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JANE EYRE: FROM A SULLIED MEMORY TO A NEW AND STAINLESS STORE OF RECOLLECTIONS
‘Jane Eyre’ was Charlotte’s Brontë’s first published novel, which was an immediate success due to an enticing mixture of a Cinderella story ending with wedding bells and a human development story encouraging personal growth and character building.
Jane is an 18-year-old orphan. Yet with uncanny wisdom she teaches the Byronic and much older Mr. Rochester how a path towards self-revival can be found: ‘One thing I can comprehend: you intimated that to have a sullied memory was a perpetual bane. It seems to me, that if you tried hard, you would in time find it possible to become what you yourself would approve; and that if from this day you began with resolution to correct your thoughts and actions, you would in a few years have laid up a new and stainless store of recollections, to which you might revert with pleasure.’
‘Jane Eyre’ was published when Charlotte Brontë was 31 years old but she did not dare to publish it under her own name fearing bias. Like her other two sisters Anne and Emily Charlotte chose an ambiguous pen name – Currer Bell to have the public guessing who ‘Jane Eyre’ had been written by: a man or a woman.
‘Jane Eyre’ is dedicated to W.M. Thackeray. The dedication appeared on the novel’s second edition after Charlotte Brontë learnt that the literary lion had praised the novel. ‘It interested me so much’, Thackeray wrote to the book’s publisher, ‘that I have lost (or won if you like) a whole day in reading it.’ Charlotte Brontë returned the praise in the preface to the second edition: ‘I think I see in him (Thackeray) an intellect profounder and more unique than his contemporaries have yet recognized.’
Many people wonder why someone born in Yorkshire, a historic county of Northern England, should have such a foreign-sounding name Brontë [ˈbrɒnteɪ]. Charlotte’s father Patrick was one of the 10 children in a poor Irish family but through ambition and perseverance he found his way into Cambridge where he studied theology. At Cambridge he changed his Irish name Brunty into Brontë, which translates from Greek as ‘thunder’.
Charlotte’s childhood was spent in the village of Haworth, West Yorkshire, where her father was the curate of St Michael and All Angels Church. There was no other entertainment than the company of her brother and two sisters. Charlotte wrote: ‘We were wholly dependent on ourselves and each other, on books and study, for the enjoyment and occupations of life.’ Having no opportunity to travel or get involved in diverse activities, Charlotte and her siblings became keen observers of life at hand – something Charlotte endowed her most famous heroine with. Look at how astute Jane is in forming her opinion of Richard Mason, whom she had just met: ‘On closer examination, you detected something in his face that displeased, or rather that failed to please. His features were regular, but too relaxed: his eye was large and well cut, but the life looking out of it was a tame, vacant life – at least so I thought.’.
Unlike Charlotte’s first book ‘The Professor’, ‘Jane Eyre’ was instantly published and hasn’t been out of print ever since. Part of the appeal of the book undoubtedly lies in it being a helpful guide for people who want to create themselves through discipline, willpower and sound judgement. When Jane learns that her employer - the rich and powerful Mr. Rochester - is interested in the beautiful Blanche Ingram, she devises a method to quiet the love for him that had been growing in her heart. 'Listen, then, Jane Eyre, to your sentence: tomorrow place the glass before you, and draw in chalk your own picture, faithfully, without softening one defect... Afterwards paint in your softest shades and sweetest hues Blanche Ingram, remember the raven ringlets, the oriental eye... Whenever in the future, you should chance to fancy Mr. Rochester thinks well of you, take out the two pictures and compare them.'
The book teaches the reader to learn to keep their emotions in check for Jane is a passionate woman and to take decisions which are in sync with your best interest thus paving the way for overall happiness and well-being.