Lessons Learned from Jane and Charlotte

Lessons Learned from Jane and Charlotte

I have Charlotte Bronte on the brain. Really, all the Bronte sisters, but Charlotte prevails because, let’s face it, Jane Eyre prevails.

So I was thinking yesterday about lessons I’ve learned through literature – and for me, even with Bronte (only Charlotte for the purposes of this discussion) on the brain, that includes Austen. I’ve spent so much time with them over the decades that it’s impossible they haven’t affected my worldview.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from Jane Austen:


Human nature may not change, but individuals can grow.

“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit…. I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled…”

I know I’ve cut up one of Austen’s best descriptions of both human nature and change, but it does say it all. Darcy says it all. People can change and grow and I need to look for it, expect it, and, if necessary, be hopeful for it.


Everyone is flawed – even our beloved heroines.

I’m returning to Pride and Prejudice again because Austen gives us so much here… and it’s such a fun book. Here’s our beloved Lizzy:

“…But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.”

And Darcy… Oh so many faults… but not in essentials.

“I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding— certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of other so soon as I ought, nor their offenses against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.”


Actions speak louder than words.

Again Pride and Prejudice shows it all… Darcy hunted down Wickham. He said nothing; he simply got the job done. Wickham, on the other hand, had lots of lovely words – and what a duplicitous heart they hid.

“There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.”


In the end, it was probably fair to draw only from Pride and Prejudice because for Bronte, I’m really only looking at her most popular work, Jane Eyre.

Here are a few lessons learned from Bronte:


Good friends are rare. Cherish them.

Bronte doesn’t populate Jane Eyre with many “good friends.” Jane’s best, Helen, dies when Jane is only eight, as the story has just begun. That said, Helen’s sweet nature and strong faith had an enduring impact on Jane throughout her entire life. Later in the story Mary and Diana St. John become Jane’s friends and they too influence her character and choices. All in all, Bronte gives friends power and respect. I think she’d say to protect good deep friendships; they matter.


Secrets always come out.

Whether it’s how you live your life – we’re looking at you, John Reed – or something you’re keeping hidden away — now all eyes are you Mr. Rochester – know this: The “wife in the attic” will always out. It’s probably best to remember this in all aspects of life.


Follow your instincts.

Jane’s a good model for us on that one. Need a job? Advertise. Man wants to make you his mistress? Run away in the night. You might pack a better bag, warmer clothes and maybe a little money, but you get the point. And when a man you don’t love, and know you’ll never love, proposes? Turn him down. Maybe more gently, but, again, that’s a personal choice.


Forgive and accept forgiveness.

“Love me, then, or hate me, as you will, you,” I said at last; “you have my full and free forgiveness: ask now for God’s and be at peace.” This final speech didn’t reconcile Jane to her aunt. Her aunt was a hard woman who, even in her last moments, abhorred Jane. But forgiving her aunt let Jane walk away with no binds tying her to aunt or childhood. Forgiveness freed her.

And I don’t believe Bronte would have given us one of the most unequivocally happy endings in all literature without Rochester experiencing much of the same: “I thank my Maker, that, in the midst of judgment, he has remembered mercy. I humbly entreat my Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer life than I have done hitherto.” (322) ) His fervent and heartfelt thanks gives pause for a moment of grace before restoration begins. Jane and Rochester marry, his vision is restored, a child is born, and together they experience “perfect concord.” Ah… What an ending!


So these are a few of my musings on lessons learned.

What has Austen taught you? Or Bronte? I’d love to know what you think and what you find strikes you within the works of these two literary powerhouses.

Thanks for joining me today!

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Laura Heydenburg
May 24, 2016 11:19 AM

Wonderful I loved this. The only one I would say was forgotten is how important the love of a child is to the giver and the receiver. Jane’s Aunt was horrible to Jane and it ate her up inside along with other things.That hate made Jane an angry lonely child. Helen was only loved by Jane and it was not enough the neglect and cruelty at the school devoured her. Mr. Rochester takes care of his ward but ignores her and ridicules her while she is in the room. Of course before Jane we can see he is not a happy man. It is not until Jane’s intervention as a governess that we see Adele start to bloom. There also seems to be this reality that children are so exposed to the emotions and whims of their elders from bad moods to horrible schools revenge and regrets.

Joana Starnes
October 13, 2015 6:46 AM

Thanks for this beautiful post! I loved your words of wisdom and the great way you put them together, with the best possible arguments! I REALLY hope you won’t stop talking to me if I admit I haven’t got much love for Charlotte Bronte (her unkind words about Jane Austen and the fact that she dismissed her writing and her personality without understanding either brings a knee-jerk reaction in me, along the lines of ‘good opinion, once lost, is lost forever’ 😉 ) and I’m afraid I tend to see a touch of selfishness rather than virtue in Jane Eyre running away from Mr Rochester when she knew perfectly well what bleak and self-destructive despair he would be flung into as a result, and that she was far more to him than just any old mistress. But then Victorian morality never was my cup of tea, really. I think I’d take the Georgians anytime. A bit more uncouth perhaps, not up to later standards of behaviour, but more honest with it, IMO. Still, much as I rush to champion Mr Rochester for not putting his wife in an asylum or not hastening her demise is some way or another so that he could have his heart’s desire, I still think his own behaviour was abysmal in seeking to bring matters to a head between himself and Jane by flaunting Miss Ingram under her nose and exposing her to the condescension of that awful woman. Badly done, sir! Almost as bad as Frank Churchill’s selfish treatment of Jane Fairfax! Mr Darcy and Mr Knightley are worth a hundred of you!

Debbie Fortin
October 10, 2015 9:52 AM

I love this post. Thank you for sharing. A lesson for me is about first impressions. They can be deceiving. Look at Elizabeth’s first impressions of both Darcy and Wickham. Both were incorrect. It is only later she realizes the value or not of each man.

Sheila L. M.
Sheila L. M.
October 9, 2015 4:59 PM

I love these two authors. And I never thought about the lessons learned…although Jane Eyre’s is one in which she faced death for standing up for her morals. Thank you for sharing.

Diana John Oaks
October 8, 2015 11:49 AM

Lovely post. The passages you picked to illustrate your points were spot on!

Jennifer Redlarczyk
Jennifer Redlarczyk
October 8, 2015 12:14 AM

Beautiful post and both of these authors are among my favorites. Jen

Brenda Webb
Brenda Webb (@brendawebb)
October 7, 2015 11:35 AM

What a fascinating post, Katherine! You have such good insight into all these stories. I enjoyed reading this!

October 7, 2015 8:29 AM

Hello Katherine, Thank you for the interesting post! Learning to forgive is an ongoing process. I am grateful to Austen for encouraging me along the way.

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