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Her Ladyship’s Notebook: A collection of wisdom, inspiration and advice on being a lady.  

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite literary characters of all time, and I think some of her finest qualities are often overlooked. Most adaptations of her story focus on her quick wit and imagination, but her strongest attribute is her self-respect.

Spoiler warning!!

Jane’s finest moment in the book is also her darkest hour. After an appalling childhood which featured a cruel adoptive family and a school so negligent that many of the students died of illness Jane finds herself at the cusp of a happy ever after ending as she sets forth to marry the brooding and rich Mr Rochester who absolutely adores her.

The happiness is short lived as the wedding is interrupted by two strangers who reveal that Mr Rochester is already married and his mad-wife is living in the attic of his house.

Jane’s response to these revelations is incredible. She goes to her room and thinks through her options. She finds that she still loves Mr Rochester, she understands why he lied and why he did what he did. She knows that she could stay with him and just not get married and ignore the scandal. She doesn’t care what other people think of her anyway. Or she could escape with him abroad and marry him in some country where no-one would know any different.

But she won’t do any of those things because in her heart she believes it would be wrong of Mr Rochester to marry her when he has already promised his faithfulness to another woman. It doesn’t matter that the woman is mad and violent and that Mr Rochester was deceived into the marriage. Jane respects the marriage, Jane respects Mrs Rochester.

She also respects herself. She knows that if she were to have one more conversation with Mr Rochester he would convince her to stay and all her resolve would melt away. He is everything she ever wanted but the price is too high as she would have to compromise her own sense of righteousness. She doesn’t want to surrender her will, even to her own desires so  she flees the house in the middle of the night, losing her money in the process and becoming little more than a beggar until some kind strangers come to her rescue. She loses everything she has all to keep to her own moral compass. That is admirable!

Eventually all comes good again for Jane, but boy do I love her in that moment. Here are the lessons I take away from her:

  1. Don’t compromise on what you believe is right for the sake of what is easy
  2. Respect other women – especially if you are ever tempted to become ‘the other woman’!!
  3. If you feel that you are about to compromise in a situation where you shouldn’t then it is perfectly acceptable to run away. Remove yourself from the situation. Know the boundaries of your self-control and put protection in place when your limits are tested.

Being able to stick to your guns about what you believe is wrong and right really is a valuable treasure to have. Your own sense of righteousness might be different from other people’s but in the end your own standards are the ones that should govern you the most.

That is what I love about Jane Eyre, she spends the whole book being judged and weighed up by other people. Her family and school see her as wicked and insolent, Mr Rochester sees her as miraculous and supernatural, St John sees her as a holy woman. But in then end Jane knows who she is and doesn’t let anyone else’s opinions govern her actions. She follows her own beliefs, and that is the core of self-respect.