Monday, July 28, 2014

Life Lessons From Jane Eyre

This week I watched the BBC version of Jane Eyre with my daughter who'd never read the book or watched the movie. It was a great delight to see her enjoy the story.
My Mom's 1950 Random House copy of Jane Eyre
I'd read the book in high school and watched the movie with Jaime. But this time, I learned afresh something from Charlotte Bronte's vision and masterful story telling. I was intrigued by Jane's childhood relationship with Helen Burns at Lowood Orphanage. Of course, everyone loves Jane Eyre for the interesting romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester, but this time I saw the need for Helen's part in the story. Some argue that the story should have skipped the orphanage scenes--all useless and boring backstory. They might argue that it should have started on the road when she runs into Mr. Rochester's horse and unseats him, twisting his ankle and launching their "meet cute".

I for one, am glad that in 1847, backstory wasn't banished from publication like it is now. Otherwise, we would not know Helen Burns, who exemplifies a breath of heaven to me. And I think she did for Jane as well.

After Jane's Aunt Reed dumped her at the orphanage, failing to keep her promise to care for Jane and effectually making her destitute, Jane is left to a fate of enduring suffering at the hands of whatever refuge she might find. While we immediately feel empathy for her plight, indeed, no one in this life whether wealthy or destitute is exempt from suffering. Though in Jane we seem to watch it unfold as if she is detached from our own suffering--that is until we see her with Helen.

With Helen, Jane grapples with something so universal that it stunned me. Do we accept our fate and suffering in this world with great chafing or great endurance? Jane meets Helen after Helen has been reprimanded so severely by the headmaster, that Jane believes it an injustice. She learns Helen's name and that she is from the north. She asks if Helen will return there. Helen's response after having been cruelly humiliated: "No: why should I? I was sent to Lowood to get an education; and it would be of no use going away until I have attained that object."

Jane then protests that Miss Scatcherd was so cruel. Helen: "Cruel? Not at all! She is severe: she dislikes my faults." To which Jane replies: "and if I were in your place I should dislike her; I should resist her; if she struck me with that rod, I should get it from her hand; I should break it under her nose." (YES!! Go Jane!!)

But dear Helen replies: "Probably you would do nothing of the sort; but if you did, Mr. Brocklehurst would expel you from the school; that would be a great grief to your relations. It is far better to endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you;  and, besides, the Bible bids us return good for evil."

Jane persists: "But then it seems disgraceful to be flogged, and to be sent to stand in the middle of a room full of people; and you are such a great girl: I am far younger than you, and I could not bear it."
And Helen gently reproves her: "Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear."

And then Jane's inner response: 'I heard her with wonder: I could not comprehend this doctrine of endurance; and still less could I understand or sympathize with the forbearance she expressed for her chastiser. Still I felt that Helen Burns considered things by a light invisible to my eyes. I suspected she might be right and I wrong.'

I believe it is Helen's light of the gospel that dawned in Jane's conscience, and yet how amazing that Helen accepted it so willingly and deeply at such a childish age. As a youngster I was more like Jane, perhaps still am. I went kicking and protesting my punishment for wrong, striking my hard heeled shoes against the wooden floors of my room beside the register, in order that all through the house, my protests would be known, though my voice silenced. I chafed at my perceived injustice then, and I love Helen Burns for being so blunt and matter of fact in her endurance. Perhaps she was sent to Jane, sent to us. Her life was shortened by consumption (TB), and perhaps she was gifted with endurance for her fate--a fate that heralded the light of the gospel for those of us more chafing, and of slower learning of conscience and forbearance.

Perhaps, it was all Helen's Light that helped Jane endure the pages of her story that followed?

Have you read Jane Eyre?
What do you love the most about Bronte's story?
Movie or book?
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Blog post by Anne Love-
Writer of Historical Romance inspired by her family roots. 
Nurse Practitioner by day. 
Wife, mother, writer by night. 
Coffee drinker--any time.
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10 comments:

  1. I've never read the book or seen the movie. I'm thinking maybe I should try the book sometime...

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    1. I'd start with the book, personally.

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  2. I've read the book, and I love the BBC version of the movie starring Timothy Dalton.

    I especially like the phrase "doctrine of endurance" which is something I've yet to master.

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    1. I know, me too. Who talks like that any more?

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  3. You've written a beautiful post here!

    Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels. I've seen a few movie versions but still love the book more. There is a lot of depth in the novel that goes beyond Jane's story that a film just can't capture.

    I may have to read it again soon. : )

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    1. I agree Cathy, and it was a nice reminder. Plus, I really enjoyed looking at my mom's old copy again.

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  4. I'm sorry to say that while I've heard it mentioned so many times, I don't recall ever reading "Jane Eyre" or seeing any movie based on it. However, you've aroused my interest - Anne, and I think you're probably right in the purpose Helen served for Jane and us, as well!! Thanks for the interesting post!!

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