“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested,” Francis Bacon suggests on his essay Of Studies. I deeply agree. It is such a memorable experience for me when I discover a book worthy of being digested. For Women’s Month, I’d like to shift my focus on one of the best books I’ve read by a renowned woman author and share to you some of my realizations after reading this classic. I love stories and narratives—I root for characters and their development, I look for quotes to talk about—I read to feel. It’s just a very few times that I put down a book and exhale so deeply and think, ‘Wow, what a read.’ What book am I talking about, exactly? It’s Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
First of all, I’ll put this out there: this isn’t going to be a book review. It’s more of a set of realizations upon reading it. Before I delve in deeper into my personal reflections on this well-loved classic, let me tell you a little ‘bit of what the book is about. Jane Eyre is a coming-of-age story about an orphan—alone and bitter—who grows up to be a woman with estimable beliefs and a high respect for herself. We get to understand more of her development as a character when she embarks on to take a governess job in the mysterious Thornfield Hall, where she also gets to meet her employer, Mr. Edward Rochester.
On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered judgment with mercy.
If I had to summarize what happened with the whole book, spoiler-free, I think I would pick this quote. I think it just suited the book so much with its themes of both faith and passion. I admire it when a book gives me insights on my spirituality, and that was why I fell in love with this book in the first place. A lot of readers might not like religion incorporated in books, but for the classics, it must be expected. Christianity played a huge role in the character development in classic books.
Here are a few of my pure and honest takeaways from the book. [Also, massive spoilers ahead.]
See in the perspective and likeness of eternity—have some faith.
“But where are you going to, Helen? Can you see? Do you know?”
“I believe; I have faith: I am going to God.”
“Where is God? What is God?”
“My Maker and yours, who will never destroy what He created. I rely implicitly on His power, and confide wholly in His goodness: I count the ours till that eventful one arrives which shall restore me to Him, reveal Him to me.”
Charlotte Brontë was a daughter of a clergyman, so I think it’s no surprise that she ends up writing a book with religion as its prevalent themes. Personally, it is a delight when a book (especially a fiction one) presents a refreshing take on my beliefs as a Christian; in this book, I just really felt represented in a way — and I’ve never much connected with a character as Jane’s.
In Jane’s childhood years at Lowood, the boarding school she studied in, she meets a girl of faith, Helen Burns. Jane and Helen becomes friends real quick, and for the first few chapters they have insightful conversations about confronting Jane’s past and Helen’s faith and spirituality. These, for me, were the most important chapters of the book because I think this is where Jane truly hears the truth about God. As she grows up, we will see how her faith changed the way she saw and treated herself.
I don’t blame Jane for having such bitter and melancholic beliefs in the first place. She had a rough past—having both of her parents dead with no sincere relatives who were there for her—I have a feeling that if I were Jane, I’d have such a similar reaction, too.
There was this part in the book where Jane tried to defend her bitter beliefs with her depressing backstory. Jane tells Helen about Gateshead and her aunt Mrs. Reed. Helen listens intently. Then she replied like this,
“We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world: but the time will soon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting off our corruptible bodies; when debasement and sin will fall from us with this cumbrous frame of flesh, and only the spark of the spirit will remain—the impalpable principle of light and thought… I hold another creed: which no one ever taught me, and which I seldom mention; but in which I delight, and to which I cling: for it extends hope to all: it makes Eternity a rest—a mighty home, not a terror and an abyss.
Honestly I aspired to have Helen’s faith. And the fact that she was indeed a child when she all figured it out! These were the instances in the book where I was reminded of that verse from Luke that ‘Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.’ This is perhaps what Jesus meant when He wanted us to receive Him—with pure and childlike wonder and innocence.
This is a good reminder that we could also be a light to this world that we live in. Things here are temporal, and there is still something to look forward to that is not of this world. Let’s have some faith like Helen Burns—a faith in God and His power and majesty. We never know what we can do to a person. It won’t be obvious, but we may implant a seed in someone’s heart and change their life in the long run. It will never be worth it to live a life of bitterness; it’s time that we replace it with love and forgiveness.
