For the month of December, in lieu of our Saturday book reviews, we will be reviewing our favorite Literary Heroines both classic and modern. These will be our favorite feminine characters in literature who serve as a positive role model to both inspire and empower readers through her heart, her character, her passion or her ability to survive and overcome.
I thought it fitting to begin with my very favorite literary hero of all time, Jane Eyre.
by Charlotte Bronte
Published October 1847 in London England
under the pen name: “Currer Bell”
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A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre has dazzled generations of readers with its depiction of a woman’s quest for freedom. Having grown up an orphan in the home of her cruel aunt and at a harsh charity school, Jane Eyre becomes an independent and spirited survivor-qualities that serve her well as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him whatever the consequences or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving her beloved?
When I picked up the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte for the first time it was in order to complete an assignment I had been given in my High School English class. By the time I was halfway through it (huddled under my covers with a flashlight into the wee hours of the morning on a school night) I was utterly enthralled. The novel proved to be intriguing, mysterious, romantic and even suspenseful. Ms. Bronte had me not only adamantly routing for the plain and even homely underdog as she continued to get back up and brush herself off every time life threw her in the mud (which was often), she also had me applauding Jane as she turned her back on her finally found and much deserved true love and…walked away… far away… from him when it became apparent that staying would mean compromising what she believed in. I quietly urged her to turn around and take what she deserved, it was only a tiny compromise and she could finally be happy! I found myself in awe and stood in whole hearted admiration as Jane instead made the agonizing decision to turn and flee the only home she had ever truly known, a future that was more than she ever dreamed to have and the real and passionate love of a man who admired and embraced her as his equal in life. She could have had everything and it would have only cost her one tiny moral compromise, one small piece of herself. But everything she was amounted to the person she had unwaveringly forged herself into through pain and trial, determination and survival. Giving up any piece of that hard earned integrity was too high a cost even when preserving it meant the sacrifice of everything else.
And thus, my heart broke with her as Thornfield faded and eventually disappeared in the distant background and she continued to place one foot in front of the other with her head held high. Although everything she loved, everything she wanted was in the opposite direction, she walked away because in doing so she remained whole. In that instant, as the tears of Jane’s heartbreak streamed down my cheeks, I chided Jane for walking away from her own happiness, while at the same time my heart swelled with pride in her as she carved out her own heroes seat in my heart.
Thankfully, in the end Jane and Mr. Rochester did reunite after several years. Though time had not lessened their love for each other it had altered each of them in different ways. Both broken, they found each other again and began to heal the wounds that the years of sorrow and heartache has etched onto their hearts.
Jane’s life was not a charmed one. She was no beauty with scores of suitors, she had no super powers nor did the fate of the world rest upon her shoulders. It could, in fact, be argued that her life was quite ordinary, meaningless in the grand scheme of things, even sad and tragic. Her beloved Mr. Rochester even commented that she had quite the tale of woe. But regardless of her having nothing to do with saving the world or discovering that she was the chosen one, she was a hero among heroes. The sacrifices she made, the strength with which she survived and the determination with which she refused to allow life or circumstances to shape her into anything other than exactly what she wanted to be with no room for compromise even when it meant loosing everything dear to her makes her a woman of integrity, beyond reproach. It makes her strong and radiant with a hard earned beauty that is rare among the best of us.
Jane Eyre reminds me that life is not perfect; most times it is not easy and never does it turn out the way I planned. Often life brings hardships that are unfair and sometimes those hardships shove me back down the mountain I have painstakingly trudged through blood, sweat and tears leaving me discouraged at best and devastated at worst. With the mantra that it is my right to succeed and achieve my dreams ever ringing in my ears, it becomes natural to drown in a sea of self pity or to be consumed by anger and indignation when anything stands in my way. To have the strength of Jane Eyre to understand that no one owes me anything and sometimes things aren’t fair, sometimes I get more than my “fair share” of suffering and loss. To share her wisdom in realizing that life is what I make of it and that no one crumbles under circumstances but instead as a result of how they deal with those circumstances. To share Jane’s courage in choosing to stand firm in who I am and what I believe in even when doing so means loosing everything and compromise can be so easily justified. To live my life as Jan Eyre did holding tight to my integrity until the very end, that is the legacy I wish to leave, a legacy not easily left.
And THAT is why Jane Eyre has my vote as one of the classical literary heroines.
Who is your classical literary heroine? Share in the comments below or submit a guest post to be published in our series, we would love to have your contribution!