I love Jane Eyre, I’ve all but memorized the book, and watched the movie ( Timothy Dalton version} more times that I care to admit.
Even though Jane Eyre was originally published in 1847, it is still one of the most popular volumes in the library system. The story has been translated into every living language and has been retold in every genre from silent films to Broadway plays.
So what is it about this humble orphan turned governess that intrigues people? I believe it’s this, simply – we admire Jane’s convictions, and want to be like her. We hope that when things get difficult and there are tough decisions to be made, we will do the right thing rather than the easy or convenient thing. That we will let our morals and values take precedence over personal gratification, and be able to walk away from adversity with head held high.
For those of you who are Janean novices, let me bring you up to speed. Jane Eyre, who is abused and neglected most of her life, finally has a change of luck when she is hired as a governess at Thornfield Hall. Here she meets Mr. Rochester, the master of the estate; they fall in love and plan to wed. Alas, moments before they are to speak their vows, a complication arises which makes it impossible for them to marry. And while Mr. Rochester implores Jane to come away with him anyway, arguing that no one will know they’re not married. Jane refuses.
“I will,” she says, “I will know.”
And here Mr. Rochester runs headlong into the “hitch in Jane’s character,” as he calls it, her unshakable sense of right and wrong. Even though Jane knows she’ll break both their hearts if she leaves, she cannot do otherwise and retain her self-respect. She flees temptation, and risks life and limb for her convictions.
Now while we admire Jane’s courage, we know that she is a fictional character and for her things will probably work out in the end. But in real life that doesn’t always happen. For us there is no guarantee of a happily ever after ending. Sometimes choosing the high road makes people mad at you. You may lose a job or find it takes much longer to achieve a goal.
It’s often hard to choose the right. And frankly, to take a look at the newspaper headlines with their litany of rising crime rates, political scandal, corporate greed and terrorism, it’s easy to believe that no one bothers anymore. Maybe integrity is just an outdated Victorian ideal; maybe it is every man for himself these days.
Maybe, but I tend to think not. Once you get past the headlines, you come to the real stories, the quieter tales that tell how real people lead their lives. One recent article told about a brilliant young woman who chose to postpone her college education in order to support her young siblings, and another told of a senior citizen who spent every waking hour collecting shoes and toys for a local shelter.
Everyday we read about soldiers who tear themselves from home and loved ones in order to serve their country. We hear of people who build homes for the homeless, bring hot meals to the elderly, and take medical relief to impoverished villages. Volunteers help the handicapped, shelter abused women and children, and shovel mud out of strangers homes after floods.
We admire people like this – people who do the right thing even when it isn’t easy or popular, even when it brings them little glory or recognition. They have that hitch in their character, that unshakable sense of right and wrong, like Jane. And while many hope to someday be like Jane, we are grateful for those who already are.