(They say that Jane Eyre is a required reading materials for high-school students. So does this mean a high school student can have a decent understanding of this literature classic? I read it when I was 16 or 17, but what I understood back then? “None”! (I maybe exaggerated a little. I loved the book and watched movie 6 times). Because over 30 years later I re-read this book again, it struck me anew, electrified me like no other books!)
Jane Eyre, an orphan, an outcast of her own kindred, a ward of abusive institution, grows into a well learned and highly intelligent young woman. She learned kindness through hardship, learned love through her hateful abusers. Beside all these qualities, she has an earnest disposition for independence, which strikes me the most. Jane RESISTS anything that imposes upon her without her consent, not only cruel abuses but also mellow sweet love. Nothing can stay her way to hinder the will of her own. Yet she is soft, kind, sensitive and forgiving.
When Jane just reaches her maturity, she already possesses an exceptional inner calmness and sharp intelligence that impresses her master Rochester – a middle aged aristocrat – during their first “serious” conversation: “Not three in three thousand raw schoolgirl governesses would have answered me as you have just done.” Yet Rochester doesn’t want to subdued himself to such usual quality: “But I don’t mean to flatter you: if you are cast in a different mould to the majority, it is no merit of yours: Nature did it.”
Jane Eyre, who knows her brain power well, possesses humbleness even better than Rochester can ever imagine. She follows her instinct, resists the temptation from her master, keeps a distance gracefully from him, yet attracts his soul or his heart in every possible situations, like an irresistible magnet. “Courtship” would be a word that truly blaspheme the mutual attraction between Jane and Rochester, because almost every single line of their converse is a volcanic intellectual collision rendered in poetic sonnet form. They enjoy so much their intellectual game playing that physical desire seems to be too trifle to be concerned. Jane Eyre, regardless her “low” social position, not only displays before her master a great self-respect, also she proves her complete qualification of being his “other self”, “his equal”, or even a real “master” of himself.
Probably, the central question about this book is, WHY OH WHY, for all the good, all the wealth and true love, all the happiness drop in front of her feet, Jane abandons them altogether with such mighty resolution? The answer is simple: because her feet are planted in independence:
“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad — as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth — so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane — quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”
At age of 18, Jane is just not ready yet to give up her solitary lifestyle. No matter how charming Rochester is, no matter what kind of true love he offers, Jane still longs for her complete independence. Material comfort means nothing to her; somatic desire only yields to her spiritual passion. Even before that wedding day, Jane rejected many of his master’s materialistic offers, such a jewelries, dresses, etc., only to keep herself as plain as before. She doesn’t want any more than her basic life needs, any luxury more than what she could afford by herself. Of course, the discovery of the secret insane wife smites her heavenly dream, causes immediate change of her plan, but, it is not the only reason, or the true reason. The true reason that she leaves Rochester (I think) is that she realized, living with her master as a mistress, she would lose all her chances to grow into a fully independent woman.
Thus Jane left, throws herself into a complete unknown fate. She spends 2 days in a coach, which takes her as far away from Thornfield as it can, and finally drops her in middle of no where with complete destitution. In the following 2 days, she lives as a beggar, starvation and fatigue drive her to the point that she is ready to give up her last bit of pride for just a piece of bread. At the moment when she thinks she would die, fate, or “God” saved her – a young priest finds her at his house threshold, accepts her, and with his two sisters, they kindly provides Jane foods and shelter. Soon, Jane takes a job to educate children in the small village. Understandably, her intellectual aspiration is not satisfied by the job, but she is at least independent.
Of course, we all know what happens later: Jane unexpectedly received a fortune, and one year after she left Thornfield, she reunited with her master Rochester, her true love.
Jane Eyre is not a romance book, because it is not about romantic love, but equality and independence. As matter of fact, Jane Eyre made me to understand why I dislike romance book – their lack of independence just bores me to death! Neither, Jane Eyre is a book about “feminism”, because it does not focus on women’s being abused by men, or women’s particular independence, rather, it’s about equality in general, both men and women. Jane Eyre is not a book to be understood by anyone who is yet to be intellectually mature, nor by anyone without any experience or understanding of hardship of mankind, nor, most importantly, by anyone who possess no keen passion for independence. The quality of Jane Eyre, this plain even fragile looking young woman, is not only an inspiration of overcoming hardship, transcending human boundary, but also an icon of individualism to its fullest extent, of humanity at its fullest height.
Charlotte Bronte finished this novel when she was barely 30, died several years after the book published, when she was 39. Lived as short as she did, her spirit lives and shines, by this one book alone, as long as humans live.
(Reader, to tell you the truth, I still don’t feel my words justify how good this book is. You must find out by yourself!)