Pride and Prejudice up until the point where Elizabeth has a change of heart towards Mr. Darcy… for me, it went downhill from there. Anyways, I knew before beginning the novel that Mr. Rochester would give me plenty of reasons to dislike him (hiding his lunatic wife in his mansion, injudiciously marrying her in the first place, tricking Jane into almost marrying him, etc.) and I knew Jane Eyre ends up with him, so I was expecting to be disappointed by this story. I decided to read it nonetheless because it’s a classic and I had the book on hand. I was pleasantly surprised by the novel and ended up really loving it and the author, Charlotte Bronte.
I think had the novel simply revolved around the romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester, I would have been correct in my assumption that I would dislike the novel. However, the story was about Jane, her character, passions, strength, determination and beliefs. I was super excited to see some incredibly strong and brave feminism in this mid-1800’s novel. Though she was a poor, unconnected, orphan girl Jane saw herself as an equal to the men around her, even those in positions of power. She also succeeded in helping them see her as an equal through her strength of will, wit, wisdom and character. She points out, multiple times, how women are equally as intelligent as men and should have the same opportunities. “Women are supposed to be calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow- minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.” She also refused to be controlled by men, “I am no bird and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”
I also love the theology contained in this book. When Jane is a young girl at Lowood, Mr. Brocklehurst teaches a rigid stoicism that rejects natural bodily desires such as hunger, the desire for warmth, the desire for affection, etc. He teaches these bodily desires are evil and should be repressed in order to purify and save the soul. Similarly, St. John believed that his desire to marry a woman he loved and his physical attraction to her was an evil weakness that he must overcome. These men believed in a cold God who despised all human pleasure and was only pleased by a self-flagellating type attitude in humans.
Jane however, did not buy into this belief about God. She desired to enjoy life and its rich pleasures such as food, friendship, family, romantic love and marriage. She however did not pursue pleasure at the cost of righteousness. When faced with the temptation to marry Mr. Rochester, despite him already having a wife, she chose to deny herself for the sake of doing what was right. “I care for myself. I respect myself. I will keep the law given by God sanctioned by man. I will hold fast to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad- as I am now. Laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour.” However, when it was good and lawful for her to marry Mr. Rochester, she did and enjoyed his love.
Where Mr. Brocklehurst and St. John rejected all emotions and passions as evil, Jane had the wisdom to know when to abstain from indulging in a passion and when it was good to do so and to enjoy it. Bronte planted much wisdom about emotions and God in this story. I think one of her points was to show that emotions are not evils that should be shunned, nor are they a license to do whatever you feel. Instead, you must do good regardless of your emotions, but when good and your emotions are in sync, then embrace and enjoy them. Jane was truly happiest when she did both what her heart desired and what was right in God’s eyes. This reminds me that God gives us passions and desires for His glory and gives us the freedom to pursue those desires. When we do so within the limits of his law, then we are happiest and what once seemed like limits to us we actually discover are enablers of true freedom and happiness.
I loved seeing this theme so prevalent in this novel, because it hits very close to home for me. Over the past few years, I have been learning that I do not need to feel ashamed or embarrassed about my emotions or desires. I cannot easily change them and it does me no good to try to repress them; however, I do not need to be controlled by them. Also, I have recently been noticing a belief among some people that emotions and intelligence are mutually exclusive. That is, if you feel strong emotions, then you cannot think clearly or act judiciously. This is absolutely false and Bronte illustrates in Jane how a person is able to both feel very strongly and still act rightly. “Crying does not indicate that you are weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.”
Anyways, I absolutely loved this book and could go on about different themes and bits of wisdom and humor, but this is enough for now!
“I would always rather be happy than dignified” — Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre