I just finished reading Jane Eyre again. Once again I am reminded why I love that book: Principles, Laws and Helen Burns. At least that is my answer this time. What mother doesn’t read that book and have a deep desire for her own daughters to be as principled and strong as Jane? How many nineteen year-old girls today choose principle and natural law over the whims of the heart (or something totally frivolous)? Exactly.
Jane begins life in want of affection. So much so, that she believes to be loved is above all other cares. In great wisdom, her dear friend Helen Burns sets her straight, “Hush, Jane! You think too much of the love of human beings; you are too impulsive, too vehement: the sovereign hand that created your frame, and put life into it, has provided you with other resources than your feeble self, or than creatures feeble as you. Besides this earth, and besides the race of men, there is an invisible world and a kingdom of spirits: that world is round us, for it is everywhere; and those spirits watch us, for they are commissioned to guard us; and if we were dying in pain and shame, if scorn smote us on all sides, and hatred crushed us, angels see our tortures, recognize our innocence … and god waits only the separation of spirit from flesh to crown us with a full reward. Why, then, should we ever sink overwhelmed with distress, when life is so soon over, and death is so certain an entrance to happiness – to glory?”
Thank you Helen Burns. How many of us, as children, as teenagers, as grown women, put too much stock in the love of human beings, the acceptance of human beings, the validation of human beings? Think fashion marketing, cosmetic surgery, and teenage pregnancy... It’s really sad. Do we as adults look to a higher power for the love we desire, or do we only look among those ‘feeble creatures’ like us?
When she finally does find love and affection, it comes at a high price. In a very decisive moment Jane contemplates: “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 rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?” Ah, Jane. What would be their worth if in our trying moments we set them aside for what is easy, or convenient or temporarily delicious to our hearts?
Following her moment of decision, Jane experiences a very difficult and truly humbling experience. One that pushes her to the edge of wishing for sudden death. But she pulls through. Of course she pulls through. She has a divine maker watching over her. After the difficulty passes Jane says, “Yes; I feel now that I was right when I adhered to principle and law, and scorned and crushed the insane promptings of a frenzied moment. God directed me to a correct choice: I thank His providence for the guidance!” She recognizes the significance of standing firm in her resolve. Jane stuck with the principles she believed to be true, though very difficult, and now has the benefit of knowing her choice correct. The added beauty of it is that when she stayed true, she was blessed with what she wanted most, but this time not at the cost of righteousness. Her maker did not abandon her.
So now I ponder - how do I teach that strength, that fortitude? How does one encourage standing steadfast in truth and in principle to a young generation when our culture does not even know what those words mean? Jane had mentors like Helen and Miss Temple, Diana and Mary and St. John to help her, to stand as models before her of these attributes. We must be the mentors for our young. We must model that strength of principle and adherence to law in our daily moments of decision. We must do it even when we are worn down and tired and it’s hard. We must do it with love. And then, because we can never be as perfect as a character in great fiction, we can put before them the examples that we know inspire this character development. Once we know Jane Eyre and Helen Burns and Diana and Mary Rivers, we can put them before our daughters as mentors. My next question is - what are you going to do now?