My love for Jane Eyre seems to me one of my constants. It’s up there with Madame Bovary being my spirit animal, with Barthes’ “extreme solitude” ringing true time and again, with the implacability of Hogwarts. I first read Jane Eyre when I was about nine—having stolen my mother’s Bantam paperback edition from her dresser—and promptly avowed that spunky Jane was my best friend; was as furious and indignant with the slights and injustices at the Reeds, at Lowood, at Thornfield Hall, and wherever goddamned moor she stayed in much later; and fell violently in love with the odd Edward Rochester. I’d return to the book over the years, never something set; Jane Eyre would accompany me from one house to another, editions growing in number, the marginalia growing more and more confident (even in sometimes-quiet).
The last time I reread Jane Eyre was two years ago—and even then it had been a long while since the previous read. And I remember how surprised I was with the reminder that this was a book I loved. I mean: The thing with love’s constancy is that it tends to be a given, a matter of fact. To actually relive that loving and find out that you were right all along, if you’re lucky, occurs at the same time as affirming and even strengthening that love through the reliving. Is that too hokey, even for me?
Anyway. As I’ve mentioned before, I seized the opportunity to reread Jane Eyre, when Kerry announced that September would be for, well, reading Jane Eyre. Strangely enough—or, perhaps, fortunately for me—I couldn’t have returned to the book at a more apt time. That is: The first chapters of the book—up to the 11th, incidentally as scheduled for the group read—is our darling Jane, first young and unloved at the Reeds, then young and beleaguered in a dick school with mostly dick people; and then, later, young and itching to get out, somewhere, because that’s what’s calling to her.
“Unjust!—unjust!” said my reason, forced to the agonising stimulus into precocious though transitory power; and Resolve, equally wrought up, instigated some strange expedient to achieve escape from insupportable oppression—as running away, or, if that could not be effected, never eating or drinking more, and letting myself die.
What a consternation of soul was mine that dreary afternoon! How all my brain was in tumult, and all my heart in insurrection! Yet in what darkness, what dense ignorance, was the mental battle fought! I could not answer the ceaseless inward question—why I thus suffered;
I don’t know why I keep forgetting these scenes—why I keep forgetting the depth of young Jane’s bravery, her pluck, all that boiling anger and loneliness in such a small and rebellious lonesome heart. I love, especially, discovering how Jane moves on from lamenting her sad fate—from brewing in indignation and outrage and hurt—and just fighting back and standing up for herself. When Mrs. Reed, for example, tells her odious son to leave off Jane Eyre, because “she is not worthy of notice. I do not choose that either of you or your sisters to associate with here”—and then came Jane’s unhesitatingly fierce rejoinder (with her small frame leaning over the balcony!), “They are not fit to associate with me.” I whooped, and did a little mad dance in my head.
Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty.
I, for one, don’t find it strange that I’m getting life pegs from a verbally abused and pretty much unloved little orphan. Not at all. I think I find it more troubling that, lately I’ve had reason to get life pegs from a verbally abused and pretty much unloved little orphan. So I might as well sniff and go, “They are not fit to associate with me!” Or, perhaps print out this quote on some neon paper and nail it to my wrist, where I can always see it, or wave it at someone’s face:
If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way; they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again.
Or, this reminder could be less violent, but no less helpful:
Even for me life had its gleams of sunshine.
Actually, that could be my next tattoo.