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Lessons in Empowerment from Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s ultimately a story about reinventing oneself and overcoming the past. Its eponymous protagonist is as empowered and self-reliant as any modern woman. She is hardly a typical Victorian heroine, all vulnerable and awaiting for a strong man to come along and save her.

The world has changed since the time when Charlotte Brontë wrote Jane’s story. But, unlike the meek and mild women who graced the pages of contemporary stories, Jane is not at all typical. She knows her own worth and won’t let others convince her otherwise.

I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

What has Jane Taught Us?

Don’t Blame Your Circumstances!

Jane Eyre had a miserable childhood. She was an orphan, and the people who should have cared about her and protected her did just the opposite. Her own aunt sent her to a school where the people in charge would beat her, starve her, and insist she was a liar. Yet Jane doesn’t quietly accept any of this mistreatment. She fights back, refusing to accept her punishments quietly. She also never uses her terrible home life as a crutch to excuse any shortcomings she might have when she becomes an adult.

If a Situation is Untenable Walk Away

When she is ready to leave Lowood school, Jane finds herself a position at a manor, called Thornfield, as Governess to Adele, the ward of Mr. Rochester. Even the invitation to become a teacher at Lowood doesn’t tempt her to stay.

When she leaves Rochester, Jane walks away, refusing to accept the role of mistress to a man who keeps his first wife imprisoned in a secret room in the attic of the mansion. She is unsure where she will go and what will happen to her, but she refuses to stay with the man, even though she loves him.

Set Your Limits

Jane knew what she was willing to accept and doesn’t allow Rochester to take advantage of her. Being mistress to a man who keeps his first wife locked in the attic was way unacceptable. She didn’t hesitate to leave Thornfield behind, even though she had no idea where she would go and actually ended up begging for food for a while. Jane wasn’t afraid to tell St. John, her cousin, that she had no interest in becoming the wife of a man she didn’t love. Jane realized that she was entitled to more than a safe but loveless life and returns to Thornfield.

Own Your Mistakes

When Jane returns to Rochester at the end of the story, Jane realizes that Thornfield has burned down. Ironically the fire killed Rochester’s wife, the one who set the fire. People argue over the empowerment of Jane running back to Rochester but however you feel about that, she was able to accept the fact that leaving Rochester was a mistake. She is willing to admit that, at least to herself, and return to make things better.

So take these lessons from Jane Eyre and exercise the same freedom and independent will. Never let anyone put you in a corner.

Buy the book on Amazon: Jane Eyre

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