Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Which Jane Eyre Continues to Turn Me Into A Christian (though, I suppose, I always kinda was one anyways)

It’s a pretty much well- known fact that I love Jane Eyre. Love it to distraction. Partly because I identify with the heroine ( I think a lot of female readers do, hence her ongoing popularity) and partly because it is just such a captivating and modern tale: far beyond the reaches of its rigid 19th Century publication.

I think about the book often ( as I do stories that transcend time and place and stamp themselves indelibly on my psyche). What the most recent film adaptation of this oft-filmed tale directed me to was a part in the novel that I think previous adaptations have not dealt with in such heart-breaking sternness: Jane’s unwillingness to sacrifice her sense of self. This was explored so potently in the version that I have not stopped thinking of it since. Some mental imp nudges it to the front of my brain when I feel like I need it most.

Jane sets her teeth and foregos what she most wants in the world in order to do right by Heaven and Higher Power. She will not submit to any Law but the Almighty’s and her self-respect far outweighs a chance at remarkable happiness: at a future secure and not awaiting her on the callous moors she will eventually turn to. Jane has a choice: love, wealth, family over uncertainty, poverty and homelessness.

Forced to confront a heart-breaking and certain dissolution in hope, in which her beloved, Edward Rochester, offers a tenuous solution, Jane regales against the warmth of an inviting future of romance and happiness to, instead, stay true to her laws and beliefs.

Says she: “—“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.”

“Laws and Principles, ‘Jane says above, ‘are not for the times when there is no temptation….’

Not to get all Christian on you ( though I suppose that’s what I’m doing), but it’s amazing how poignantly this part of a book I have read to shreds still resonates with me: on a higher level.
Housing a belief of any kind can suck, to put it crassly: really, really suck. There are times when the most rigid of promises I have laid out for myself and the metrics I have set in place by which to measure the strength of my personal convictions seem to pale in light of seemingly better, easier conclusions.

There are times when the sane solution would be to just jiggle the bar somewhat and re-assess a value system to seemingly reasonable extent. As the reader/viewer of Jane’s story inwardly (and outwardly if you are an effusive viewer/reader such as I )proclaims: it’s NOT such a bad thing, Jane. Not such a bad thing at all. You wouldn’t have to reproach yourself; just re-evaluate.

For me, exposure is sometimes found in the beguiling nudge of a literary remembrance. Jane’s steadfast planting of foot, heart and conscience is the jolt that surges me to reclaim my personal belief.

Sometimes I need something concrete to embody that which seems to mentally evade me. I need to settle the “what ifs…. “ or “ I could just …. Maybe….. “ with a twig-like snap to catapult me back to myself.
The standards to which we set ourselves, inspired by God, by Law, by Reason, by Family, by Conscience, are by far the most pre-possessing and stern reminders we have that our worth is so much more than the limitations we conceive as barriers around us. …
If you DO see the film ( and I highly encourage it; even without initiation to the novel ), make sure you focus on the part where heart-broken and torn, Jane sacrifices happiness for self-worth. She knows that if she were to budge and face what she views as her one true prize would mean the sacrifice of everything she is rooted to believe in.
It is that point that makes her the most super-hero of all Victorian literary heroines. For inasmuch as the literary world unravels her myriad of virtues: as a feminist, as a modern heroine, as a contemporary voice that extols the virtue of women’s education, creativity and imagination, it is her steadfast Faith that most speaks to me—exemplified in her shirking that which she wants most to secure a clear conscience and an eternity wiped clear of regret.

(She’ll get her happy ending, fear not, but it comes at a great cost and doesn’t necessarily materialize in the pitch-perfect, water-coloured rendition a fairytale would suppose).


Debra E. Marvin said...

in preparing of the movie debut, I did some research on Charlotte Bronte and listened to the book on Audio. She definitely has a strong moral message in there, which I'd forgotten about. I agree the new JE movie really relates Jane's struggle.

Great post.

Charity said...

Interesting thoughts. I think what makes the book so special is indeed its over-reaching notion that Jane must submit to God first in order to obtain what she most desires: it is her difficult abandonment of Edward that leads to his eventual redemption and permits her to have him, without tainting her name.