I used to write for a lovely publication called Inkblots, which was a literary magazine run by a friend. Alas, it printed its final issue many years ago, but I’ve been sorting through my submissions and have decided to share a few here.
By flickering candlelight in the throes of insomnia as she cared for her ailing father and nursed dreadful toothaches, Charlotte Bronte filled numerous pages with a slanted dark penmanship that would become known as one of the greatest gothic novels of all time. Jane Eyre is not known as much for its sinister foundation and shocking plot twists as much as it is beloved for its peculiar pairing of Jane Eyre, the plain governess with a strong background of faith, and the wild Edward Rochester, known philanderer and temperamental owner of Thornfield, a vast estate in the murky English countryside.
Raised in the home of her heartless aunt and then sent to a terrible school lorded over by the tyrannical Mr. Brocklehurst, a figure of the worst religious nature and perverse cruelty, Jane Eyre knew nothing of kindness except in the form of her friend Helen, who taught her that goodness is to be aspired to and ill deeds forgiven without desire for revenge. Leaving Lowood School for a position as a governess in the vast country estate of Thornfield, Jane is introduced to the solitary owner, Mr. Rochester, a dark and brooding soul not without goodness. Her attraction to him is built of compassion and understanding but when faced with a terrible secret about his past, Jane makes the difficult choice to leave Thornfield. Her marriage with Edward cannot progress and she knows that to become his mistress would go against her moral values.
Her upbringing as an impoverished orphan is vastly different from that of Edward, who was given everything except the sustaining love that would have shaped him into a man of worth. Manipulated by his father into an early marriage, Edward was horrified to learn on his wedding night that his bride was deranged, insanity having run rampant through her family bloodlines for many years. The alliance provided him vast profit but little satisfaction and he went to find pleasure in the world. He meets Jane when she comes to Thornfield to care for little Adele, the child of Edward’s former mistress, a French ballet dancer of dubious background. Their initial meeting is rampant with discomfort, for Edward comes upon her in the fog on his return and suffers a bad sprain to his ankle when his horse is spooked by the ghostly apparition and throws him. Content with subtle flirtations, Edward’s interest is peaked by Jane’s straightforward response to his questions, but a friendship is not truly begun until one night when she saves him from being burnt alive.
From there the story follows a natural romantic arc that brings our hero and heroine to a moment of decision… whether Jane Eyre will flout convention, disobey her faith, and remain as Edward’s mistress, or forsake the love she has found for a life apart from Thornfield. While the book and many of the adaptations are appropriately moody, what remains is both the contrast between Jane and Edward, and the eventual punishment and reward for their actions. The book is heavily steeped in various forms of Christianity, both of the worst nature (exhibited in the actions of Brocklehurst), the lesser misguided (St. John Rivers is a good example) and the very strong values that Jane clings to. It becomes more of a moral choice than a conscious one, because Jane knows that she should not enjoy the pleasures of marriage without the sanctification of God. Her choice is very difficult and gives her much pain, for it forces her to leave Thornfield and take up a position elsewhere.
Initially we are conflicted about Jane’s dilemma, because we desire that she might remain with Edward. After all, what would the story be if true love were forsaken? Yet in our hearts we approve of her decision, for it is the right one. At first glance it might seem that Jane is ideal and Edward is an utter cad. Without better knowledge of the characters this would be the logical assumption, but his structure is more complex. Edward is the result of unhappiness born of isolation from God. If there ever was faith in his life it was terminated through the unfortunate circumstances that left him a dissatisfied man. Whatever goodness lingered in his breast was severely shaken when his family used him so dreadfully. He is seeking love and forgiveness from a world that cannot satisfy, and in this respect Jane is very much his glimpse at salvation. Her goodness and innocence, the purity she shows in every aspect of her life, reminds him powerfully of everything he might have had and lost through youthful foolishness.
For all his faults, Edward is still very much a good man at heart. Even though Adele is not his daughter he takes her in out of kindness and provides her with a good education. He is also exceptionally thoughtful toward his demented wife. He spent exorbitant amounts of money attempting to cure her and when that failed, did not put her away in an asylum to be abandoned, but instead provided for her personal care at Thornfield. It would have been all too easy to be rid of her. During the Victorian age, asylums were little better than holding houses where you were put away and forgotten. The inhabitants were heavily drugged with laudanum and rarely taken care of; disease was rampant, abuse was apparent, and living conditions little better than squalor. There was no way of keeping records and if Bertha survived, no one could necessarily prove her identity. Edward could have left Bertha there and walked away a free man, but he didn’t. He felt the burden of responsibility that is very much the core of his nature: he did not initiate the problem, but is willing to see it through. He did attempt bigamy in marrying Jane but his intentions toward her were honorable.
In an age when divorce was not an option, Edward had no other choice. It doesn’t make it right, but does make his actions understandable. Never before had he even considered such an action, for the women in his life were there for the purpose of amusing him, not in the knowledge that he would one day grow old in their company. Jane was different. She was an angel of such radiance that he wanted to be worthy of her. In his way, Edward is her equal. Jane is very innocent and good; her faith is steadfast even when it forces her to make choices that are painful. Edward is not so innocent but his heart is good: he desires for improvement and redeems himself through one selfless action – an attempt to save his wife when she burns down Thornfield and perishes in the flames, leaving him eternally scarred and without his sight. Once again, when provided with a simple means out of an unhappy marriage, Edward chooses to preserve it out of compassion for madness.
Arguably it could be said that Edward’s blindness is a punishment for his sins, but that his survival is an answer to Jane’s prayers. She fulfilled her requirement and left him when she most wanted to stay: in essence she gave up what she wanted most in the world, and, as God always does, was rewarded for it. In order to save our life, we must give it up. Any number of times Jane could have faltered. She could have chosen to be Edward’s mistress. She could have remained at Thornfield as Adele’s governess, therefore setting herself up for temptation. But she didn’t. I believe that for her willingness to place God first in her life, He allowed circumstances to provide her with lasting happiness. She had to be willing to give up Edward in order to have him. But it was not merely her departure that was required, but Edward’s equal transformation. He had to be left behind. He had to make the choice to attempt to save his wife. He had to be humbled through blindness. Humility would have never found him otherwise.
It is a journey of human perception and understanding, of spiritual awakening and fulfillment, and above all of two souls vastly changed by their actions. It is more than a sinister tale of morbid fascination, but a lesson in release and reward.