Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: Ch. 31

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Chapter XXXI

My home, then, when I at last find a home,—is a cottage;d a little room with whitewashed walls and a sanded floor, containing four painted chairs and a table, a clock, a cupboard, with two or three plates and dishes, and a set of tea-things in delf.w  Above, a chamber of the same dimensions as the kitchen, with a deal bedstead and chest of drawers; small, yet too large to be filled with my scanty wardrobe: though the kindness of my gentle and generous friends has increased that, by a modest stock of such things as are necessary.

It is evening.  I have dismissed, with the fee of an orange, the little orphan who serves me as a handmaid.  I am sitting alone on the hearth.  This morning, the village school opened.  I had twenty scholars.  But three of the number can read: none write or cipher.w  Several knit, and a few sew a little.  They speak with the broadest accent of the district.  At present, they and I have a difficulty in understanding each other’s language.  Some of them are unmannered, rough, intractable,w as well as ignorant; but others are docile, have a wish to learn, and evince a disposition that pleases me.  I must not forget that these coarsely-clad little peasants are of flesh and blood as good as the scions of gentlest genealogy; and that the germs of native excellence, refinement, intelligence, kind feeling, are as likely to exist in their hearts as in those of the best-born.  My duty will be to develop these germs: surely I shall find some happiness in discharging that office.  Much enjoyment I do not expect in the life opening before me: yet it will, doubtless, if I regulate my mind, and exert my powers as I ought, yield me enough to live on from day to day.

Was I very gleeful, settled, content, during the hours I passed in yonder bare, humble schoolroom this morning and afternoon?  Not to deceive myself, I must reply—No: I felt desolate to a degree.  I felt—yes, idiot that I am—I felt degraded.  I doubted I had taken a step which sank instead of raising me in the scale of social existence.  I was weakly dismayed at the ignorance, the poverty, the coarseness of all I heard and saw round me.  But let me not hate and despise myself too much for these feelings; I know them to be wrong—that is a great step gained; I shall strive to overcome them.  To-morrow, I trust, I shall get the better of them partially; and in a few weeks, perhaps, they will be quite subdued.  In a few months, it is possible, the happiness of seeing progress, and a change for the better in my scholars may substitute gratification for disgust.

Meantime, let me ask myself one question—Which is better?—To have surrendered to temptation; listened to passion; made no painful effort—no struggle;—but to have sunk down in the silken snare; fallen asleep on the flowers covering it; wakened in a southern clime, amongst the luxuries of a pleasure villa: to have been now living in France,d Mr. Rochester’s mistress; delirious with his love half my time—for he would—oh, yes, he would have loved me well for a while.  He did love me—no one will ever love me so again.  I shall never more know the sweet homage given to beauty, youth, and grace—for never to any one else shall I seem to possess these charms.  He was fond and proud of me—it is what no man besides will ever be.—But where am I wandering, and what am I saying, and above all, feeling?  Whether is it better, I ask, to be a slave in a fool’s paradise at Marseilles—fevered with delusive bliss one hour—suffocating with the bitterest tears of remorse and shame the next—or to be a village-schoolmistress, free and honest, in a breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart of England?

Yes; I feel now that I was right when I adhered to principle and law, and scorned and crushed the insane promptings of a frenzied moment.  God directed me to a correct choice: I thank His providence for the guidance!

Having brought my eventide musings to this point, I rose, went to my door, and looked at the sunset of the harvest-day, and at the quiet fields before my cottage, which, with the school, was distant half a mile from the village.  The birds were singing their last strains—

“The air was mild, the dew was balm.”h

X [d] My home, then, when I at last find a home,—is…

Illustration.

X [w] delf.

Things

Named for Delft, Holland, the tea things are inexpensive glazed earthenware.  

X [w] cipher.

Write numbers and do simple arithmetic.

X [w] intractable,

Not to be guided or influenced; obdurate.

X [d] wakened in a southern clime, amongst the luxu…

Writing & Reading

Jane associates illicit passion, the "silken snare," with the "southern clime," the south of France. The novel is xenophobic and "racist" in its assumptions about stout Anglo-Saxon virtue versus French (and German and Italian) debauchery, which seem endemic to the French character, as Jane represents it. 

X [h] “The air was mild, the dew was balm.”

Scott's The Lay of the Last Minstrel again, III, xxiv, 3-4.