I’ve decided that on Mondays I’m going to revisit the books I read for a course in college called Advanced Reading Survey, taught by the eminent scholar and lovable professor, Dr. Huff. I’m not going to re-read all the books and poems I read for that course, probably more than fifty, but I am going to post to Semicolon the entries in the reading journal that I was required to keep for that class because I think that my entries on these works of literature may be of interest to readers here and because I’m afraid that the thirty year old spiral notebook in which I wrote these entries may fall apart ere long. I may offer my more mature perspective on the books, too, if I remember enough about them to do so.
Author note: Charlotte Bronte was the third of six children of a Yorkshire clergyman. Two of her sisters died while still in school, but Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell,, the remaining children, grew up together creating and writing down stories about fantasy lands called Angria and Gondal. Both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights grew out of these early flights of fancy and out of the Brontes’ experiences in school, as governesses, and as inhabitants of the beautiful but wild country of Yorkshire. Charlotte wrote under the pseudonym of Currer Bell to keep from public knowledge the fact that she was a woman.
Jane Eyre: the eponymous orphan who tells her life story in the book.
Mrs. Reed: Jane’s aunt by marriage and her guardian.
Helen Burns: Jane’s friend at school.
Mr. Rochester: Jane’s employer
Adele: Jane’s pupil
Mrs. Fairfax: Mr. Rochester’s housekeeper
“I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can so sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last: with this creed revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low; I live in calm, looking to the end.”
“Such is the imperfect nature of man! such spots are there on the disc of the clearest planet; and eyes like Mrs. Scatcherd’s can only see those minute defects and are blind to the full brightness of the orb.”
Conversation between Jane and Helen upon the occasion of Helen’s imminent death:
“But where are you going to, Helen? Can you see? Do you know?”
“I believe; I have faith; I am going to God.”
“Where is God? What is God?”
“My Maker and yours who will never destroy what He created. I rely implicitly on His power and confide wholly in His goodness; I count the hours till that eventful one arrives which shall restore me to Him, reveal Him to me.”
“You are sure, then, Helen, that there is such a place as heaven and that our souls can get to it when we die?”
“I am sure there is a future state; I believe God is good; I can resign my immortal part to him without any misgiving. God is my father; God is my friend; I love Him; I believe He loves me.”
All the rest of the quotations are Jane’s voice:
“It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted.”
“I could not help it; the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes . . . It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity; they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.”
“He could not bound all that he had in his nature—the rover, the aspirant, the poet, the priest—in the limits of a single passion.”
“When I asked him if he forgave me, he answered that he was not in the habit of cherishing the remembrance of vexation, that he had nothing to forgive, not having been offended.
And with that answer he left me. I would much rather he had knocked me down.”
“His nature was not changed by one hour of solemn prayer; it was only elevated.”
“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 rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be.”
I read the books for Advanced Reading Survey and chose these quotations to copy out about thirty years ago when I was twenty-one or twenty-two years old. Now from a fifty-one year old vantage point, I note several things.
Charlotte was rather fond of semicolons. She might like this blog were she still alive and writing.
I must have been thinking of some super-critical person like Mrs. Scatcherd, but I don’t remember who it was, if so.
From this distance, Helen looks rather priggish, but her statement of faith is moving and definitive anyway.
The last “laws and principles” quotation has come back to me many times in the midst of episodes of temptation. It’s so true. I need rules and laws for the times when everything inside me wants to break them, when I strain to justify my need for an exception to the rule. That’s when I need the standard to hold me accountable.
I’ve not re-read Jane Eyre in ages, but I tend to think it would hold up just fine.