Every year, around Christmas-time, I pick up an old favorite, Jane Eyre, and read it again. I usually pick it up during the holidays when time is looser, less structured. After scanning my way idly through the first chapter or so, I would find myself settling into a serious read, captivated again by a young woman who seems to get feminism right. Independent in an era when few women are, Jane manages to find love while staying true to herself. This was a big deal to me when I first read the novel as a young girl in my eight-grade English class. But in the years since, I’ve returned to Jane Eyre for different reasons.
I just finished my annual trip to Eyre country, and this time, I was struck by how it is the places in the novel that keep me coming back. Gateshead, the posh estate where Jane spends her early years in isolation. Then Lowood, the orhan assluym and school, with its minimal comforts and tidy discipline. And of course, Thornfield, Mr. Rochester’s estate, an elegant manse with its orchards and wild moors and spooky third floor. But the place that is the most lavished with description is the home where Jane is the most comfortable, Moorhead, where she is welcomed into a cozy house full of female academics.
Jane is guided to Moorhead by a mysterious light on the third day after she has broken with Mr. Rochester because of her own committment to virtue and independence. This three-day period is Jane’s dark night of the soul, and she’s hungry and broken down. Then, she sees the light:
…”when at one dim point, far in among the marshes and the ridges, a light sprang up. ‘That is an ignis fatuus,’ was my first thought; and I expected it would soon vanish. It burnt on, however, quite steadily; neither receding nor advancing… The light was yet there; shining dim, but constant, through the rain. … This light was my forlorn hope: I must gain it.