II. Comparison of Life Experiences between Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte
2.1 Their Childhood
Both Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte suffer sadness and misfortune in their childhood. Jane Eyre at Gateshead is an orphan adopted by her aunt, who and whose children look down on her and treat her extremely bad. As to Charlotte at Haworth Parsonage, her father doesn’t like the children very much.
He was not naturally fond of children, and felt their frequent appearance on the scene as a drag both on his wife’s strength, and as an interruption to the comfort of the household. (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 51)
Besides, Charlotte’s mother dies when she is very young. And her aunt who came to take care of them is very strict：
“The children respected her, and had that sort of affection for her which is generated by esteem; but I do not think they ever freely loved her.”(Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 51)
But, on the whole, Charlotte’s childhood is much better than that of Jane’s. She is not an orphan; she is never looked down; she has her sisters and brother as her companions; she receives basic education from her father and aunt.
2.2 Their School Life
2.2.1 Lowood School V.S. Clergy Daughters’ School
There are a lot of similar or even same experiences between Jane’s life in Lowood School and Charlotte’s life in Clergy Daughters’ School. They both undergo terrible school conditions: harsh study and work ethic, bad and insufficient food, awful accommodation conditions. Their schools are both stricken by epidemics. Although, there is a kind and considerate Miss Temple in both Jane and Charlotte’s school, poor conditions hasten the death of Charlotte’s two elder sisters, and take away the life of Helen, Jane’s best friend, anyway.
Even though the conditions in both schools are bad, Charlotte’s life in Clergy Daughters’ School is relatively better compared with Jane’s.
First, Charlotte goes to Clergy Daughters’ School with no accusation while Jane is sent to Lowood School with the accusation that she is deceitful and is publicly humiliated.
Second, William Carus Wilson, the kind and benevolent manager of Clergy Daughters’ School is far better than the Lowood School’s hypocritical and self-righteous Mr. Brocklehurst. Mr. Wilson, of whose life, the working of Clergy Daughters’ School is for many years the great object and interest, says：”Withdrawal, from declining health, of an eye, which, at all events, has loved to watch over the schools with an honest and anxious interest.” And even Gaskell “cannot help feeling sorry” for the censure brought up against Mr. Wilson. (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 54)
Third, poor conditions only hasten the death of Charlotte’s sisters, who have tuberculosis, but directly take away Jane’s best friend Helen’s life.
2.2.2 Lowood School V.S. Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School
In Lowood, after the epidemic, Mr. Brocklehurst’s neglect and dishonesty are discovered, and new management takes over, which improves the conditions at Lowood dramatically. Then the situation is more like that in Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School: Jane flourishes under her newly considerate teachers, and after six years, becomes a teacher herself. She also builds a lifelong relationship with her teacher and friend Miss Temple. “I availed myself fully of the advantages offered me. In time I rose to be the first girl of the class; then I was invested with the office of teacher” Miss Temple “had stood me in the stead of mother, governess, and latterly, companion” (Charlotte Bronte, 1996: 123)
Charlotte also enjoys her life and does a good job at Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School. Just like Miss Temple at Lowood School, Miss Wooler at Roe Head School “was a lady of remarkable intelligence and of delicate tender sympathy.” Her “kind motherly nature” “made the establishment more like a private family than a school.”(Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 86, 87) And Mr. Constantin Heger at Brussels Boarding School, a “kindly, wise, good, and religious man”, “perceived that with their unusual characters, and extraordinary talents, a different mode must be adopted from that in which he generally taught French to English girls.” And “when Charlotte had made further progress, M. Héger took up a more advanced plan, that of synthetical teaching.” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996:199, 209)
Charlotte studies hard both at Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School and naturally made great achievements. “They wanted learning. They came for learning. They would learn.” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 194) As shown in the following:
She was an indefatigable student: constantly reading and learning; with a strong conviction of the necessity and value of education, very unusual in a girl of fifteen. She never lost a moment of time, and seemed almost to grudge the necessary leisure for relaxation and play-hours. (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 91)
Because of the excellent work Charlotte does both at Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School, she, like Jane, also holds a position as a teacher in school later.
But, there is one point that should be noticed that the academic standards in Lowood School, which may be equally high to Roe Head School, lag behind Brussels Boarding School. Thus, Charlotte receives a better education compared with Jane.
So, Lowood School is actually an integration of Clergy Daughters’ School, Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School. Generally speaking, Jane’s former life at Lowood is more difficult than Charlotte’s life at Clergy Daughters’ School; her later life at Lowood is as happy and productive as Charlotte’s life at Roe Head School, but Charlotte is better trained at Brussels Boarding School.
2.3 Their Career Life
Women in the early Victorian Age are at the bottom of society. To women from upper class, working is not their option. While to women in the lower class, they can only work on farms, shops, inns, factories or work as servants. To women, like Jane and Charlotte, between the two extremes, there are few work options: “they can only teach in schools, or work as a governess.” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 59)
2.3.1 Teaching and Tutoring
Both Jane and Charlotte first choose to be a teacher in the schools where they are trained, and then they work as a governess. But, Jane is more satisfied to be a teacher and a governess than Charlotte.
