#7. Jane Eyre

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"Is it better to drive a fellow-creature to despair than to transgress a mere human law, no man being injured by the breach?--for you have neither relatives nor acquaintances whom you need fear to offend by living with me?"

This was true: and while he spoke my very conscience and reason turned traitors against me, and charged me with crime in resisting him. They spoke almost as loud as Feeling: and that clamoured wildly. "Oh, comply!" it said. "Think of his misery; think of his danger--look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong nature; consider the recklessness following on despair--soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for
you? or who will be injured by what you do?"

Still indomitably was the reply--"
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. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth--so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane--quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot."

Author: Charlotte Brontë

Synopsis: Orphaned Jane was taken in as a baby by her uncle, who loved her; after his untimely death, she was raised by her aunt, who hated her. When confrontation with her aunt and cousins reaches a head, Jane is sent off to school, where she eventually becomes a teacher; from teacher to governess, at age eighteen she travels to a lonely country manor to manage the education of the little French ward of a rough and temperamental gentleman. Despite the inequality of situation, Jane learns to love Mr. Rochester, who is her match in looks and personality. He recognizes her as his match and beloved, but his unexplained past stands between them--far more thoroughly than Jane could ever have realized.

* * *

I have called this my favorite book in the past. It is dark, mysterious, full of shadowy ideas and strange visions and wanderings in the night; Jane is plain and straightforward and Mr. Rochester brusque and unhandsome, but their romance is perhaps stronger for their sense of personal deficiencies.

The first read was difficult, but now I get through the long and painful Lowood days easily and move into the more interesting times that begin, for me, when Jane and Mr. Rochester fall in love. From thenceforward the tale of justice and mercy--of unyielding law and ultimate grace--moves with speed and passion and fascination. I don't often like modern-day romance, where shock value and sexual description provide the primary hooks; no, thank you. Give me a tale of restraint, where virtues and feelings work their natural tensions upon their subjects and true love wins in the end. Jane Eyre is such a tale--none better.

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