What motivated me to read this nineteenth century classic for the first time was recent walks I have taken by North Lees Hall near Hathersage in Derbyshire. It has often been said that Charlotte Bronte modelled Mr Rochester's home - Thornfield Hall upon North Lees but having read the novel very carefully I submit that it is far more likely that she had North Lees Hall in mind when she created Moor House - the family residence of the Rivers family. It is altogether a more humble, smaller property than the Thornfield Hall she describes and Moor House is located, like North Lees close to open moorland in sight of the parish church.
Jane was a governess at Thornfield Hall where she gradually fell in love with the master of the house - Edward Rochester. These loving feelings were reciprocated and they were about to be married but at the last moment Jane discovered that the house contained an awful secret - her husband to be was already married and the wife he had acquired in the West Indies was a violent lunatic living in a secret attic room. Rather than follow her heart, Jane obeyed her Victorian moral code. And in this extract you see Rochester expressing his growing and desperate realisation that he will not alter her will. He has in effect lost her:-
"Never," said he, as he ground his teeth, "never was anything at once so frail and indomitable. A mere reed she feels in my hand!" (And he shook me with the force of his hold.) "I could bend her with my finger and thumb: and what good would it do if I bent, if I uptore, if I crushed her? Consider that eye: consider the resolute, wild free thing looking out of it, defying me with more than courage - with a stern triumph. Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it - the savage, beautiful creature! If I tear, if I rend the slight prison, my outrage will only let the captive loose. Conqueror I might be of the house; but the inmate would escape to heaven before I could call myself possessor of its clay dwelling-place. And it is you, spirit - with will and energy, and virtue and purity - that I want: not alone your brittle frame. Of yourself you could come with soft flight and nestle against my heart, if you would: seized against your will, you will elude the grasp like an essence - you will vanish ere I inhale your fragrance. Oh! come, Jane, come!" (page 417)
Reading good books can be a strange affair. Motivation is important - you have to be in the right frame of mind and sometimes you have to be at the right point in your life. Having unfettered time to devote to "Jane Eyre" was important. Many times in the past my appreciation of good books was spoilt by the interruptions of everyday life - mostly in the form of work with its hamster-on-a-wheel urgency. Good books deserve good quality attention - not snatched and sleep-tainted chapters at midnight before you turn off the bedside lamp.
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"Jane Eyre" wouldn't be right for everyone but for me at this particular point in my life it was a very good read. I enjoyed the way it gave me glimpses of the author's being as she walked in Jane Eyre's dainty shoes and I also appreciated the historical by-products of the novel - indicating something of northern English life and manners in the first half of the nineteenth century. As I have suggested before, the blurb and cover design of the Penguin paperback make this classic novel look like romantic pulp - aimed at an entirely female audience ("Love can overcome anything") and that is - I think - insulting to such a trailblazing writer. Besides, as a subject, love should not be seen as the exclusive domain of women readers. Just like Mr Rochester, male readers are also keenly interested in love - this core aspiration of human life.