Ok, so, I’ve been thinking about my Jane Eyre post yesterday, and I think I was being a little (ok, a lot) self-righteous. Sorry. Sometimes I’m a jerk like that. Please don’t take it out on Jane Eyre.
What I wanted to say is that I think the story of Jane Eyre communicates essential truths about independence and the freedom we find through acting with integrity. I know that’s not what I said, exactly, so I’m saying it now. Consider, if you’ve read the novel, how different characters in the novel function in regard to freedom: Rochester, first bound by his dissipation, his family’s obsession with wealth, his own twisted morality, then freed through humility; St. John Rivers, imprisoned by his own over-reaching standards; Helen Burns, totally free both before and after her death because of her humility towards her Maker; and OH MY GOODNESS, THERE’S A WOMAN LOCKED IN THE ATTIC. Many critics have compared Jane and Bertha Mason Rochester in a postcolonial feminist sense — Jane is a good white girl and Bertha is the hypersexual Other — which is certainly a productive and interesting line of thought. Considering Bertha’s position thematically, though, in regard to freedom, we see that Bertha is imprisoned not just by her race or her gender, but also by her madness and her social position — rather like Rochester himself. These different characters’ relation to freedom or bondage highlights Jane’s own lifelong quest to maintain her moral independence, that is, her integrity, despite economic and social constraints. Jane doesn’t know that she’ll ultimately be rewarded for her integrity (except, perhaps, in Heaven); she can’t flip to the end of the book. All she sees is the moment ahead of her, and a choice: stay at Lowood or go? Marry Rochester or not? Beg or starve? Teach again or not? Marry Rivers or not? And so forth. Jane chooses consistently to act in accordance with her conscience, regardless of how it pains her emotionally. Jane Eyre is a novel about Jane’s growth from a passionate, dependent child to a passionate, independent woman.
There are lots of other interesting questions to ask about this novel. Bronte’s position on religion alone could fill at least one book. The fact that there’s so much to say indicates that it’s great Literature. I think it’s a fun read also (again THERE’S A WOMAN LOCKED IN THE ATTIC! So many plot twists!), but I can (reluctantly) accept it if you don’t. You know who I don’t like to read? Ben Jonson. And he says lots of important stuff, too. But I’m not going to say he’s a terrible writer, because he isn’t. Give Jane Eyre a chance, won’t you? And do let me know if you see anything you like.