First, it can be found in the reasons why they leave their post as a teacher. Jane leaves Lowood because she wants to have a change for her life and experience the world outside rather than that she hates teaching.
“The world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.”(Charlotte Bronte, 1996:125)
While Charlotte leaves Roe Head School because the salary is too low, and she cannot bear the sedentary and monotonous nature of the teaching life, which may causes her nervous disturbance.
Second, Jane quite loves and enjoys the teacher position that St. John find her. She passes a lot pleasant time with her students, and the local people are very respectful to her. “I felt I became a favorite in the neighborhood. Whenever I went out, I heard on all sides cordial salutations, and was welcomed with friendly smiles.” (Charlotte Bronte, 1996:556) While Charlotte often feels depressed when she teaches English at Brussels Boarding School. The conduct of her pupils is often impertinent and mutinous in the highest degree. Mrs. Gaskell describes Charlotte’s situation as this:
It must have been a depressing thought to her at this period, that her joyous, healthy, obtuse pupils, were so little answerable to the powers she could bring to bear upon them. (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 226)
Third, Jane is more delightful as a governess than Charlotte for the situation in Jane’s employer’s family is much better. In Thornfield Hall, the housekeeper Alice Fairfax treats Jane as her daughter; the student Adele Varens loves and respects Jane; and Mr. Rochester, the employer, falls in love with her. Charlotte’s first position as a governess pressed painful restraint upon her: the kids didn’t listen to her; her employer discriminated against governess; she often felt lonely. Although her second and last situation as a governess is much better, she found that her personality was not suitable for tutoring.
2.3.2 Running School and Writing
Since teaching and tutoring suit Jane well, Jane doesn’t have any other career plans. But for Charlotte, both of her careers as a teacher and a governess are not successful, thus she has to find another way of earning money. She prepares well for running a school, but her plan fails because no students came. She has for long thought about making writing as her career, and she writes to Robert Southey, asking for his opinion of her poems. But Robert replies: “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.” “This ‘stringent’ letter made her put aside, for a time, all idea of literary enterprise.” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996:138, 142)
After all, Charlotte loves literature. She continues her literary creation. After the ill-success of her poems, she tries writing novels. Although her first novel The Professor is rejected, her second novel Jane Eyre wins enormous success. She finally makes literature her career.
Generally speaking, Jane’s career life is much smoother and relatively plainer while Charlotte met more setbacks before she succeeds in her career.
2.4 Their Marriage
2.4.1 Charlotte’s Early Attitude towards Love and Marriage
Charlotte meets her first proposal of marriage from a curate in early 1839, but she puts it on one side. And a few months later she meets a second proposal from another curate, Mr. Bruce, but she once again refuses the proposal. When she rejects the first proposal she writes in a letter:
“Yet I had not, and could not have, that intense attachment which would make me willing to die for him; and if ever I marry, it must be in that light of adoration that I will regard my husband. Ten to one I shall never have the chance again” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 149)
When she rejects the second proposal she writes “I am certainly doomed to be an old maid. Never mind. I made up my mind to that fate ever since I was twelve years old.” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 159) In her letter on June 2nd, 1840, she writes “I am tolerably well convinced that I shall never marry at all.” It is obvious that before Charlotte meets Mr. Constantin Heger, she is pessimistic about marriage and in her life scheme there is no matrimony. While Jane meets no proposal till she meets Mr. Rochester.
2.4.2 Charlotte’s Affection for Mr. Constantin Heger V.S. Jane’s Affection for Mr. Rochester
When Charlotte studies in Brussels Boarding School she meets Mr. Heger, the person to whom she would die for. When Jane works in Thornfield she also finds her fall in love with Mr. Rochester. There are a lot of similarities in the two affections.
Both of their loves are not love at first sight. Charlotte gradually develops affection for the kindly, wise Mr. Constantin for he gives much help and comfort in her study and in daily life. Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester because Jane is a good listener and can understand him well, and they can communicate with each other’s soul.
There are two main barriers in both of their love. One is the rigid social hierarchy in Victorian Age. Both Charlotte and Jane are poor, obscure, plain, and little while both of their lovers, Mr. Heger and Mr. Rochester, are mature, wealthy and respectable. What’s more, either in the teacher-student relationship and master-servent relationship, Charlotte and Jane are both in an inferior position. In Victorian Age, there is rigid social hierarchy, which makes it very hard for Charlotte and Jane to pursue their love. Another is the moral norm in that time. Mr. Heger and Mr. Rochester have already had a wife, which is the biggest obstacle. And none of them can cross it: for moral reason Mr. Heger cannot respond to Charlotte’s strong affection for him, and Jane doesn’t want to be Mr. Rochester’s mistress. For this reason, Charlotte and Jane have to leave the one they love.
