Do you frequently find yourself seeking your fortune on the windswept moors? Or confronting your boyfriend/employer about the woman he has locked in his attic? OK, so maybe some of Jane's problems are pretty niche, but there's a reason that Charlotte Brontë's novel has stood the test of time. Here are a few lessons that every modern woman can still learn from Jane Eyre.
I mean, don't get me wrong, there are a lot of problems with Jane Eyre. Most of them stem from the fact that Mr. Rochester, Jane's boss/boyfriend, is a brooding asshole who locked his first wife in the attic (so romantic!). The book kind of addresses British imperialism... but then brushes that whole mess aside to focus on Jane and Rochester's less-than-healthy romance. Like all classics, Jane shouldn't be beyond critique. And yet, for all of its flaws, Jane Eyre is still a groundbreaking, gut-wrenching, life-changing book.
It's no mistake that Charlotte Brontë has been called "the first historian of the private consciousness.” She wrote a coming of age novel from a woman's perspective, at a time when that Wasn't A Thing. She created a female protagonist who was not beautiful, but was still intelligent, passionate, independent, and full of desire. And she filled her story with a lot of lessons that are still relevant for women (and all other people) today:
1Don’t pretend to be happy for other people’s sake
Little Jane had a rough childhood. She was an orphan in the care of cruel relatives, she was bullied by her cousin, and she was punished for not being happy enough. Seriously, the book opens with little kid Jane in trouble for failing to smile and prance around like children are "supposed to do." It's a baby version of the creepy guy on the street saying, "Smile, sweetheart." But Jane refuses to repress her own emotions as a kid, and even as an adult she doesn't let others dictate how she's "supposed" to feel.
2Beauty isn't everything
It's not that Jane was secretly beautiful the whole time, and just needed a man to come along and tell her so. She's plain. She's not hideous, but she's not a ravishing beauty. And she's fine with that. Rochester isn't that handsome, either (despite his Hollywood portrayal). Jane and Rochester's love isn't based on looks at all, it's a far deeper connection than that. Clearly, Brontë wanted to give an enormous middle finger to Victorian standards of beauty.
3Don’t lock your wife in the attic
I mean, that's just a good lesson for everyone, always. Don't lock anyone in the attic. I know that the Victorians weren't stellar at managing mental health... but I still feel like there was a better way to deal with this. At least, if you do find out that your fiancé keeps his exes captive in his home, pull a Jane and skip town at once.
4Never give up your independence
Even without the whole attic-wife debacle, Jane and Rochester couldn't really be together until they were equals. She needed to quit working for him, strike out on her own, run a school house, and be satisfied with herself as a separate person before getting hitched. Or, as Jane puts it, "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
If you want something, say so. Don't sit silently waiting for life to fix everything on its own. Confess your feelings to your crush, ask for that raise, and don't let injustice go unspoken. And never be afraid to defend yourself from jerks: “I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”
6Don’t settle for St. John Rivers
Don't get married and become a force for colonization just because it seems like the easiest thing to do. Hold out for a partner who views you as an equal, rather than your weird cousin named St. John who thinks you'd make a solid missionary's wife.
7Remember that the world is wide
Too often, we feel trapped in a certain place or routine or relationship. We convince ourselves that we have no power in choosing the direction of our own lives. But Jane is here to remind everyone that the world is full of possibilities, if you can only summon the courage to pursue them: “I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had the courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.”
8Be happy, not dignified
In an era when dignity was everything, Charlotte Brontë just comes right out and says, “I would always rather be happy than dignified.” It takes Jane a while to start valuing her own happiness, but it turns out that denying yourself happiness in order to fit into society's "dignified" box isn't helping anyone. If people judge you for the things that make you happy, you're better off without them. After all, "normal" is not necessarily better. Or, as Brontë puts it, “Conventionality is not morality.”
9Keep it real
Like any Gothic heroine, Jane has her fantasies and her strong, sweeping emotions. But she's also quick to keep her feet on the ground, set reasonable goals and expectations, and shut down anyone who tries to put her on a pedestal: “I am not an angel,' I asserted; 'and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me — for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.”
If there is any one lesson to learn from Jane Eyre, this is it. The romance stuff is thrilling, but Jane can't settle down with anyone until she truly learns to respect and love herself fiercely: “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”