Next on my list comes this old favourite which generations of women have loved and learned from – read it? Loved it? Tell me what moved you most in it.
A woman attending one of The Reader Organisation’s shared reading groups asked if we could read this book ‘because I’ve heard it is about a girl with mental health problems and she overcomes them…’
Not the usual description of this woman-making book, and yet later, I realised it was Jane’s anguish and the emotionally unsatisfying nature of her life that I had identified with when I first read it. The brutal injustice of her child life seemed an absolute picture of reality at some level.
Technically it was a hard read for a girl of, I think, about 12. I got bored a lot as well as getting excited. I skipped the section when Jane – having had what we’d these days call a nervous breakdown – is holed up in the St John Rivers’ family home. But I started paying attention when St John nearly forced her to marry him;
“God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal, but mental endowments they have given you: you are formed for labour, not for love. A missionary’s wife you must–shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you–not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service.”
Jane’s a woman determined to go with her own feelings – I learned you could fight back even if you weren’t very beautiful, trying to get a life together with ‘not personal, but mental endowments’. And that fighting was partly gritty determination and partly a sharp wit. She keeps saying she is ugly but I thought she was overplaying that. She was just, like me, a plain Jane.
But it all works out. At the end of the book, when Jane finds her lost and now very broken love, he asks
“Am I hideous, Jane?” she replies, “Very, sir: you always were, you know.”
You can read it here