Jane Eyre - Michael Mason, Charlotte Brontë Bronte's attempt to demonstrate Jane's internal conflict- between submissiveness and independence- seemed best played out in a conversation that didn't even involve her. As her cousins, Eliza and Georgiana, keep vigil in the house of their dying mother, their mutual disdain erupts.
"Georgiania, a more vain and absurd animal than you, was certainly never allowed to cumber the earth. You had no right to be born; for you make no use of life. Instead of living for, in and with yourself, as a reasonable being ought, you seek only to fasten your feebleness on some other person's strength: if no one can be found willing to burden her or himself with such a fat, weak, puffy, useless thing, you cry out that you are ill-treated, neglected, miserable. Then, too, existence for you must be a scene of continual change and excitement, or else the world is a dungeon: you must be admired, you must be courted, you must be flattered- you must have music, dancing, and society- or you languish, you die away [...:]"

"You might have spared yourself the trouble of delivering that tirade" answered Georgiana. "everybody knows you are the most selfish heartless creature in existence[...:]"
Similarly, though Jane was much more tactful, we see the same values in Jane that Eliza clearly holds. They both are self-disciplined and industrious. She lacks any real expectation of love until meeting Mr. Rochester and even afterward, she still manages her feelings... properly.

Yet when St. John Rivers begins his sterile courtship, Jane's self-indulgent side slowly emerges. Her submission to St. John at first disappointed me and then confused me. Why does this seemingly strong woman submit to St. John's self-righteous authority and passive-aggressive machinations? The only answer that makes sense to me is that she is desperately rejecting the disdainful nature exhibited by Georgiana. Everything St. John says and does exemplifies the sense of duty and purpose valued by Jane. Yet, she ultimately rejects him. She rejects her own sense of duty. She accepts her selfish desire to be desired, not utilized. She is willing to sacrifice duty and purpose to be admired, courted and flattered. She accepts into herself some of the same traits that made Georgiana despised.

This is where Jane truly seems like a strong character. She rejects the image she created for herself. She does not burden herself with reproach or guilt. Instead, she sets out to locate Mr. Rochester. Not out of any need to attach herself to "some other person's strength", but because she is for the first time reaching out to take what she wants without apology. She cannot place some higher moral purpose on her desire nor justify it with some puritanical value. She accepts what she realizes will make her happy and she seeks it out.

I don't believe Jane is rejecting all duty. Jane Eyre is far from a book extolling hedonistic exploits. However, Jane's willingness to value her own desires is what seems to finally empower her.

This is the only interpretation I can make that reconciles Jane's apparent distress as she left the house after her aborted wedding and her uncomplicated acceptance of Mr. Rochester when she returns to Thornfield. It's a pretty significant thing to overlook the fact that your fiancee didn't tell you his crazy wife is locked up in the attic. I'd imagine, for most people, that would cause a trust issue...


Other random thoughts:

One review I read about Jane Eyre touched on a motif I had missed. The use of fire and ice metaphors serving as extremes of character. The use of fire imagery to evoke the passion in Mr. Rochester versus the ice imagery to demonstrate the lack of the same in St. John Rivers. Jane seems to drift between these two extremes. Could the homophone Eyre (Air) symbolize her moderation between the Fire and Water elements? I'm sure this is a stretch, but I like it anyway.

In a testament to her time (and given the nature of most of our Hollywood produced romances, ours as well), Bronte's protagonist is not pretty. She is repeatedly described as plain and unassuming. And her main love interest is described as ugly.
My master's colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth,- all energy, decision, will- were not beautiful, according to the rule; but they were more than beautiful to me.
Thankfully, this is not of those tired "beautiful nerd" movie plots where all it takes is a a new set of clothes, a stylish haircut and possibly a workout montage to superficially transform someone into the beautiful person already supposedly recognized by the main love interest.

Finally, it's long, but in the following passage I thought Bronte brilliantly captured one those stolen moments pilfered through secret and unrequited admiration:
This was the point- this was where the nerve was touched and teazed- this was where the fever was sustained and fed: she could not charm him.

If she had managed the victory at once, and he had yielded and sincerely laid his heart at her feet, i should have covered my face, turned to the wall, and (figuratively) have died to them. If Miss Ingram had been a good and noble woman, endowed with force, fervour, kindness, sense, I should have had one vital struggle with two tigers- jealousy and despair: then, my heart torn out and devoured, I should have admired her- acknowledged her excellence, and been quiet for the rest of my days: and the more absolute her superiority, the deeper would have been my admiration- the more truly tranquil my quiescence. But as matters really stood, to watch Miss Ingram's efforts at fascinating Mr. Rochester; to witness their repeated failure- herself unconscious that they did fail; vainly fancying that each shaft launched, hit the mark, and infatuatedly pluming herself on success, when her pride and self-complacency repelled further and further what she wished to allure- to witness this, was to be at once under ceaseless excitation and ruthless restraint.

Because, when she failed, I saw how she might have succeeded. Arrows that continually glanced off from Mr. Rochester's breast and fell harmless at his feet, might, I knew, if shot by a surer hand, have quivered keen in his proud heart- have called love into his stern eye, and softness into his sardonic face: or, better still, without weapons a silent conquest might have been won.pg. 211