I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.
The word “docile” has gotten a bad rap. These days it’s usually equated with timidity – and therein lies the problem. Western culture prizes arrogance. It’s the bluster of prize fighters, political candidates and football stars. The irony runs deep here because it usually means the self-promoter is no longer teachable. Docile means pliable, or more specifically – teachable. It’s etymology is connected to “doctor” and “doctrine.” The doctor (teacher) instructs the docile in doctrine. Learning happens. Growth results.
In life, people are not usually truly docile until they are desperate. If you have ever been lost in a foreign county you know what it means to humbly seek someone who can communicate meaningful directions. The great problem with docility, however, is that people are often unaware of their own desperation. That is, they do not know they are lost.
As Karen Swallow Prior says in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:
The words my brother had voiced became part of my voice, a voice that narrated the search for my self much as Jane’s voice did in her search. Although the journal I kept during those chaotic days has long vanished into the past, Jane’s story and her voice remain. It wasn’t so much that I really thought, as my brother said in order to encourage me, that I thought I was “better” than those girls. What I came to understand is that in ceasing the futile attempt to be something I was not able or meant to be, and in striving to discover and be the person I was created to be, I would be a better self. The real disgrace was not in being kicked out of The Group, but in failing to fully embrace the grace that had made me who I was by trying to be something I was not.
Is becoming yourself more about discovering who you are or who you aren’t? Or both?
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
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.