Set in the 1800s in the English countryside, the intensity of the love between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester find their echoes in the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. It may be that I have drawn a non-existent parallel only because these books are written by sisters. However, the overarching desire to “possess” the one they loved was a common strain.

Cover of Jane Eyre, courtesy The Compulsive Reader

Jane is definitely a character to reckon with. As Jane says of herself, she is one of extremes, “I know no medium: I neverin my life have known any medium in my dealings with positive, hard characters,antagonistic to my own, between absolute submission and determined revolt. I have always faithfully observed the one, up to the moment of bursting, sometimes with volcanic vehemence.”

Beginning with the cruelty at Gateshead under the hands of her cousin John Reed, his mother and unsympatheic sisters, Jane looks upon life as misery and hates that she is dependent on relatives who are forced to provide her charity at the behest of her uncle on his deathbed. Her few glimpses of sunshine come from Bessie, a maid and a few books that talk of a life beyond the walls of Gateshead. A chance episode at Gateshead has Jane shipped off to school at Lowood, where under the guidance of the gentle and accomplished supervisor, Miss Temple, Jane goes on to become their brightest student and a teacher at Lowood.

The marriage of Miss Temple snap her ties to Lowood, and Jane gives impetus to the adventurer in her lurking beneath the staidness of Lowood. One has to compliment, a young woman of eighteen, who has never seen the world or known it’s ruffianry, advertising in the paper, seeking a position to further her independence. I think I was in awe of Jane then. But of course, good things happen to those who are brave, and a Mrs. Fairfax requested her services at Thornfiled Hall to be a governess to a girl of 10. It is here that the next phase of Jane’s life unravels. It is here she meets Adele, her charge, a simple, beautiful, spoilt child and Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester, the master of Thornton Hall, and who’s ward Adele is, a dominating, hard and sometimes savage man.

Over the weeks that pass, Mr. Rochester opens up to Jane the vista of his experiences, the treasure trove of his knowledge, his sharp wit and intelligence, his just and fair dealings, along with his disdainful outlook and burdened heart of his past life. She saw Paris through his eyes, visited the opera, met the Italian, his words and communion brought alive the adventures she had always sought.  Man’s greatest need is to be wanted, cherished, treasured for what one is. To know that what I do or say infinitely thrills someone, my endeavours are a service to someone, that I am the light of somebody’s life. Jane and Edward fulfilled these needs in each other and Mr.Rochester asks Jane to marry him, seeing her as the medicine and the hope for transformation and repentance of his old life.

It is at the altar that Jane learns that Mr.Rochester is already married, and the ground falls out beneath her. It is at this moment that the greatest moral dilemma presents itself to Jane. To enjoy the geatest joy life could ever offer her, succumb to the justification that the first wife was a “wife” no more but an error. Or to turn a blind eye to the entreaties of the one person who had loved her and she had loved in return and heed the high calling of principle, spurn the sweet joy of being Mr.Rochester’s mistress for a life of loss. Jane wouldn’t be Jane if she had not run off from Thornton Hall before daylight the next day. She travelled as far as she could with what little money she had and started a new life in the town of Morton. For days she went hungry and slept under the open sky, till on a rainy evening she forced herself into the house of the two Rivers sisters. The good sisters and their chaplain brother along with the housekeeper nursed Jane back to health from her famished, fatigued figure.

The sisters Diana and Mary prove to be soul sisters for Jane and the brother St.John finds employment for her in the town as the Mistress of a school that he has just opened for the little girls of the town of Morton. Life passes complacently by and not much is known or asked of Jane’s prior life till, the brother St.John gets a letter that entitles Jane to a fortune. Seeing Jane’s reaction to her coming into a fortune, and observing her many accomplishments, St.John, whose aim it was to be a missionary in the Eastern world, thinks that Jane would make a perfect missionary’s wife, and asks for her hand in marriage. Jane wonders at the doors that this would open. If she could not have Mr.Rochester, what binds her to England? However, Jane was true to herself and realises that she is a mere tool, albeit it very useful tool, in the hand of the missionary to establish his works in a lost land, and marriage to St.John was a mere convenience, an aid to his ambitions. Gentlemanly and of the highest Christian disposition though he was, Jane understood that St.John’s passion lay in his work, and no human could ever claim it, and she turned him down.

In the months that has intervened, Jane had not forgotten Mr.Rochester, and had even sent letters to Mrs.Fairfax on two occassions asking after the health of Mr.Rochester. There were no replies. She knew she had denied him life-giving breath by plucking herself out of his life, and now, even more she would not rest till she found out what had become of her master of Thornton Hall. The book ends with their reunion and what happens thereafter. Suffice to say, unlike Catherine and Heathcliff, the tomb was not the only place Jane and Edward rested side by side. And the book ends on a victorious note encumbering the reader of the blessing of a marriage based on the love of compatible minds – ” I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest–blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully is he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together.”

On a parting note, it does amuse me however to see repeated charaters’s names. There are 4 Johns (The cousin John Reed, the chaplain St.John, the uncle John Eyre, and John the servant at Thornton Hall), 3 Janes (Jane, her mother and the daughter Bessie names after Jane). There are also 3 Marys. It makes you wonder why a lot of names are repeated :). And Jane’s submissiveness to a strong authority figure and rising to their improbable and exacting standards made me wonder if the “Jane” Quimby of Jane by Design was modelled on our very own Jane Eyre 🙂

The ingenuous Jane and her exacting boss, Gray Chandler Murray. Jane by Design Poster courtesy Zap2it