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    Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre in the 2011 film of the same name

    Gradations of Glory: A Conversation with Jane Eyre

    “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

    By Charlotte Brontë

    April 20, 2023

    Jane Eyre, the protagonist of the Charlotte Brontë novel with the same name, is sent to Lowood School because her aunt and benefactress Mrs. Reed can no longer abide her rebellious behavior. Mrs. Reed has been cruel and unjust toward Jane, and Jane in return is full of smoldering resentment toward her aunt. In this exchange, Helen Burns, a sickly student who is nonetheless cheerful, befriends Jane and earnestly instructs her let go of her anger.

    “If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should – so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again.”

    “You will change your mind, I hope, when you grow older: as yet you are but a little untaught girl.”

    “But I feel this, Helen; I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved.”

    “Heathens and savage tribes hold that doctrine, but Christians and civilized nations disown it.”

    “How? I don’t understand.”

    “It is not violence that best overcomes hate – nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury.”

    “What then?”

    “Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how He acts; make His word your rule, and His conduct your example.”

    “What does He say?”

    “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you.”

    “Then I should love Mrs. Reed, which I cannot do; I should bless her son John, which is impossible.”

    Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre in the 2011 film of the same name

    Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre, 2011. BBC Films/Album/Alamy. Used by permission. 

    In her turn, Helen Burns asked me to explain, and I proceeded forthwith to pour out, in my own way, the tale of my sufferings and resentments. Bitter and truculent when excited, I spoke as I felt, without reserve or softening.

    Helen heard me patiently to the end: I expected she would then make a remark, but she said nothing.

    “Well,” I asked impatiently, “is not Mrs. Reed a hard-hearted, bad woman?”

    “She has been unkind to you, no doubt; because you see, she dislikes your cast of character … but how minutely you remember all she has done and said to you! What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart! No ill-usage so brands its record on my feelings. Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs. We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world: but the time will soon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting off our corruptible bodies; when debasement and sin will fall from us with this cumbrous frame of flesh, and only the spark of the spirit will remain – the impalpable principle of light and thought, pure as when it left the Creator to inspire the creature: whence it came it will return; perhaps again to be communicated to some being higher than man – perhaps to pass through gradations of glory, from the pale human soul to brighten to the seraph! Surely it will never, on the contrary, be suffered to degenerate from man to fiend? No; I cannot believe that: I hold another creed: which no one ever taught me, and which I seldom mention; but in which I delight, and to which I cling: for it extends hope to all: it makes Eternity a rest – a mighty home, not a terror and an abyss. Besides, with this creed, I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can so sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last: with this creed revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low: I live in calm, looking to the end.”

    From Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: An Autobiography (London: Smith Elder and Co. Cornhill, 1847).

    Contributed By CharlotteBronte

    Charlotte Brontë (1816–1855) was an English writer most famous for the romantic novel Jane Eyre, published in 1847.

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