A Story of vitalism
Charlotte Bronte’s novel, “Jane Eyre,” is the story of a girl who rejects the simple,
ordinary life customary of an English 18
century society and instead pursues happiness
by living an unconventional life of energy.
She is persuaded into this discourse by and
for her own freewill and the requirement that she upholds of joy and satisfaction for
herself. Through her different living situations and stations in life as a child, servant, and
woman, she constantly learns and applies 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 as
the reader finds Jane in a continuous cycle of feeling confined, adjusting her mindset (and
subsequently her discourse) in given situations, and then repeating the first step again. 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, described by many as ‘vitalism,’ is a
philosophy that favors energy over stasis. Living life with 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 that Eyre’s life takes place in (mid 1800s). As an orphaned
child who is 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 distaste for taking “long