I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and what I believed in I wished to behold.
I keep underestimating my connection with this novel; for some reason, with every reread I tell myself to temper my expectations, to understand and be ready for the eventuality that I might not just love it this time around. Bewilderingly, I loved it at 9—and then again deep into teenagerdom (and twice at that), and then again (and most memorably to me) a couple of years ago. It was that last reread that should have clued me in: Jane Eyre is the book I have always loved the longest. Whatever variables there may be—that every time I return to it, with something in me having changed in the interim, something else within the book changes, too—I will always love Jane Eyre.
Kerry’s SeptembEyre was the excuse I hadn’t realized I needed, to push me back into Brontë’s world. I started the book with the aforementioned trepidation, and as I should have known: The anxiety was all for naught. I finished rereading Jane Eyre almost two weeks ago—after a two before-bedtime marathons that surprised even me—and I’m still overwhelmed about the experience. I’ve been glancing at the book now on my dresser, looking at the flags that festoon its pages, and I just shake my head. So good. So mine.
And, still, so very overwhelming. See, it’s long been a pipedream of mine to fully explore, in two respectably intelligent [harhar] essays, my relationship with Rochester and my identification with Jane. For example: I know Rochester is an asshat, but I keep falling for him every single time. I understand Rochester; I dig his angst:
Then take my word for it,—I am not a villain: you are not to suppose that—not to attribute to me any such bad eminence; but, owing, I verily believe, rather to circumstances than to my natural bent, I am a trite commonplace sinner, hackneyed in all the poor petty dissipations with which the rich and worthless try to put on life.
And rather than examine my predilection for fictional asshats, I brooded and realized that it’s through Jane, this fondness for Rochester. [Then again, on most days I am simply convinced that having fallen in love with Edward Fairfax Rochester when I was nine, this is a lost cause.] Ahem. Their encounters have always been the most sticky-noted pages in any copy I own, this behemoth edition included. It’s because of Jane, how she loves Rochester, that I love Rochester. Whenever they come together, and the tension all but grabs at your heart and refuses to let up. [“Strange energy was in his voice, strange fire in his look,” Jane would note.] [And: I can never, ever forget how in the reread before this one, I’d only realized what a riot Rochester is. The man is arrogant and cutting and augh you perfect, dry-wit, manipulative bastard full of selfish, scheme-y lies—c’mere, bb, and let me throw a blanket over you.]
How Jane, though, puts up with the man. How she quietly revels in her spine of steel, facing down a man twice her age and far richer than her. And all his schemes. And all the deliberate ways he tries to draw her out—either through rakish charm or goddamned stunts or just plain little-boy-meanness. I love, too, how when the going gets rough, Jane bewails her fate for two to three pages—
My hopes were all dead—struck with a subtle doom, such as, in one night, fell on all the first-born in the land of Egypt. I looked on my cherished wishes, yesterday so blooming and glowing; they lay stark, chill, livid corpses that could never revive. I looked at my love: that feeling which was my master’s—which he had created; it shivered in my heart, like a suffering child in a cold cradle; sickness and anguish had seized it; it could not seek Mr. Rochester’s arms—it could not derive warmth from his breast.
—and then straightens that spine of hers, brushes her skirts off, and gives herself a good dressing-down. Look Rochester in the eye when you have to, ignore him altogether if need be—but always, always, hold on to what makes you you.
It is madness in all women to let a secret love kindle within them, which, if unreturned and unknown, must devour the life that feeds it; and, if discovered and responded to, must lead, ignis-fatus-like, into miry wilds whence there is no extrication.
It’s these little sparks between Jane and Rochester—proof of attraction, that is: proof that this is the kind of love that works only because Jane refuses to be cowed—that make me falter. Rochester, memorably weirdly as a gypsy, reads Jane’s forehead: “Reason sits firm and holds the reins, and she will not let the feelings burst away and hurry her to wild chasms. The passions may rage furiously, like true heathens, as they are; and the desires may imagine all sorts of vain things: but judgment shall still have the last word in every argument, and the casting vote in every decision. Strong wind, earthquake-shock, and fire may pass by: but I shall follow the guiding of that still small voice which interprets the dictates of conscience.” And it has always been Jane’s “still small voice” that makes her what she is—that makes this love between her and Rochester work, even though all the voices beyond her own dictate that it shouldn’t. And. Oh sweet baby Jesus—and when it’s Jane’s own voice, quiet but firm, that tells her she must go—that she has to go because good golly Rochester, you idiot liar:
I was experiencing an ordeal: a hand of fiery iron grasped my vitals. Terrible moment: full of struggle, blackness, burning! Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better than I was loved; and him who thus loved me I absolutely worshipped: and I must renounce love and idol. One drear word comprised my intolerable duty—“Depart!”
[Rochester demanding, pleading: “Just this promise—‘I will be yours, Mr. Rochester.’” And Jane, so small, saying: Mr. Rochester, I will not be yours. Oh, my heart.] As far as I can remember, I’ve never seriously considered myself a Jane Eyre. (My identification with the hapless and rather unfortunate Madame Bovary has been well-documented, haha.) I could only aspire to be dear Janet. I am her, sometimes. I try to be, without me knowing it. I try to be, I do. But I am not, can’t ever be fully, a Jane Eyre.
“Jane, be still; don’t struggle so, like a wild frantic bird that is rending its own plumage in its desperation.”
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”
And she left him. She stole away in the dead of night. She left.
* * *
When I closed the book, it was as if I’d been cut adrift. Having been submerged so intensely in Charlotte Brontë—to have cared, again, and always so immensely, for Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester—to have realized something about myself and about the small, still Janet—and then having to return to the real world. Returning to the real world and my mind realigning to look upon landscapes as stormy moors, to look upon clusterfucks as madwomen in my attic. To spy Blanche Ingrams and Mrs. Reeds and St. Johns and scolding my brain whenever it strays towards what Rochesters this world has to offer. And to look upon that book now closed and replaced on the bedside table, waiting for the next time I’ll read it again as though it were the first time, as though it was just another marker in this long-and-longest bibliophiliac constancy.