Jane Eyre: The Past and the Present

I’m rereading Jane Eyre, because do I really need a reason? And it’s reminding me that the Jane who has taken residence in my head – the calm, passionate, but reasoning, principled Jane – is only a finished product. She was not always so.

Revisiting the beginning of her story is highlighting the parallels and contrasts between the younger and the older Jane.

Jane’s passion, and thirst for fairness, is one of her most appealing, and identifiable qualities. In the passage below, she is vociferously declaring her need for love and affection to her callous Aunt Reed:

You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity.

Of course these lines immediately made me think of her impassioned speech to Rochester:

Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!

The older Jane is more eloquent when it comes to expressing her pain, but the similarities are there. In some aspects Jane doesn’t change. She has always longed to be loved, to be accepted. The younger Jane is more pitiful, sure, being a child, and being so isolated. But the older Jane, while armed with more maturity and confidence with which to stand on her own, still longs for her love to be recognised, and maybe even reciprocated.

On the other hand, she is certainly more stable as an adult. She is confident enough to stand on her own if the situation requires it, to be satisfied with her knowledge of herself even if the world deems her an outsider.

As a young child, she says:

…I know I should think well of myself; but that is not enough: if others don’t love me I would rather die than live – I cannot bear to be solitary and hated, Helen.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of the lines Jane utters following her failed nuptials:

I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.

I love those lines. They always make me swell with pride and admiration. Jane has grown strong enough, and confident enough in herself, to be able to stand up for herself. Even if that means standing alone.

 

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4 thoughts on “Jane Eyre: The Past and the Present

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  1. Oh, I identify with Jane Eyre so much. Thank you for this this insightful, smart post that analyzes her development across multiple life stages while reinforcing her main values of independence, assertiveness, and knowing herself. (:

    Liked by 1 person

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