Jane Eyre

15th June 2001 at 01:00
Jane Eyre, the heroine of Charlotte Bronte's 19th-century best-seller, felt 'degraded' as a school mistress. But at least she didn't have to worry about marking the homework

Hang on a moment,I thought she was agoverness...

Yes, but after leaving Mr Rochester at the altar (on account of the fact that he was already married to a South American pyromaniac) Jane becomes so consumed with grief that she accepts a position as a lowly schoolmistress.

So Jane's not keen on teaching?

No sir! She even takes the job under the assumed name Jane Elliot. Clever that. But it's not surprising really. St John Rivers, the man who headhunts Jane, tells her: "I can offer you but a post of poverty and obscurity. You may even think it degrading for I see your habits have been refined."

This is hardly going to boost recruitment...

Jane describes the life of a school mistress as "plodding". She accepts the position because, as she tells St John: "I am not ambitious." It takes her a while to settle in: "I felt desolate, I felt degraded. I had taken a step which sank, instead of raising, me on the social scale. I was dismayed at the ignorance, the poverty, the coarseness of all around me."

And that's just her colleagues in the staffroom, is it?

No, Jane teaches on her own. It's a mixd-ability group of all ages. Her job is to turn "heavy-looking, gaping rustics into sharp-witted girls". For this she gets pound;30 a year, a twee little cottage and super-star status down the pub. "I became a favourite in the neighbourhood. I heard on all sides cordial salutations." She also gets plenty of time in the evening to draw portraits, read books and reject various suitors.

This is fiction?

Oh yes. Jane doesn't have to present her lesson plans or sit up all night marking. She soon captivates the Rev St John, who asks her to adopt the missionary position with him in India.

Does she go?

No, a rich uncle she's never heard of dies suddenly leaving Jane a wealthy heiress (the standard way to resolve a 19th-century novel).

This book is supposed to be believable, right?

Well, Jane certainly doesn't continue working at the school. With her new-found wealth she goes back to Thornfield Manor to see if Mr Rochester has put out the fire yet. She finds him singed, widowed but as keen as ever to get to the altar.

Which is when Jane realises her heart is with her class of gaping underachievers. She cries: "No Mr Rochester, I must return and educate them to the best of my ability?"

Nope, she says: "Reader, I married him."

Now that I do believe

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