February 19, 2015

The Profound Loneliness And Tenacious Reason Of Jane Eyre And Villette

Jane Eyre (1970 film)
Jane Eyre (1970 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I just can't get enough of Jane Eyre! Words cannot describe how much I love this book. Up to now, it sits undisputedly on the top of my favorite literature books, even on top of Les Miserable. Of course, I do not doubt the profoundness of Les Miserable regarding to human nature in general, but Jane Eyre is more special to me personally, as I feel related to "her" in so many ways.

Jane Eyre not only strikes me with her independence, as I put it in my previous post, but also with countless other aspects. For examples, her rebellious disposition - "I resisted all the way." (beginning of Chapter 2); her sharp inquiry about blind religious obedience, which is reflected in her friendship with Helen Burns; her unusually pre-matured intelligence, such as her quick learning ability, her art talent; and above all (even above her independence), Jane Eyre strikes me with her tenacious reason, which never gives way to her frail sentiment.

The profound loneliness and stern reason show in entire book of Jane Eyre, as well as in Villette - Charlotte Bronte's another novel. Both Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe (protagonist of Villette) are sensitive and passionate, however, they both let their reason to be the beacon of their life. They both are orphans, parentless and friendless, completely free of human relations. With such kind of loneliness, they both long for companionship. However, born in low class, without any social ties, they face great challenge, such as survival struggle as well as social prejudice. Loneliness tortures them, but the prejudice of others pushes them back to solitary and forces them to adhere more seamlessly to their personal pride. I think from this perspective, it's valid to say that the whole books of Jane Eyre and Villette are ruthless wrestles between eagerness of human relationships and personal pride: the profoundly acute loneliness goads the protagonists to other fellow human beings, on the other hand, personal pride prevents them from submitting to prejudice, sometime even to warm geniality.

In Villette, after Lucy reunited with her godmother and godbrother, she did such meditation before going to sleep:
"When I had said my prayers, and when I was undressed and laid down, I felt that I still had friends. Friends, not professing vehement attachment, not offering the tender solace of well-matched and congenial relationship; on whom, therefore, but moderate demand of affection was to be made, of whom but moderate expectation formed; but towards whom my heart softened instinctively, and yearned with an importunate gratitude, which I entreated Reason betimes to check.
'Do not let me think of them too often, too much, too fondly,' I implored: 'let me be content with a temperate draught of this living stream: let me not run athirst, and apply passionately to its welcome waters: let me not imagine in them a sweeter taste than earth's fountains know. Oh! would to God I may be enabled to feel enough sustained by an occasional, amicable intercourse, rare, brief, unengrossing and tranquil: quite tranquil!'
Still repeating this word, I turned to my pillow; and still repeating it, I steeped that pillow with tears."

Such kind of timely "check" by reason appear from time to time through out Jane Eyre (and Villette), and I think it is precisely why Jane Eyre is so powerful. Think of this, according to our "civilized" patriarchal tradition, women are mostly "prey" to feeling, sentiment, but Jane shows otherwise - she transcends convention, transcends the human nature defined by man, she lets her reason reign over her feeling. She is capable of making decisions that suppress her most acute desires if, she discerns that such desires would jeopardize her pride, independence or dignity:

"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? " (From Jane Eyre)

I only read half of Villette and enjoyed it very much, but I found difficult to continue reading the rest, because they appeared to be quite boring (maybe it's myself to blame). However, though Villette is not as good as Jane Eyre (my personal opinion), I found it resembles the latter in many ways. Villette is more like autobiography of Charlotte Bronte's life, especially the part when she was a teacher of a boarding school in Brussels, Belgium. Lucy Snow possesses the same personality as Jane Eyre, except, in Jane Eyre, the situation is more dramatic so the heroism seems so much stronger.

I once ranked Rebecca as my all time favorite, because of its hauntingly beautiful writing style (as matter of fact I just learned that Jane Eyre inspired Rebecca) , now, Jane Eyre seized her "crown", because not only Jane Eyre is equally beautiful, but also it's POWERFUL. And the reason Jane Eyre is powerful is precisely because of her non-negotiable reason.

Charlotte died only 38. What a genius!


  1. yunyi, I can see why you like Jane. She certainly is stubborn and rebellious, a woman who makes up her own mind about things. Personally, I prefer people who surrender to their desires rather than resist them. What I think people ought to resist is convention and authority, stupid man-made rules which prevent one from living a full and passionate life.

    1. "What I think people ought to resist is convention and authority, stupid man-made rules which prevent one from living a full and passionate life."
      That's exactly Jane Eyre does.

    2. another think i haven't mention in this post is passion. the book is full of passion, and a perfect example of coexistence of reason and passion.

  2. I love those extracts. Desire clouds judgment. The purity of love does not need desire. Pure love does not need attachment and desire.
    I couldn't agree more with you, Yun. She did not acquiesce to the patriarchal conventions that determine how a woman should feel. Excellent.Here is another quote to complement your thoughts:
    "The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline toward the religion of solitude." Aldous Huxley

    1. "The purity of love does not need desire. Pure love does not need attachment and desire. "
      Well put, Julia! And I love Huxley's quote. Totally!

  3. Yun, I love the story of “Jane Eyre” too! That story and the writing Bronte sisters have been favorites of mine since high school and I think that Charlotte, the oldest sister, is the best writer of the family. The Jane Eyre character that Charlotte Bronte created was a surprisingly independent woman for her time (and Charlotte’s time). All the reasons you state are exactly why Jane’s character appeals to me…her strong independence, rebellious disposition, her questioning of religious obedience, her intelligence and talent. But yes, she was lonely, and that is so understandable in the context of the story and the time, and could easily apply to our time as well.

    Charlotte Bronte wrote passionately about orphans who became strong women in “Jane Eyre” and “Villette” (I need to re-read “Villette” I read it a long time ago…and yes, “Jane Eyre” is the better novel of the two). I understand the characters of Jane and Lucy, I can relate. I understand the feeling of being an orphan (from the time I spent in an orphanage) and the loneliness that forces someone “to adhere more seamlessly to their personal pride.” These stories are written are beautifully and timelessly that one does not need to be an orphan to understand the feelings and perspective of the characters. I agree with everything you’ve written about the characters and the stories. Excellent excerpts! In writing these novels, Charlotte Bronte was ahead of her time. Yes, very sad she died in childbirth at age 38; I believe she would have gone on to write much more. Fantastic and very informative review, Yun!

    1. Madilyn, I am sure you can relate to Jane Eyre many ways because of your experience in orphanage. I suppose Charlotte Bronte had a very hard childhood which made her such a deep thinker. Too bad she died so young, otherwise she would be a prolific author. Nonetheless, just by one Jane Eyre she still stands on top of literature world. I admire this woman so much!