God ordains the end, as well as the means.
I only present two of some of the most profound truths I’ve learned, but I definitely say this is my favorite. Let me explain plot-wise first. In the mid chapters, we have Jane and Mr. Rochester having very sincere conversations… until he proposes to Jane. They’re happy for awhile. She accepts, until their wedding wherein she discovers that Mr. Rochester is married to Bertha Mason, a woman whom he kept inside an attic in Thornfield Hall. (Absolutely crazy, I know.) Jane—realizing all this—is surprisingly calm. We don’t realize that there’s a storm inside her head right now, thinking of the right thing to do. There is definitely conflict in her head.
Jane, being true to her beliefs and valuing her integrity, rejects Mr. Rochester. She wouldn’t simply be a mistress. This is where she realizes her marriage with Mr. Rochester wouldn’t be the most beneficial one, especially in God’s eyes. Personally, I see the battle between Spirit and Flesh here. I believed this was such a heart-wrenching decision for Jane. She finally finds a family inside Thornfield Hall, and the only people who’d welcome her were also the ones to wound her so hurtfully. It’s true what they said, the ones you love the most are the also the ones who can hurt you the most.
“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be.”
So, to cut a long story short, she fled Thornfield Hall. I will always never not cry when I read Jane’s perspective on what was happening to her,
“Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt! May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonised as in that hour left my lips;”
Again, we were back to lonely and orphan Jane. It’s like she was 10 years old all over again. She had to find and rebuild herself. It was also in this saddening but hopeful journey that she would also get to meet St. John, Diana, and Mary. She also got the opportunity to teach students who were less privileged (courtesy of St. John), and if you asked me, that was such a noble act to do! Coincidentally, we soon discover that these people who saved Jane were her cousins all this time! (Oh, and one of Jane’s distant uncle dies and gives her a surprising sum of twenty thousand pounds.) I thought, wow, she may not be blessed with the man of her dreams, but at least she’s rich with blood relations to share it with!
“Glorious discovery to a lonely wretch! This was wealth indeed!—wealth to the heart!—a mine of pure, genial affections.”
But that wasn’t all. One day she supernaturally hears Rochester’s groans, “Jane, Jane, Jane!” And it was in those moments she was entranced. She, again, is reminded of Mr. Rochester. She decides to go look for him. She takes a carriage to Thornfield Hall only to see that it has burned down, killing Bertha Mason in the fires. This is where Jane discovers also [from a servant] that Rochester lives somewhere in a small town wherein his servants take care of him. He is crippled and blind. (At least he’s not dead, Jane thinks.)
Jane rushes to look for Mr. Rochester, still excited as ever. She discovers where he resides. She pretends to be a servant giving him a glass of water. Mr. Rochester is unsure if it’s the servant or not. He touches her, thinking, Is this my Jane? He’s thinking he’s being delusional all over again. Jane reassures him, “Sir, it’s me.”
“HIS chastisements are mighty; and one smote me which has humbled me for ever. You know I was proud of my strength: but what is it now, when I must give it over to foreign guidance, as a child does its weakness? Of late, Jane—only—only of late—I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker.”
They talk for hours, they catch up on everything they’ve missed on each other’s lives. Mr. Rochester is humbled by Jane’s love for him. He then rambles into a reflective speech on what came upon him when he became crippled and blind.
This, the ending, was definitely worth reading. (Also, the film didn’t give it much justice.) I was so happy for them. It was in those moments that Mr. Rochester realizes that he was actually humbled by God; he was made blind and crippled so that he would depend more in Him.
It was just so beautiful, how this story was woven together, honestly. Sometimes I definitely feel like Jane—emotional and questioning—‘Why is this happening to me?’, I think. Little do we know what God is really doing in our lives. We may not understand what and why are things happening in the current state of our lives, but I’m sure that God won’t be wasting these struggles on us if it weren’t for something more eternal. Like Helen, let’s fix our eyes on God and hope with reverence.