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Two weeks ago I picked Jane Eyre up for the first time, not really knowing what to expect. Being a much talked about book, a sort of enduring ‘hot topic,’ I felt that sense of compulsion people get with classics that they feel they must read even if they don’t particularly want to read them. I must ashamedly confess, then, that I didn’t start the novel with the most optimistic outlook, almost feeling a sense of obligation to see it through. Needless to say, slowly, but most definitely surely, Jane Eyre drew me in until, and I really hate to say this, I couldn’t put the book down.

Beginning relatively unassumingly describing Jane’s melancholy childhood of neglect, the novel rapidly develops into an incredibly heart-warming (and breaking) narrative. In fact, I defy you not to cry at Jane and Rochester’s reunion after the latter is blinded and deeply hurt in a terrible fire, caused by his estranged wife, Bertha Mason.

Mason’s characterisation is absolutely fascinating, further explored in Gilbert and Gubar’s ‘The Madwoman in the Attic,’ a book which looks at Victorian Literature from a feminist perspective. Trapped in the attic for years as Rochester’s estranged wife, Bertha is seriously unwell, all but abandoned by the rest of the world. She is described as pernicious and animalistic, but we never see the world through her eyes, only hearing snippets of hushed conversation from the residents about her precarious condition, as well as Jane’s sighting of her on her fateful wedding night. I’d say that Bertha is one of the most thought-provoking characters in Bronte Literature, and definitely worth thinking about beyond the text. 

Suffice to say, at this point I was completely absorbed by the curious, ethereal night.

With Bertha on one end of the spectrum, Charlotte Bronte has an admirable ability to demonstrate the emotional extremes of the human condition; suffocating sorrow, limitless elation, throbbing anger and pure kindness. What’s more, she often combines these emotions together to demonstrate that it is normal, and inevitable, to feel doubt in the midst of flourishing romance, or to feel a sort of terrible love in the midst of pain. With their author being so unafraid to show the complexities of the human condition, the Victorian characters are made to appear closer to home than many of us would perhaps like to think. In the sense that they are so unmistakably human, they will remain our companions for a long time yet.

I have one particular passage in mind to demonstrate the timeless beauty of Jane Eyre, set towards the end of the novel when the reader is almost  prepared for the much-anticipated union to never occur.

With Jane in a vulnerable state, torn on whether to accept her cousin’s cold, distant hand for marriage and feeling very much alone, she desperately calls upon Heaven to show her the path (with Charlotte Bronte as a committed Anglican herself). A voice, (we can only presume that the mystical powers of nature are at work,) calls out:

‘Jane! Jane! Jane!’*

This voice ‘spoke in pain and woe, wildly, eerily, urgently,’ which Jane quickly recognised as her lover Rochester’s, who she ran away from in a state of panic on their wedding day. Jane calls out for Rochester: "I am coming!"... "Wait for me!

‘The hills beyond Marsh Glen sent the answer faintly back, ‘Where are you?’ I listened. The wind sighed low in the firs: all was moorland loneliness and midnight hush.’

Even now, re-reading this passage, I feel a strange sense of palpable thrill.

Suffice to say, at this point I was completely absorbed by the curious, ethereal night. The passage  provides a glimpse of long-awaited hope, through showing the reader that Jane and Rochester are meant for one another in more than just an emotional sense. This naturally renders the following pages near-agony in the anticipation of their reunion, which we now dare to hope of occuring.  And when it does finally happen, it is well worth the waiting game. I’d have waded through another ten years of Jane’s life if needs be, if I were to reach their arresting meeting at the end of it. Without further ado, then, when Jane finds Rochester at long last, ‘blind as he was, smiles played over his face.’ He recounts to her that on the last Monday when Jane heard his calling, he was overcome with grief, eloquently stating that:

‘I longed for thee, Janet! Oh, I longed for thee both with soul and flesh!’

Rochester explains how during Monday prior, he called for Jane into the bottomless night, and heard her voice ‘whispering on the wind... I could have deemed that in some wild, lone scene, I and Jane were Meeting.’

Jane tells us confidentially and in that unmistakably earnest style of hers:

'Reader, it was on Monday night--near midnight--that I too had received the mysterious summons:  those were the very words by which I replied to it. I kept these things then, and pondered them in my heart.'


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Mountain View

Shelf reflection in Venice

We, too, are left to ponder these things in our hearts. Rochester, one may argue, received Jane’s spirit the week before she came in flesh. Just as Jane received his spirit into her heart. In some wild, lone scene, then, Jane and Rochester really did meet. Even now, re-reading this passage, I feel a strange sense of palpable thrill. As readers, we are let into Jane’s beautiful secret; the confirmation that her and Rochester’s love is as great and powerful as nature, sealed with a stamp of approval by what must be the heavens, particularly touching given Jane’s religious nature.

On that night, Heaven and Earth joined to bring the two lovers together. Through its power of words, this passage heals a year of pain and agony, assuring readers in its understated manner that Jane and Rochester’s future together will be one of the happiest and most fulfilling nature one can imagine. The governess and the gentleman thus serve to show their Victorian readers that status isn’t everything, but true love is.

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