Jane Eyre, paragon of virtue….

As a bona fide Charlotte Brontë fan, here’s a piece in the NY Times on an exhibit, commemorating the 200th anniversary of Brontë’s birth,  at Morgan Library and Museum, NYC. The exhibit runs until January 2nd:

The painting of the Brontë siblings, above, was painted by Branwell, the brother in the group and according to this article, an aspiring artist of sorts.  The NY Times article states:

“Just a few years before this low point, Branwell, an aspiring artist, painted a group portrait of the four siblings, one of the focal points of the exhibition. It is a strange visual document. At some point, Branwell painted over his likeness, leaving a whitish pillar between himself and his sisters, almost as though he had beamed himself out of the family, “Star Trek” style. In a sense, he did. His life ended, at 31, in a suicidal spiral of alcohol and opium addiction. Tuberculosis would claim Emily at 30, soon after “Wuthering Heights” appeared, and Anne at 29”.

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels, despite it being a Gothic romance, with bizarre and totally improbable plot twists, characters that seem more caricatures of virtues and vice and overwrought prose meant to make you buy into Jane Eyre, the penniless orphan and paragon of virtue.

For those not familiar with Jane Eyre, here’s the short plot – she’s an orphan, abandoned by her cruel aunt, who grows up and becomes a governess.  She arrives at her new job to teach a little girl, whom you are never sure if she’s the illegitimate daughter of the master of the house, Mr. Rochester.  Strange happenings, of the ghostly type,  occur, like in any good Gothic romance.  Mr. Rochester and Jane fall madly in love and decide to wed.  Then Jane discovers that the “ghost” is really Mr. Rochester’s demented wife, whom he keeps locked in the attic.  And because Brontë has sucked you into the endless Jane pity party, you keep reading.

So, there is poor Jane prepared to marry  Mr. Rochester when she realizes he already has the crazy wife locked in the attic.  He begs Jane to stay and become his mistress, but here’s Jane, the paragon of virtue:

“Still indomitable was the reply–“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad–as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth–so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane–quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.””


Jane leaves and then after an assortment of events she returns to Mr. Rochester, who is now blind and missing a hand.  The crazy wife burned the house down and jumped from the roof, to her death, and naturally, heroic Mr. Rochester (the guy who tried to get Jane to marry him, despite having a wife locked up in the attic) sustained his injuries trying to save his demented wife (yep, he tried to save the wife he kept locked up in the attic….).

Of course, Jane, being the paragon of virtue, marries him and they live happily ever after.

The End


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