Charlotte and Jane miss their lovers very much after they left their lovers. From the four existing letters that Charlotte writes to Mr. Heger after she left Brussels Boarding School we can see what deep feelings Charlotte’s towards Mr. Heger and how much she misses him. She practices French every day in case she forgets French when she sees Mr. Heger again, and she associates the language with Heger “As I pronounce the French words it seems to me as if I were chatting with you.” One year later her thoughts of love deepen:
Day and night I find neither rest nor peace – I do not seek to justify myself, I submit to all kinds of reproaches – all I know – is that I cannot that I will not resign myself to the total loss of my master’s friendship – I would rather undergo the greatest bodily pains than have my heart constantly lacerated by searing regrets.” (Harold Orel, 1997: 66)
Even two years later, receiving no reply from Mr. Heger, Charlotte still cannot forget him:
“When one has suffered that kind of anxiety for one year or two, one is ready to do anything to find peace once more. I have done everything; I have thought occupations; I have denied myself absolutely the pleasure of speaking about you – even to Emily; but I have conquered neither my regrets nor my impatience.” (Harold Orel, 1997: 67, 68)
When Jane newly settles at Moor House she thinks about which would be better: to leave her lover or to be his mistress. She feels cold and dismayed when a messenger from Thornfield Hall tells her no news about Mr. Rochester. She doesn’t forget Mr. Rochester when her life at Moor House becomes better and better:
“Perhaps you think I had forgotten Mr. Rochester, reader, amidst these changes of place and fortune. Not for a moment. His idea was still with me… The craving to know what had become of him followed me everywhere.” (Charlotte Bronte, 1996: 617)
When St. John asks Jane to be his wife she strongly refuses and at the very time she feels the call from Mr. Rochester. Can’t suffer the torment of Acacia anymore, Jane leaves Moor House to seek for him.
The most significant difference is that Charlotte knows from the very beginning that Mr. Heger has a wife but she cannot help falling in love with him while Jane doesn’t know that Mr. Rochester has a wife and when it is identified at her wedding ceremony she left Mr. Rochester right away without hesitation.
One obvious difference is that Charlotte receives cold response from Mr. Heger while Jane and Mr. Rochester love each other very much. After Charlotte left Brussels Boarding School she writes several letters to Mr. Heger. Although she waits, pleads, or even begs for his reply, she receives no reply: “I have not begged you write to me soon…but I wish it”, “I am depending on soon having your news.” “’I have nothing for you from Monsieur Heger,’ says she, ‘neither letter nor message.’” “…day by day I await a letter…day by day disappointment comes to filing me back into overwhelming sorrow.” (Harold Orel, 1997: 64, 65, 66, 69)
The results of Charlotte and Jane’s love are different. Having not received any response from Mr. Heger for a long time, Charlottle chooses to forget him, puts all her energy into her literature career. On June 29th, 1854, 11 years after Charlotte left Mr. Heger, she married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate, who loves her silently for years. Although Jane also meets a man, Parson St. John, who wants to marry her, she refuses his proposal. Only when Mr Rochester’s wife died, and Jane returns to Mr. Rochester with her big fortune and deep feeling finally.
In summary, both Charlotte and Jane’s love could resolve the social hierarchy related problems, but the moral problem still right stands there. Compared with Jane’s happy marriage, Charlotte’s affection for Mr. Heger is a bitter unrequited love.
2.5 Their Family Life: Gateshead, Thornfield Hall, Moor House, and the Manor-house of Ferndean V.S. Haworth Parsonage
Charlotte’s mother died when she was very young. To some extent, in Haworth Parsonage, her father is not up to standard, and her aunt cannot play the role of a good mother, which makes young Charlotte value her sisters and long for a complete and harmonious family. When she is young she usually writes diary with her sisters and even exchanges each other’s diary every four years. When they grow up they often share their thoughts on literature:
“The sisters retained the old habit…of putting away their work at nine o’clock, and beginning their study, pacing up and down the sitting room. At this time, they talked over the stories they were engaged upon, and described their plots.”(Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 280)
When Charlotte’s dear sisters and brothers dies in succession, Charlotte’s longing for a family enhances. Although she tries to diverse all her energy into writing, she cannot resist the longing. She finally marries Mr. Nicholls and forms a family.
The orphan Jane is excluded from the Reed family at Gateshead, where she first has the longing for a family. When Jane’s teacher and friend Miss Temple marries and leaves her, Jane’s longing deepens. At Thornfield Hall, being regarded as her mother by Adele Varens and courted by Mr. Rochester, Jane is only one step away from having a family. At Moor House, Jane finds her relatives and quite enjoys being with them:
“The more I knew of the inmates of Moor House, the better I liked them.” “I liked to read what they liked to read: what they enjoyed, delighted me; what they approved, I reverenced.” “Indoors we agreed equally well…Thought fitted thought; opinion met opinion: we coincided, in short, perfectly.” (Charlotte Bronte, 1996: 540, 541)
At the manor-house of Ferndean, Jane, together with Mr. Rochester, forms a family and later has a baby.
Charlotte’s way of keeping and seeking for a family doesn’t have a happy ending: her mother, two elder sisters die when she was young; her brother brings tremendous pains to the whole family; her aunt, brother, and two younger sisters die when she grows up. And she herself only enjoys nine months of family life with Mr. Nicholls, dies with her unborn baby. Compared with Charlotte’s way of losing family members, Jane, on the contrary, finds relatives. And at the manor-house of Ferndean Jane enjoys her happy family life for a long time.