“Mr. Rochester, I no more assign this fate to you than I grasp at it for myself. We were born to strive and endure – you as well as I: do so. You will forget me before I forget you.”
Centuries ago, children were considered grown whenever they could reproduce. There weren’t many choices about who or what you would become because you typically took up whatever business your father and mother occupied. Only a rare few could extend adolescence with advanced education. Today is seems that adolescence goes on and on, and many years may pass before life’s direction is set. Choices are many and temptations more so.
As Karen Swallow Prior says in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:
Jane Eyre seemed in so many ways to be someone like me. In reading and studying the book many more times later in life, I came to realize that this was because she really was. And, truth be told, a lot like the other girls, too, because Jane Eyre is really about every adolescent. For adolescence, more than any other age, is a time of becoming, when we all must navigate through endless possibilities of being and overcome countless temptations to become any person but one that reflects both the givenness of our being and the possibilities of our becoming.
What temptations have you had to overcome in your journey to becoming yourself?
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
Literature, Liturgy & The Arts
Raised in a parsonage amid the moors of Haworth, Charlotte Brontë in 1839 refused marriage proposals from two reverends, later stating that “there is no more respectable character on this earth than an unmarried woman who makes her own way through life quietly, perseveringly.” She published Jane Eyre in 1847. Over the next two years, her brother Branwell and her sisters Emily and Anne all died, most likely from tuberculosis; two other siblings had died in 1825. Brontë eventually married in 1854, but died, while pregnant, in 1855, two years after publishing Villette.
The Folio Society’s Edition of Jane Eyre
‘Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? … Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart!’ As compelling in character as she is ordinary in looks, Jane Eyre is one of literature’s greatest heroines. Hers is a captivating love story that encompasses, among other things, loss, deception, devotion and obsession. With themes of madness and forbidden knowledge, and a Byronic male lead – the glowering Rochester – Jane Eyre is also a suspenseful gothic mystery. Its sparse settings resemble those of Wuthering Heights; places which not only lend themselves to the novel’s psychological drama, but in which the air crackles and whispers with forces beyond human control. However, the narrative belongs to Jane, and it is her singularity and the vivid portrayal of her inner life that make this novel exceptional. Brontë’s intimate first-person narrative formed a template for later authors including Joyce and Proust. As a female character, Jane was far ahead of her time. In her fierce meditations on spiritual and emotional dilemmas, and her determination to remain inwardly free when the cruelties and desires of others threaten her integrity, she was a proto-feminist figure quite unlike her pliant predecessors.
Artist Santiago Caruso’s dedication to the fantastique made him sensitive to the novel’s otherworldliness. His illustrations evoke its eerie scenery and the intensity of Jane’s experiences. In most she is central: a small but wilful figure whose ‘obscure’ life is as profoundly engaging as that of the most dazzling heroine. As author Emma Donoghue writes in her introduction, Jane ‘survives all sorts of abuses and humiliations because she is driven on by a sense that she matters, because everybody matters’.
Karen Swallow Prior
Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me
Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.