Brains before Beauty in Jane Erye
Beauty is generally classified into two main categories: physical and mental. In the Charlotte Bronte's Jane Erye, the protagonist rejects by choice and submission, her own physical beauty in favor of her mental intelligence and humility, and her choice becomes her greatest benefit by allowing her to win the hand of the man of her desires, a man who has the values Jane herself believes in. She values her knowledge and thinking before any of her physical appearances because of her desire as a child to read, the lessons she is taught and the reinforcements of the idea appearing in her adulthood. During the course of the novel she lives at five homes. In each of these places, the idea of inner beauty conquering exterior appearance becomes a lesson, and in her last home she gains her reward, a man who loves her solely for her mind. She reads against her cousins wishes as a child at Gateshead, learns to value her intelligence as a child at the Lowood Institution, her mind and humility win the heart of Mr. Rochester at Thornfield Manor, she earns St. John's marriage proposal at Marsh's End, and in the end she wins her prize of Mr. Rochester's hand in marriage at Ferndean Manor.
Jane Erye spent the beginning of her childhood at her Aunt's house, where she struggles to become more intelligent by reading books. Jane wants to learn, even though her cousin insists: "You have no business to read our books; you are a dependent" (pg. 42). Shortly after being struck for reading, she lays in bed and requests: "Gulliver's Travels from the library. This book I had again and again perused with delight" (pg. 53). Her ambition to read and better herself meets opposition from her cousins, yet she continues to struggle to read when she can. The family she lives with treats her as an outcast, but she continues to reject their criticism of her, and to improve herself by reading whatever she can get her hands on.
Jane Erye's next home emerges as the Lowood Institution where she spends six years of her life learning to become intelligent and morally stringent, while remaining visibly plain. Her lesson of physical and mental humility comes at the hands of Mr. Brocklehurst, the institution's main benefactor. Upon seeing a girl with natural curls in her hair, he proclaims: "My mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh, to teach them to clothe themselves with shamefacedness and sobriety" (pg. 96). Such a strong influence on Jane, at such an early age, greatly persuades her opinion of her own physical image. She feels her status in life always remains as a humble and inconspicuous servant with a sharp mind and strict morals. In spending six years of her most impressionable years of her life at such a repressive institution, she learns a great deal of humility.
Lowood also teaches Jane a great deal by giving her one of the greatest benefits to her life: a good education. Jane spends eight years of...