Thursday, April 21, 2016

“No net ensnares me”

Charlotte Brontë was born on this date in 1816 – exactly 200 years ago. That’s reason enough to write about one of my favorite novels, her Jane Eyre. Since I first read it at about the age of twelve, Jane Eyre has been a sort of touchstone in my life. I’ve probably read it twenty times or more, and in fact I enjoyed another survey of its pages just a few months ago.

As a smart but nerdy teen, conscious of (and touchy about) my limited circumstances and hoping to better my life and expand my outlook, I identified strongly with Jane, who was also smart and nerdy and ambitious – not for worldly attainments, but for intellectual and emotional fulfillment. During those difficult years, Jane was my exemplar of rational thought, of self-actualization and intellectual independence. Through her I learned that a girl can become an independent thinker, and that intellectual independence is the foundation of an intellectual life. (I raised my own daughter to value and use her intellect.) Through Jane, too, I learned that in a life partner, one must seek a like mind; for me, that meant seeking a person with whom I can seek and relish a rich intellectual life. (How lucky I was to find D so early in my life – now that I think of it, when I met him I was about the same age as Jane when she met Rochester.)

A few favorite lines from Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? 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! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal — as we are!”

I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

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