Which came first, Beauty and the Beast, or Jane Eyre? There are definite similarities between the two stories. The answer to this question is, of course, Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête – fairy tale by French novelist Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve, published in 1740).
In Jane Eyre, Rochester is a bit of a beast when Jane first meets him. Really, he’s just angry all the time, and for good reason. Like Belle, Jane “tames” the beast with her kindness.
This famous Gothic romance is still a best-seller today, so let’s examine some of my favorite story elements that in my mind at least, make this story great.
Our heroine is an outcast, rejected by her family. Her ill-treatment among those who should have loved her seemed to prepare her for what lay ahead. Most children sent to Lowood School don’t survive, which may have been the main reason her aunt sent her there.
But Jane did survive. Rather than allow herself to rot away as a teacher at Lowood Academy, Jane Eyre advertises for a suitable position as a governess. She desires adventure, and she certainly finds that at Thornfield Hall.
I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.
Like Beauty and the Beast, Jane Eyre is a societal tale. Belle’s father is a merchant, Beast is a prince. Jane’s situation in life is far below that of Mr. Rochester, during a time when the class system was ironclad. A titled man of property never dared to marry a governess. It was frowned upon.
Jane Eyre also presents the reader with situations that require acceptance and forgiveness. According to Bronte, Rochester is not an attractive man in the usual sense. He’s ugly and brooding. Though he is in possession of a good income and a fine estate, bad decisions have left him in an unfortunate condition. I’m leaving the poor man’s history at that, in case you haven’t read the book or seen one of the movies. I don’t wish to spoil for you. 😊
Our heroine is plain. But in my opinion, she’s not a typical plain Jane. Though in the beginning, she is reserved and seems overly prudish, she exhibits inner beauty and peace that is awe-inspiring. She’s a gifted artist and speaks fluent French. The reader can’t help but admire her, and Rochester is immediately drawn to her character. It’s a classic case of “opposites attract.”
The romance element is strong in Jane Eyre. The attraction begins early on as the unlikely couple banter about ordinary subjects. Rochester is not put off by her reticence but draws her out. Her intelligence and wit inspire many brow-arching moments on his part. As their relationship deepens, their two souls seem almost intertwined, prompting him to remark that their hearts are connected by an unbreakable cord.
It’s a Gothic tale, for all is not as it seems at Thornfield Hall. The manor house is pokey and dark, but still ten times better than Lowood School, where she’s spent most of her life so far. Then there are times when Jane hears maniacal laughter and piercing screams. Her doorknob rattles as though someone is trying to open it. Is the house haunted? Or, is it a more ordinary circumstance, as the housekeeper assures her? A laundress with a propensity for over-imbibing alcohol.
Days of sunlit gardens give some relief from the dark interior of the house, along with Jane’s growing affection for Adele, the little girl in her care, who is Rochester’s ward. But just when things seem to be headed toward happily-ever-after, something terrible happens that nearly drives Jane over the edge. She must leave Thornfield Hall at once!
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! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.
She takes the coach to the end of its route and finds herself alone on the moors. Now in a completely different world, she’s living another life with a new suitor, though I never accepted him as suitable for Jane. 😊
It is evident that the writing of this tale must have taken years. Jane Eyre is a well-thought-out story filled with symbolism and truths that you may not catch the first time through. I’ve read it more times than I can count, and I’ve watched several film versions. Still, the original novel is stunningly detailed.
One of Jane’s strongest character traits is a direct result of her religious upbringing. She can seem closed and judgmental at times, but those deep, spiritual roots keep her moving forward and on more than one occasion, keep her from making a really bad decision that would most certainly destroy her.
Oh, to pen such a story as this one! Though some modern readers will find the language stilted and the narrative a bit wordy, others will discover as I did, the beauty of a timeless theme. Love banishes darkness.
All my heart is yours, sir: it belongs to you; and with you it would remain, were fate to exile the rest of me from your presence forever.
If interested, you’ll find an excellent study of Jane Eyre here: Jane Eyre Study Guide
Click-to-Tweet: “All my heart is yours, sir: it belongs to you; and with you it would remain, were fate to exile the rest of me from your presence forever.” – Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre from Romancing Jane Eyre via @InspiredPrompt
Writing Prompt: “You say your heart belongs only to him. How then can you leave him? What terrible thing has he done to break your heart and bring your world crashing down?” How would your fictional heroine answer this question?