Monday, September 09, 2013

Monday morsel: "restlessness"

I've been re-reading Jane Eyre as part of a synchro-read with Adriana's Classical Quest.  It's a great novel with such a fascinating main character.  Here Jane is living a quiet, tranquil life at Thornfield Hall, not yet having met its master, Mr. Rochester; and she expresses her longing for more of what the world has to offer:

"... I shall be called discontented.  I could not help it; the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes.  Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third story, backwards and forwards, safe in the silence and solitude of the spot, and allow my mind's eye to dwell on whatever bright visions rose before it -- and certainly, they were many and glowing; to let my heart be heaved by the exultant movement, which, while it swelled it in trouble, expanded it with life; and best of all, to open my inward ear to a tale that was never ended -- a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence.

It is in 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.  Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot.  Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”


  1. Thank you for joining me for JE, Jeannie.

    I have the part about women feeling just as men feel underlined in my copy. Doesn't it seem like Bronte is venting here? No doubt she was condemned and laughed at for breaking with custom!

    Tonight I'm pondering this INFPish quote:

    " let my heart be heaved by the exultant movement, which, while it swelled it in trouble, expanded it with life."

    How many times I've had this thought!

    1. Yes, that's so striking, isn't it -- and it's also what makes me more sure that Jane would be an INFP on the Myers-Briggs test.

      And yeah, I'm sure this is partly Charlotte's voice talking. It doesn't seem like Jane would have had any specific reason to be lamenting the plight of women in society; she had zero experience with society in general (Reeds', Lowood, and Thornfield being the only places she'd ever lived). So this does sound like CB making Jane a mouthpiece. But it's a GREAT passage; I love it.

  2. "It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them ..."

    Wise words for us all.

    1. That's true, Tim -- and isn't it interesting that she says "women feel just as men feel"? I think strong feeling was perhaps seen more positively -- i.e. as an attribute of men -- in CB's day (rather than denigrated as it sometimes is nowadays).

    2. When it comes to debating the strength of feeling between the sexes, I always think of Anne Elliot's conversation with Captain Harville toward the end of Persuasion. Good thing she spoke loudly enough for Frederick Wentworth to overhear!

    3. Yes, isn't that a great scene? "the privilege of loving longest, after all hope is gone." Jane Eyre could second that emotion.


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