Saturday, January 07, 2012

How Jane Eyre saved my relationship

Do you think I am an automaton? ­a machine without feelings? ... Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong — I have as much soul as you, — and full as much heart ... I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; — it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal, — as we are ... -- Jane Eyre

Potential title of this post: How Jane Eyre ruined my relationship.

I never thought I'd say something like that. I've read the book at least 10 times and become an expert in all filmed representations of Mr. Rochester. (Best physical casting: Ciaran Hinds version. Best screenplay adaptation: Toby Stephens version. Best use of Michael Fassbender in tight white pants: Michael Fassbender version.)

Indeed, since my awkward teenage years, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester have been my shining beacon of hope from Relationship Hill. Whenever I feel romantically sentimental, despondent, or unmoored, I turn to them.

I love that Jane, despite her youth, balances vulnerability, self-knowledge, and conviction with poise and grace. And I love that Rochester, despite his inner demons, maintains a sense of humor, a wonder for love, and an intense desire to live with joy.

So how, you ask, could such beloved characters turn me against love? Well, they didn't really do anything -- I did. Namely, I got older and got into a real-life, adult relationship with plenty of ups and plenty of downs. And in one recent down -- a very down down, a down threatening not to return up -- I was asking myself a fundamental question: Do I love him enough to continue?

The severity of the situation demanded a dose of Jane, so I popped in the latest movie adaptation, settled on the couch, and instantly felt terrible.

There were Jane and Rochester, parading around on page and screen, full of love and intensity and witty repartee. There they were with pronouncements of affection and can't-live-without-yous. There they were kissing in the rain, stealing glances, running into each other's arms.

There they were, making me want to vomit, because I had ZERO of that going on in my life. I went to bed teary and hiccuping that night, convinced that true love was all raindrops and banter and declarations, and that I was doomed to never have it.

The good thing about going to bed, however, is that you wake up to a new day. And in the light of that day, I remembered that in addition to the romantic gestures, Rochester had also flat-out lied to Jane about his marital status. Jane was also naive and inexperienced with the wider world. They broke each other's hearts and miscommunicated and suffered a hard, jagged, abrupt split when Jane ran away to the moors, intending never to return.

Ah, the moors. When I was younger, this was my least favorite part of the story -- slow, tedious, and preachy. But now that I'm older, I grasp just how much happens with Jane while she's there. For example, she:
  • Contributes to her little community by starting a girls' school.
  • Makes friends for the first time since childhood.
  • Discovers relatives she never knew she had and always wanted.
  • Rejects a marriage proposal because she's not in love with the man (a risky proposition for a woman in her era).
  • Comes into some money, guaranteeing her freedom.
So, when Jane returns to Rochester after her moor adventure, it's as a well-rounded woman who tested her principles and convictions in the real world and found them up to the task. She comes back to Rochester because she forgives him, because she knows what they are capable of together, because she chooses to.

Meanwhile, Rochester -- whose estate fire has stripped his wealth, taken his sight, and removed his wife from the scene -- welcomes her back as an unfettered man. He responds not to her looks, but to her spirit. He acts with more honesty and humility. He chooses to move forward with her.

That's when I saw it: This was our relationship's moment on the moors. Our moment to examine if the foundation was strong, even if the house was ablaze. Our moment to accept that love is not perfect roses and sunshine, but an active choice -- one we both must make.

Jane and Rochester are adults. They acknowledge their flaws, ask forgiveness, and strive to improve. They are perfect together in their imperfection -- each fully drawn, heightened together. We root for them not because they mystically hear each other's voices in the wind, but because for 99% of the time they are struggling, making mistakes, and trying their best to follow their hearts.

At this point, I put down the book, ejected the DVD, and called Fella to talk. We took some time to think. We talked again. We felt better. The once irreversible down looked up again, .

When it comes to relationships, we don't need Gothic narratives; life is dramatic enough. Jane and Rochester are once again my standard bearers -- proof that for the right people, moors are not a death knell, but an opportunity.

Prayer #195: "We Stood At God's Feet, Equal"

When the daydream to sleepless night ratio tilts right,
When inside jokes drop off and outside fears creep in,
When ears no longer hear over din of heart and mind,

Restore the balance between us, reveal what we are made of, and remind us we're not alone on this quest to love.

Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:21 PM

    Hi Julia, have read this on the Bronte Blog which I've become addicted to since reading reviews of Jane Eyre 2011 both before and after seeing the movie.

    I really liked the summary and your insights into the characters and how you see parallels in today's relationships.

    Haven't read the book as often as you (yet!) but often pick a passage at random when I've a few minutes to kill. And each time something new strikes me about the novel - the story of the various families woven together so well by Charlotte Bronte, that across continents we analyse and are inspired by the writing so many years after the book was written and in such a different world to Charlotte's own life.

    Claire

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