Life lessons from Jane Eyre

Has anyone seen the new Jane Eyre film?  I sneaked off with my mother-in-law last week, knowing there was no chance of persuading the husband to join me.  I loved it, and it made me want to reread the book which is even better.

You probably didn’t expect a piece of 19th century fiction to sit in the mix with my personal recollections as I travel the world.  But it’s got me thinking again about stories and why they matter, and what makes the good ones good.

Already in writing this blog I’ve come across the challenge of finding actual stories to tell, rather than ‘here’s another cool person doing cool stuff in a difficult place’.  I could do that in a single photo gallery, and I doubt it would do much for you.  But it’s actually stories that excite me most, the journey that you go on with someone.  When a story is good it moves somewhere, and moves you somewhere, through some kind of obstacle or difficulty to a better place, maybe even a place of reconciliation, harmony, restoration.  Whatever you do once you’re out the other end, and however you felt about the journey, you’ve been moved somewhere, through someone else’s experience, and it takes you to a new place of possibility. Through the story, there has been change – whether external, or internal, or (hopefully) both.  And I think the more profound the internal change, the more satisfying the story. I read a great book about that once, called The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories (it’s very long, and actually I’m not sure I’ve finished the last chapter).

Now there are limitations on how much of that you can do in a blog.  There’s something of the snapshot about it, but I think the good ones are the ones that manage to take you on that journey. And my challenge is to somehow put into brief written form the journey I’ve been taken on by people.

Which is why I love Jane Eyre, fictional as it is (but truthful none the less).   Here is the story of someone who journeys into the world, encounters evil and tragedy, but who holds onto integrity even to the point of giving up the thing she treasures most…and then is transformed in the process (as is the object of her love) and therefore reaches a more profound place of wholeness, reconciliation and hope.  I love the strength and passion of the woman and her choices, and that in the midst of all her hardwork and struggle, she doesn’t lose who she is.

It still leaves the question of what possibilities that journey opens up for me, what possibility of change I can see now after rereading it.  And I think this is where it lands me:  That circumstances don’t have to diminish me or make me less of what I am.

Anyone else with a life lesson to share from Jane Eyre?

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One response

  1. I love the symmetry of what she’s received in powerlessness and what she then finds herself giving when she is in a position of power over someone; Adele. She’s a heroine because she refuses to allow her past pain to harden her but rather to shape compassion in her, which I think is the stark choice that, like it or no, we all face throughout our lifetimes. And I especially love her faith in God, how it gives her that core steel of identity and self-respect which transforms Rochester’s bitterness into gratitude as he sees God’s grace in the choices that separated them, (although I’ve yet to watch an adaptation that brings that element out). Reminds me of Rembrandt’s Simeon; the blind man gets to see what the seeing man couldn’t imagine.

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