Jane Eyre: A Story of growth towards Vitalism
Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre, is the story of a girl who experiences a shift
from leading a simple, ordinary life in the confines of her 18
century society, towards
living an unconventional life of energy.
She is persuaded into this discourse by her own
will and the requirement that she upholds for joy and satisfaction. Through her different
living situations and stations in life as a child, servant, and woman, she is constantly
learning and applying new additions to her personal discourse. She gravitates towards
many existential conclusions about herself and, as she encounters new people and
obstacles, she establishes what does and does not fit into her growing ideals for her life.
With these experiences comes a series of negative characters who she uses as examples
of what not to become just as she sees and mimics the positive styles of being of those
who she views as honest, good-hearted, and wise. She both idolizes and mimics those
positive styles of being that she sees fit in others as she adopts her own morals and
religious beliefs. This process of building and developing is depicted very genuinely and
at the completion of the novel, through all of her hardships and turmoil, the result is a
very competent, independent, and dedicated woman.
The kind of life that Jane is allured to, known by many as Vitalism, is a
philosophy that favors energy above all else. Energy is seen as the path to eternal delight
and exuberance is regarded as beauty. The old saying, “He who desires but acts not,
breeds pestilence” is central to the belief of Vitalism and as the story unfolds, it becomes
a key proponent in Jane’s decision making.
A main element of Vitalism is exhilaration, a
condition of being that conflicts with the expectations of stagnancy for women in the time
period (mid 1800s) and that Eyre’s life takes place in. As an orphaned child who was left
to be raised by her cruel aunt, Mrs. Reed, Jane’s early existence is one that is
characterized by the stigma of being a burden. As a child she is depicted as an introvert;
she was content with reading books and is said to have “never liked long walks,” but
would instead rather stay indoors (Bronte, pg 5). She is treated as an outsider and a