By Charlotte Brontë (21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855)
There seem to be two varieties of saints – those who come from reverent homes, who attribute their love of God to the heroic examples of family members; and then those beautiful flowers who seem to spring from the dust, with no visible explanation of how they learned virtue or acquired the tenacity to cling to it despite the myriad temptations all around them.
Jane Eyre, an orphan who was kept by extended family members in an emotionally dark home, then transferred to an equally dark, Calvinistic boarding school, is an example of the latter. From the outset, the author allows us access to Jane’s childlike soul, which searches for love and justice in settings where there are neither. The fact that she pines for these things reminds us of the natural law inscribed in the human heart, but the fact that she chooses to love and exercise fair-mindedness is what sets this story apart from so many who allow their characters to be fettered by victimhood. So many who are raised in dysfunction allow it to define them, rather than staking their claim to ending the cycle that for them proved overwhelmingly painful and even suffocating.
Granted, this takes grace. One has to heroically want to forgive – if only from the head. Forgiveness is an act of the will that sets up a chain of events which will find their end in God. Jane began by refusing to live in an air of resentment. Where injustice robbed her of love, she chose to embrace the small gifts given – first the chance to leave her oppressive home, subsequently a friendship in her school, then an actual triumph of truth over calumny. These gave her the strength to stand by her conviction that God was good and that He had a hand in her life, despite its tragic turns.
Rejoice if this title is on your high schooler’s reading list. Add it yourself if you have the latitude. Accompany your child by reading (or rereading) this marvelous story of a woman who embraced her own femininity through sheer grace – remember to pray for those who are denied this critical element in their own formation. All things are possible with God, and remember that saints can spring from the most unlikely of places when God so wills it.