Anyway, prepare to be shocked, but this is the first time that I've read Jane Eyre. Not the first time that I've tried to read it, mind, but the first time that I'm actually determined to get all the way through, front to back, without yielding to irritation and tossing it back on the bookshelf.
Irritation, you ask?
Why, yes, because I've never actually liked Mr. Rochester in the novel. I love him (Timothy Dalton and Toby Stephens) in film adaptations, but for some reason he always manages to irk me when he's in print. However, I haven't gotten that far in the novel yet this time around so I'm still hopeful that I'll appreciate and/or understand him better now that I'm older. Maybe my age and the timing just wasn't right before, who knows.
It's sort of funny attempting to read it yet again because I can't tell you how many times I've gotten this far in the novel. It's at least 3 or 4 times, so I know Jane's experience at Gateshead and her time at Lowood rather intimately. Enough to be familiar with the character design of young Jane and her dear little friend, Helen Burns, and enough to intensely dislike, and yet also pity, her aunt Mrs. Reed.
When I say pity, what do I mean?
Individuals like Mrs. Reed lack so much self-awareness. They've intensely deceived themselves into believing a certain thing about themselves and others until it becomes true in their own minds. Her dislike of Jane is born out of a comparison between Jane's introspective nature and the self-absorbed natures of her own children. Instead of facing the deficiencies in her parenting of her little brood, Mrs. Reed instead focuses on Jane, making statements like, "Jane, I don't like cavillers or questioners; besides, there is something truly forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that manner. Be seated somewhere; and until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent." (ch 1)
Mrs. Reed tricked her own mind into thinking Jane was questioning authority, when in fact, all Jane wanted to know was what she had done. The mind is truly a funny thing and when given too much free reign and kept so little in check, terrible circumstances like the raising of little Jane Eyre can occur. I'm sure in her own way, Mrs. Reed even imagined that she had done as her husband requested, taking Jane into her home and making her a part of the family when in fact, Jane was considered even less than a servant for she served no purpose and was of no help.
Such is the sad case of poor, mistreated, passionate Jane Eyre while she resides at Gateshead under the iron fist of her aunt.
At least until Mrs. Reed cannot stand the child's present any longer and sends the indignant and infuriated Jane Eyre away to school, but what a school.
Lowood is a terrible place during Jane's first year.
The children are given little nourishment, thin garments in bitter cold, and forced exercise outdoors in the dead of winter. It is not the fault of Miss Temple, the headmistress, who does what she can with the little she is given, but rather the fault of the pious Mr. Brocklehurst who, while being a deadly curmudgeon, is also the unfortunate parish's minister and the benefactor of Lowood school.
Can anyone tell me why so many ministers are portrayed in such an unflattering light?
Surely, in all of England, there was one kindly, compassionate, and Godly minister of the gospel while the great classics were being penned. I must give Miss Charlotte Bronte her due; she is able to pen a most despicable man who, either through design or carelessness, single-handedly permits disease to rampage through Lowood, wiping out a goodly portion of its students in a single season.
And so, alas for poor Helen Burns, the little girl who was a few years older than Jane and who served as a spiritual guide for Jane's bitterly passionate nature. Helen succumbs to consumption (tuberculosis) during this same season, but not before imparting so many jewels of wisdom to young Jane that the nuggets remain make an everlasting impact on Jane's young psyche.
It is with Helen that I must pause, for it is Helen's paragraphs and chapters that have struck me as profoundly important during this particular "re-read" of Jane Eyre's first 10 chapters.
Of Helen, Jane says, "I never tired of Helen Burns; nor ever ceased to cherish for her a sentiment of attachment, as strong, tender, and respectful as any that ever animated my heart." (ch 9) For Helen "was qualified to give those who enjoyed the privilege of her converse a taste of far higher things." (ch 9)
To hear Helen tell of herself, she was a terribly flawed person who could rarely please her teachers and deserved every recrimination and correction that she received, particularly at the hand of Miss Scatcherd, one of the teachers. Helen never held an act of cruelty against the person who performed it. Still a child, Helen's spiritual development is so far advanced as to be that of a 90-year-old woman.
However, Helen still admits to Jane, "I am, as Miss Scatcherd said, slatternly; I seldom put, and never keep, things in order; I am careless; I forget rules; I read when I should learn my lessons; I have no method; and sometimes I say, like you, I cannot bear to be subjected to systematic arrangements."(ch 6)
Today we would simply say that Helen's personality type prevented her from being quite as her teachers would like, but Helen would never allow for such an excuse. She confesses and owns her flaws instead of passing them off as an element of something as obscure as a "personality type." Helen is, in her small way, a reminder that personality type should never be an excuse to not embark upon self-improvement.
When Jane rails and rants against the injustices committed against her person by Mrs. Reed, Helen firmly chastises her, saying, "What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart! No ill usage so brands its record on my feelings . . . Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs." (ch 6)
I won't go into detail, but let me just say the reading of chapter 6 was timely to a situation in my own life. Helen Burns's words impacted my thoughts and actions in a way that nothing else seemed capable of doing. Authenticity glitters in her severity, her gentleness, and her faults.
After Helen's death and the deaths of so many of the other children due to disease from malnutrition and improper clothing, Lowood Institution improves, and Jane settles into her life as a student with renewed vigor. Now that she has comfortable clothing and a full stomach, her studies delight her, which inevitably leads to a mature Jane in chapter 10 who is read and determined to take on the world.
Why the sudden change when she had been a contented teacher for 2 years?
Jane, like many introverts, found comfort in the familiar, particularly the familiar of working side by side with Miss Temple. Only when Miss Temple married a gentleman of her acquaintance and left did Jane begin to chafe at the idea of remaining at Lowood for the rest of her days.
She advertises herself in the local paper as a governess/tutor, and is contacted by a Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield. One thing lead to another as it usually does, and Jane turns in her notice. The end of chapter sees her reunited with a servant from Gateshead named Bessie who was kind and cruel to her by varying degrees. And now Jane is heading off to parts unknown, ready for a new adventure.
So passes the first 10 chapters of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.
Should you wish to join in the read-along, please visit Hamlette's blog by clicking on the picture below. At this point, she is 13 chapters into the novel. ❤