Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte“Anybody may blame me who likes, when I add further, that, now and then, when I took a walk by myself in the grounds…that then I desired more of practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach…It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.”
One of my all-time favorite works of classic fiction is Jane Eyre, and I’ve read it several times (and will again!). This romantic, gothic, fictional autobiography portrays a young woman seeking to find a place in society where she can add value to others, as well as be valued herself. From the very start, the reader sympathizes with Jane and admires her courage in difficult circumstances. Abandoned, demoralized and betrayed as a child by those on whom she depends for care and protection, Jane has almost every disadvantage in a society which judges and rewards individuals for their external and superficial qualities, such as social status, wealth and beauty. But Jane does have qualities that serve her well – her wit and intelligence, her courage, and most importantly, her faith. Each situation she faces serves to give her more inner strength and confidence. She knows that while people may fail her, God never will, and He never does. In every circumstance which she finds herself, Jane never gives up hoping and searching for usefulness, independence and companionship. In spite of experiencing ill-treatment and injustice at the hands of her fellowman, rather than becoming bitter and resentful, she remains open to the possibility of forgiveness and redemption. Jane’s integrity and strength of character are challenged on numerous occasions, but she never compromises her values and continues to look for and hold to what is good, right and true. I recommend Jane Eyre as a well-written work of classic literature that has an inspiring heroine and a story that depicts the Christian qualities of hope, love, purity, truth, faith and forgiveness.
Several film adaptations of Jane Eyre have been produced, but I think my favorite is the 2005 film starring Timothy Dalton as Rochester, although the newest one which came out in 2011 is good as well.
To read more about Jane’s story and her search for place to belong, read my article “A Heroine’s Quest for Home.” Part One begins here, with subsequent parts to follow in the coming weeks.
A Heroine’s Quest for Home
Part One: From Gateshead to Lowood
Charlotte Bronte’s fictional autobiography, Jane Eyre, follows the young heroine’s journey towards discovering her identity and place in society. In her novel, the author takes her disadvantaged heroine through a series of events and places her into contact with a variety of people that test and strengthen the character within her. As Jane goes through these tests, she is able to conquer those who try to demoralize or even dehumanize her, gaining a confident sense of self. She successfully defeats those who are selfish and superficial while remaining true to herself, to her conscience and to her God. In the end, Bronte rewards her heroine with a happiness and security that she never thought attainable.
Bronte presents her story as a journey; in fact, the name Eyre is derived from the Latin root ire (“to go”) and means journey or circuit (Shannon). As Laurence Coupe observes in his article, “The Hero’s Journey,” Jane Eyre incorporates many of the elements of the mythical quest tales that Joseph Campbell delineated in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Among these story elements are helpers, which assist the hero in his quest, and opponents, which physically or mentally inhibit the hero’s mission. After passing a variety of tests, one of which is often a near-death, or “the belly-of-the-whale,” experience (Campbell), the hero acquires what he set out for and returns home as a celebrated hero. In analyzing Jane Eyre as a heroic quest tale, I will primarily focus on her quest, her helpers and opponents, her tests, and her final reward.
The hero’s journey is a quest for what Campbell calls a life-giving “elixir” or “boon.” Thus, the first question that may arise is: For what is Bronte’s hero, Jane Eyre, searching? As a child, Jane may not know exactly what she is looking for, but she does know that she longs for change. Imposed upon the Reed family as an infant, she has never experienced a sense of belonging or love. As a poor orphan, she is repeatedly reminded that she is a dependent and “less than a servant for you do nothing for your keep.” This idea seems to impress upon her the importance of being useful to others, which she can readily accept. Nevertheless, deep within her, she also desires independence and security.
Every quest tale begins with the hero’s “call to adventure,” and Jane’s initial call occurs after the incident at Gateshead in the red room. Having already fantasized about traveling, and especially escape, Jane’s initial “call to adventure” comes from Mr. Lloyd, the apothecary, when he simply asks her if she would like to go away to school. Jane responds positively with the thought, “[S]chool would be a complete change: it implied a long journey, an entire separation from Gateshead, an entrance into a new life.” Thus, the idea appeals to her. This is the first of several incidents in which Jane is called to leave her present situation or residence.
Every time Jane leaves a place, she is unknowingly setting out towards something that she has yet to find: home. In her article, “Heading Out is Not Going Home,” Melodie Monahan observes, “Going home is enacted each time Jane establishes community, at Lowood […] Thornfield […] and Marsh-End.” At each of these places, she achieves a new level of understanding of what it means to belong, but it is not until she reunites with Rochester at Ferndean that she finally finds a permanent home.
The first community in which Jane establishes herself is at the Lowood School. Here, she learns how to be useful, as Mrs. Reed said should be her purpose. She finds in Miss Temple a helper and guide, and after she leaves the school, Jane feels that, “with her was gone every settled feeling, every association that had made Lowood in some degree a home to me.” Although she felt a sense of belonging at Lowood, Jane realized she had been dependent on Miss Temple. Jane suddenly feels restless to see more of the world, “to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.” Initially she expresses a desire for liberty, but she settles for change and a “new servitude.” Jane heeds the inward calling and takes her first step of independence when she decides to leave Lowood.
To be continued in Part Two: From Thornfield Hall to Marsh-End
- Charlotte Bronte’s Bio (www.victorianweb.org)
- Not Just a ‘Plain Jane’ (dwishahathi.wordpress.com)
- Blurring the Lines: Jane Eyre (eplcharliechat.wordpress.com)
Sources: Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Coupe, Lawrence. “The Hero’s Journey.” The English Review. Monahan, Melodie. “Heading out Is Not Going Home: Jane Eyre.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. Shannon, Edgar F. Jr. “The Present Tense in Jane Eyre.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction.