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Jane Eyre and I
For me reading Jane Eyre was no mere intellectual exercise; it was an experience which served to reflect a mirror-image of what I am. Jane's rainbows and cobwebs are mine; we are one. I think that she would be as engrossed in reading an account of my life as I was in reading hers. I see her reading Ruth Rosen on a stormy night, covers up to her chin, with candlelight flickering and wind whistling across the heath. I read hers tucked into bed, as wind rattled the windows and bellowed through the caverns of Trump Village. Every page of Jane Eyre seemed to uncover another similarity between us. One passage was particularly meaningful to me because I found it to be a melding of several characteristics:
No reflection was to be allowed now; not one glance was to be cast back; not even one forward. Not one thought was to be given either to the past or future. The first was a page so heavenly sweet--so deadly sad--that to read one line of it would dissolve my courage and break down my energy (p. 323).
Here we see Jane as romantic, moral, passionate, vulnerable and highly principled.
My past grinds at my guts, but I realize now that I couldn't have done otherwise taking into account my romantic and moral inclinations, my passions, my vulnerability and high principles. Jane was tormented by her choices for the same reasons. Jacques Brel said, "Perhaps we feel too much and maybe that's the crime, perhaps we pray too much and there isn't any shrine..." But that's cynical, and defensive and incurable romantics like Jane and me would argue vehemently with Mr. Brel's lyric. To me (and probably to Jane) without passion and the Quest, life is a living death; without the willingness to do, to try and perhaps, to fail, we are automatons.
Philosophers and psychologists tell us that we do what we do because of what we are. As kindred spirits, Jane and I would find ourselves in emotional and ethical quandaries and flight would be the only choice. It is a flight fueled by principles.
Flight was Jane's only alternative when St. John Rivers proposed. He didn't seek marriage on the basis of love, but as a device to woo her into becoming a fellow-missionary. She was appalled by this bloodless, lifeless request.
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I, too, had to run. I was married to a man I didn't love or respect. My husband was cold and rational, I was the antithesis. My reason for marrying wasn't greed, but my insecurity, a negative self-image and a desire to please him and my parents. As I grew stronger in myself, I couldn't tolerate the marriage any longer. I was selling out on my dreams if I continued to live with a man for whom I felt no romantic love, a man who in no way lived up to my `ideal.' I gave up many things: comfort, security, the worship of my husband (in his cold, self-contained way) and set out to seek my fortune. At my side was my two-year old child. I was guided by my determination and my newly-acquired principles of respect and self love.
Very such in love with Mr. Rochester, Jane accepted sadism, neglect, sarcasm and almost anything he chose to inflict because she was insecure, previously unloved, unworldly and romantic. Even when there was a mutuality of feeling, the relationship was unequal. Growth was needed on both sides. She ran away from Thornfield because she discovered, on the day of her wedding, that Mr. Rochester was already married. She acted quickly, took nothing with her and was willing to endure any hardship to resist temptation. Jane was very moral and very romantic. The quality of her love would be altered, sullied if she remained. In flight her principles overshadowed her passions. During my odyssey, my romantic experiences paralleled Jane's. I encountered the `White Knight' and he was everything to me that Rochester was to Jane; but he was more sensitive, less abusive. He loved me; I worshipped him. He was music, poetry, light, air. I couldn't get enough of him. I wanted more, then I wanted forever. He could have complied; he was a man motivated by love and principles. His principles weren't nine and we eventually clashed over them. For him, being the step-father of an autistic child would require too much energy and provide too little reward. He wanted an unencumbered wife who could provide his with a child of his own and he wanted to seek his `ideal' while continuing with me (as a cushion against the pain of separation, I suppose). I was as appalled as Jane was when Mr. Rochester asked her to be his mistress. How could this man, my 'White Knight,' who claimed to love me totally and wholeheartedly, turn his back on Forever? Doesn't a lover accept everything climbþthe highest mountain, etc.?
Devastated and outraged, I had to run, to hide, to seek safety and oblivion both. I had to insulate myself from blinding, excruciating pain. My love was being trampled, made ugly. The running away was mental: I withdrew from life, friends, works and, especially, love; I contemplated suicide. The pain, emptiness and feeling of betrayal were as real as the emotions that took Jane on her journey through the moors. Still, I had to end the relationship, regardless of the consequences. In the final analysis, I made the only decision I could abide. In Jane's flight as in mine, we were tempted to remain. If we weren't, there'd be no urgency.
Though we were sorely tempted to stay and savor the wine, we feared that the vintage would soon turn to vinegar. Flight, for us, was the only option. Compromise on love is unacceptableþfor love is the sum of who we are, what we give and what we get in return and can only endure in its highest, purest form: a love based on mutuality, self-respect, sacrifice, equality, direction and growth. I couldn't have done otherwise--nor could Jane Eyre.