Character Connection 13
Read about Minny Jackson and other great creations
on this week's round up of characters!
My current read is an excellent novel that I'll probably have several other posts about in the coming weeks. It's another reread, and I think that is why it is so enjoyable. It has been six years since I last tried reading it, which is long enough to make the forgotten scenes seem completely new and the well-loved passages glow with fresh fire. And that is exactly what is happening. I grew up with this book and know some parts of it almost by heart; and yet it is almost as if I am reading it for the very first time.
by Charlotte Bronte
"How can she bear it so quietly--so firmly?" I asked of myself. "Were I in her place, it seems to me I would wish the earth to open and swallow me up.
"She looks as if she were thinking of something beyond her punishment--beyond her situation: of something not round nor before her. I have heard of day-dreams--is she in a day-dream now? Her eyes are fixed on the floor, but I am sure they do not see it--her sight seems turned in, gone down into her heart: she is looking at what she can remember, I believe; not at what is really present.
"I wonder what sort of a girl she is--whether good or naughty."
Everyone in the world seems to have given up on Helen Burns. And nobody is sorry for it. She's just the sort of person we write off immediately. Her teachers and classmates at her charity boarding school know her as the "slatternly" one who couldn't fold a handkerchief neatly to save her life. Her mind seems as untidy as her personal effects, and she is always forgetting things she should remember--not just her lessons, but also when she should show up on time. And so, the cold winter morning when none of the girls get to wash up because the water has frozen in the basins, Helen is still publicly berated for having dirt under her fingernails.
Only new student Jane Eyre suspects that there is more to Helen than her sloppy ways, guessing correctly that the older girl's carelessness and provoking qualities are but the "donkey skin" that hide her true nature. And as she gets to know her first real friend at school--her first real friend in her life--she learns exactly why she should not judge by appearances alone.
"We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world: but the time will soon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting off our corruptible bodies; when debasement and sin will fall from us with this cumbrous frame of flesh, and only the spark of the spirit will remain,--the impalpable principle of life and thought, pure as when it left the Creator to inspire the creature . . ."
Charlotte Bronte might be disgusted by my next comparison, but her quiet, long-suffering Helen reminds me very much of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. One of St. Therese's most famous quotes is: "If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place for shelter." And it is her words, more so than any from Bronte's own novel, which perfectly capture the essence of Helen Burns. For Helen is as serene as she is displeasing to herself, able to enumerate all her faults without exaggerating them and to excuse everyone who chastises her for them without sounding the least bit sanctimonious. And she can bear this state of affairs (to answer Jane's earlier question now) because she knows it is temporary.
As Helen explains to her new friend, life is too short to spend making a tally of other people's wrongs--especially since after death, the soul is rewarded for all its sufferings. And what a beautiful soul she has--although few people ever see it. My favourite scene with Helen is one in which she lets her guard down completely, conversing with Jane and their favourite teacher, Miss Temple; and Jane is stunned at the new animation of Helen's features. They now have, she wonders, "a beauty neither of fine colour, nor long eyelash, nor pencilled brow, but of meaning, of movement of radiance. Then her soul sat on her lips . . ."
I wish I could ask now, "Don't we all know people like this?"--but chances are that we don't . . . or to be more accurate, that we don't know that we do. For the whole point is not only that it is hard to see someone's soul, as a general rule, but also that souls like Helen (and St. Therese) are almost always overlooked.
Image Source: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte