Friday, February 6, 2015

Jane Eyre:Part 3, a Heroine We Admire

"What do I want? A new place, in a new house, amongst new faces under new circumstances . . . How do people do to get to a new place? They apply to friends, I suppose. I have no friends. There are many others who have no friends, who must look about for themselves and be their own helpers." Jane Eyre, Chapter Ten

When I first discovered Jane Eyre, I felt sad, very sad, for the main character of the book, Jane.
Her story is quite depressing when you read the first few chapters. She's an orphan in the care of her aunt. The aunt is a widow, and is wealthy. Auntie had three children of her own, so Jane is more burden than delight.

In this household, it seems little Jane is despised by all. The mistress, the servants, and the children she is raised with. It's a desolate beginning. But if you endure the first chapters, with Jane being sent to the awful school where she is badly treated, finds one friend--who dies--if you endure ten chapters of that, you get to her ah-ha moment when Jane decides as a young adult to take charge of her own life. This is when the story really gets started!

Note, it was the fashion of writers in the mid-nineteenth century to give incredible details of a character's life, including childhood events that shaped them. In our modern era, novels tend to cut to the chase--or get to the point of change and give flashbacks into the character's childhood to relay events that shaped them for the story needs. But Charlotte Bronte was a 19th century author, so her story includes a lot of back matter in the beginning.)

Jane decides to put an advertisement in the newspaper to secure a teaching position as a governess. She could have stayed at the desolate school where she spent half her childhood, (She's now a teacher there), but her soul hungered for something more. Her situation was severe, as she states above she has no friends to rely on for aid in finding a new job, and no family. 

She takes a scary step for a woman in her position, and is rewarded for her efforts!  A letter arrives offering her a position at Thornfield Hall to be a governess for a girl of less than 10 years old. Joy! A new adventure, a new life away from the dreary school and the bitter memories that must haunt Jane there.

She sets off on this new adventure, unaware that she's about to meet fate, literally in the middle of the road on a dark night. Mr. Rochester, who nearly runs her over with his horse, is her destiny. She took action, something that was difficult for a single woman in 19th century England to do, and set in motion events that would change her destiny. Because of her courage to do this, to not remain a frightened little mouse her aunt and the school tried to make her be, she will have a better life then the one designed for her by others. That takes an incredible amount of courage, in any age.

Jane has a fascination for her employer. He's dark, distant, but has moments where he reveals a hidden charm. He's got his own dark problems (see previous post), but he seems to see something in her that attracts him. Though he is harsh at times, and seems to live to vex her, she never lets him truly bully her. Jane is admirable as a heroine, or protagonist if you prefer the word, because she rises above the bullying of her youth, and has developed a strong sense of self that cannot be destroyed.

Think about it, she had no friends, and no family who cared as she grew up. She learned to become self reliant, to stand alone and to stand strong. She's a survivor, not a victim. A Survivor! That is what sets her apart and makes her the heroine for 19th century female readers. She doesn't settle for the life that was laid out for her, she tries to make her own choices and resists the manipulations of those who would make her into something she is not.
Ah, ha--that's it! She Resists the Manipulations of others---

After the wrecked wedding scene, where Jane learns her beloved already has a crazy wife in the attic and cannot legally marry her, she runs off into the wilderness. She's taken in by a family; a brother and two sisters who are very religious. They care for her, and show her kindness. The brother, Sinjun (St. John), decides she'd make a perfect missionary wife, and sets out to convince her that her destiny is to marry him and go to India with him. If she didn't have the backbone she does, she might have been bamboozled into this. After all, she has no real prospects for a future.

Sure, Sinjun managed to get her a teaching position in his area as a favor, so she could be self sufficient (note she's still trying to earn her own way and not rely on others!), but he's still just trying to play her and convince her that what HE wants is what she wants, too. He even uses guilt, citing it's God's will for her to join him in India---Oh Boy! I don't know about you, but I'm thinking this dude is going to make one dreary husband for our heroine. His offer is noble, but ...... no..... just NO!

Thankfully, Jane has the inner strength, despite her lonely situation and lack of supporters, to stand up for her own wishes, and not be brow beaten (however kindly and gently Sinjun does this), to fit into someone elses idea of what her role or calling in life is. Brilliant, isn't it. Women everywhere are cheering for Jane. She could have just given in to Sinjun, and endured a loveless marriage bound by duty--even duty to God that was placed on her shoulders (missionary work), by someone else.  Jane came close to giving in, it was hard not to with Sinjun's persuasive abilities. But then her dreams started. She kept hearing Mr. Rochester crying out for her in her dreams.

This makes her realize she needs to find him, Mr. Rochester! Even if he's still married, she at least needs to find out if he's well, as her dreams are frightening her.  Plucky girl. Really, she could have just married the other guy, went to India, and let Mr. R. be a beautiful yet tragic dream in her past life. Many women would have done just that. No, Jane sets off to find him, and she is rewarded for her courage and stamina--she does find her true love, her destiny is with Mr. Rochester. How very modern for a woman living in the 19th century!

Compare this story to Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, where Cathy loves Heathcliff but married the other guy because he was wealthy and Heathcliff was not. Cathy and Heathcliff are soul mates, but she cast her life away with him to marry for money. That didn't turn out very well, for anyone. That's the girl doing the 'right' thing, marrying a man who is wealthy, honorable and will take care of her forever, instead of marrying the man she loves.  Interesting that these two sisters, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, wrote about choices the heroine makes regarding love, with different outcomes.

I'm rooting for Jane. She's a 19th century heroine with an inner strength and determination.  

By the way, if you noticed a few of the graphics on these posts, you'll note that there many, many film versions of this classic love story. All you have to do is pick an actor, and dive in with the popcorn. Even George C. Scott has gotten into the role of Mr. Rochester, along with other great men such as Orson Wells, Timothy Dalton, Ciaran Hinds and William Hurt. There are others, but these are the most prominent ones I found. Our most modern Mr. R to date is Michael Fassbender, who, by the way, does it up good as the brooding Mr. Rochester! 

So, in conclusion, Jane Eyre is a mixed, complex story of a woman surviving in a cold world, a woman taking charge of her own destiny instead of letting others do it for her. She finds love, true love, and that love is thwarted temporarily. She finds meaning in her work as a governess. She's an artist, by the way, and makes lovely drawings.  She endures, and doesn't just marry the next guy who asks her after her heart is broken by Mr. R's secret. 

She rises above pettiness. She doesn't become cold and mean, as you might expect with such a dire upbringing. She's a heroine for our century, a heroine who stands out in time because she doesn't conform to the conventions and expectations of her own time (marrying someone and allowing him to take care of her and provide for her). She maintains her independence, even when it might be better for her financially and socially to just marry Sinjun and move on her life.  I like Jane.  I love Jane Eyre, and I believe that Jane and Mr Rochester belong in the Timeless Lover's Hall of fame, right next to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy!  

Next time, I'll share a couple of romance novels by modern authors who have used the Jane Eyre story-line to perfection.  Happy Reading everyone. And since it's the weekend, why not curl up on the sofa with your favorite Mr. Rochester character and watch this classic story. 

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