Friday, January 14, 2011

More on Jane Eyre

This morning NPR had a bit about a study done some years ago on inmates who had attempted to assassinate political figures.  The researchers found that many of the would-be assassins were motivated by a desire for notoriety, in revolt against anonymity and failure.  For some reason it reminded me of this passage from chapter 12, when Jane describes her restless nature.

“I valued what was good in Mrs. Fairfax and what was good in Adele; but I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and what I believed in I wished to behold.

Who blames me? Many, no doubt; and I shall be called discontented. I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes.  Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third story, backwards and forwards, safe in the silence and solitude of the spot, and allow my mind’s eye to dwell on whatever bright visions rose before it – and, certainly, they were many and glowing; to let my heart be heaved by the exultant movement, which, while it swelled it in trouble, expanded it with life; and, best of all, to open my inward ear to a tale that was never ended – a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence.

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a constraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, to laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."

Not trying to say that having a restless heart makes you a would-be assassin, just noting the universality of that sense of longing for more.


BettyDuffy said...

I just read this chapter and paused on the exact same lines. Reminded me of the Romance of Domesticity article Nate just wrote for Touchstone--the romantic desire to leave home: "She wanted to die, but she also wanted to live in Paris."

Is this "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, Oh Lord?"

I've had a surprisingly tranquil winter, reading good books, learning guitar, no major issues with the kids, happy housewifery. I like my companions here. I've also been saying my prayers, and for a change, avoiding Fashion mags, TV and my Ipod. I wonder if discontent is really in our nature, or if we invite it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Betty:: What's funny is that when I reread Jane Eyre last year and came to the same passage, my first reaction was: That's my life!!!

I'd say that Jane has never felt at home anywhere she's been--that she would, if she had the SF background for it, describe herself as an exile from another planet. I think she has tried liking everyone and being content with what she has (which she knows is a pretty decent deal); but she can't deny that there is something missing.

On the other hand, I don't think she's looking for action as much as for communion. She's looking for the rest of her tribe.

Emily: The would-be assassin reading made me smile. I've wondered for a while whether Jane would score INTJ on the Myers-Briggs test--and the INTJ profile is, according to one joke, "Voted Best Villain Every Year".

BettyDuffy said...

Good point E. I imagine it would be difficult to call anywhere home if one has lost all of their family.

Enbrethiliel said...


Also, come to think of it, she's quite at home with Mr. Rochester at the end, in a little cottage, running their household and raising their child. She's probably still "making puddings . . . knitting stockings . . . embroidering bags" and all that--but is far more content with her lot because she knows she's finally home.

Melanie B said...


I think you're right about her yearning for communion rather than action. Think how very at home she is when she's being so very domestic preparing Moor House for Diana and Mary's arrival. She's doing all sorts of menial domestic chores and is so very happy cooking and cleaning. Contrast with how she has to work herself up to the determination to go to India with St John. What she really wants is family not adventure.

Melanie B said...

Though I do think there is an element of "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, Oh Lord?"

Especially when you look at the final sentences of the novel.

Emily J. said...

I think I paused on this passage because it did feel familiar, and though I know the heart only rests in God, the experience of being a sojourner can be unsettling. So when Jane initially turns away from Mr. R when she finds out about Bertha, it seems she doesn't want just comfort and belonging but that higher good. You wonder how much Bronte was trying to "say," especially in scenes when she has little Helen go on about the equality of souls, and how much was she just trying to write a good story. I was kind of looking for some theology of marriage in Mr. Rochester's excuses, but couldn't find one. Then again it was late when I was reading...