On the morning of January 19th, Jane leaves the Reed residence of Gateshead, after saying a goodbye to Bessie and proclaiming that Mrs. Reed has never been a friend to her. Again the scene is set, a wet and misty dampness cloaking her travel until she arrives at Lowood Institution. Discipline is immediately apparent at this charitable school, yet we also see the compassion of Miss Temple, the supervisor, at the treatment of the pupils, who are fed a diet lacking in nutritious food. In spite of the rigidity of the place, there does seem a concern for health and well-being as far as it is possible within the structure of which it is run. Jane meets Helen Burns for the first time and we get an initial impression of her maturity and sensibility. And thus ended Jane’s first day at Lowood.
Again Brontë creates sympathy for Jane by referring to her long coach ride alone at such a tender age. Our admiration is more fully developed by Jane facing her circumstances with a determination and resoluteness of someone twice her age.
While the school has a rigid code, we can see that there is flexibility among certain teachers. The rigour is at first unfamiliar to Jane but the girl whom she meets (Helen) appears to accept them with an uncomplaining stoicism. And again we see the importance of literary choices as foreshadowing, as Helen is reading Samuel Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia when Jane approaches her, its storyline being the futility of realizing human happiness.
|Two Young Girls Reading (1891)
Jane is a member of the fourth class of Lowood and is somewhat bewildered by the lessons and rules. She is stunned by Helen’s quiet acceptance of Miss Scatcherd’s berating of her slovenly habits and later quizzes Helen as to how she could have born up under such abuse. She learns a valuable lesson from her friend, as Helen encourages Jane to follow Christ’s example of love for others, and presses her to attempt to see the situation from another point of view. Their conversation is very enlightening:
“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 civilised nations disown it.”
“How? I don’t understand.”
“It is not violence that best overcomes hate —- nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury.”
“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.”
………….. “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 have the impression that Jane is benefiting from Helen’s wisdom in a way that will serve her well in the future.
|School for Peasants’ Children in Verkiai (1848)
The first quarter of January, February and March pass for Jane at Lowood, and we learn of the scarcity of food, as well as the tedious visits to Brocklebridge Church where Mr. Brocklehurt officiates. Then one day their patron visits to grill the teachers on their extravagance of food, and the necessity of self-denial and hardship in order to save the students’ souls, a much more important issue than practicalities. Jane is hoping to escape the notice of this implacable man, but she drops her slate and as hard as it comes down, all his displeasure falls upon her. Made to stand on a stool in the middle of the room as she is categorized as an ungrateful liar by Brocklehurst, Jane can hardly bear the shame, however an angelic look from Helen buoys her spirits and she is able to endure. She sees in Helen a quiet self-assurance and love that lifts her above the petty spite and unjust actions of Brocklehurst, and the notice of the teachers and students. Helen has an inner power that appears beyond the comprehension of most of those around her.
“Such is the imperfect nature of man! such spots are there on the disc of the clearest planet: and eyes like Miss Scatcherd’s can only see those minute defects, and are blind to the full brightness of the orb.”
|The Schoolmaster (1954)