“I think the main question we have to ask is whether she even had the option of running away with him.” Janet settled into her chair as the other three women retrieved paperbacks from purses and briefcases. Tuesday night book club had begun.
“I disagree,” said Alice Wilkins, the newest member of the group. “Charlotte Bronté wasn’t trying to create a morality play; she was trying to write a feminist manifesto.” Ignoring the others’ raised eyebrows, she continued, “We’re supposed to admire Jane Eyre’s strength...”
“Yes, her strength of character for not agreeing to be Rochester’s mistress,” Theresa interrupted. “She was holding out for marriage.” 38 and single, Theresa was adamant on this point. The other women nodded their approval.
“Marriage is overrated,” Alice said. “Bronté only set their relationship in the context of marriage because she would never have gotten the novel published otherwise.” She raised her voice over the chorus of disagreement: “Jane was strong enough to live on her own, without a man, and certainly without such an overbearing, dictatorial man as Rochester. What she was holding out for was a relationship of equals, not a traditional marriage. That’s why Bronté didn’t have them marry until Jane had inherited money of her own and Rochester had gone blind; they couldn’t have been equal until he’d been humbled.” With that, Alice leaned back, a look of satisfaction on her face.
Janet took a deep breath. This wasn’t going well, not at all. The silence was becoming awkward. Why did she invite Alice to the group in the first place? She should have known it would be disruptive; after all, the woman turned her down every single time she invited her to church. Why couldn’t people just get along...
Into Janet’s thoughts came Marilyn’s quiet voice. “I think there’s some truth to what you’re saying, Alice,” she said.
Janet and Theresa looked at their friend in surprise. Most Tuesdays, Marilyn simply listened as the two women discussed the books, offering a brief note of agreement here and there.
Marilyn looked down, hesitating, before she said, “I don’t think Jane and Rochester really could have been happy until he lost his sight. But I’m not sure they should have been happy anyway.”
Seeing their puzzled faces, she added: “All through the book, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Rochester’s wife, Bertha. It wasn’t her fault she was crazy. She seemed like she was just in the story as an inconvenience, something that had to be swept away before Jane and Rochester could be together. But...but Rochester had taken vows to Bertha and it wasn’t right just to kill her off so Jane could have a happy ending!” She spoke faster and faster until her voice trailed off into a muffled cry.
Before the others could react, Alice had moved to Marilyn’s side, embracing her. “You too, honey?” she asked gently. “My husband left me three years ago. She was 20; he was 52. Said she ‘understood’ him.”
Marilyn’s cries turned into full-blown sobs in Alice’s arms. Over the next few hours, she shared her husband’s affair, his request for a divorce. Book forgotten, the women listened, they talked, they cried together. As the hour grew late, they prayed.
When the words were gone, they gathered their belongings and prepared to leave, with hugs and promises not to wait until next Tuesday to talk. Alice, last at the door, turned to Janet. There were tears in her eyes. “I thought none of you Christians had problems,” she said. “You just had a simple answer for everything. I knew I could never live like that. But after tonight...honey, if the offer’s still open, I think I might like to visit that church of yours.”
After cleaning up the living room and moving the furniture back to where it belonged, Janet picked up her dog-eared college copy of _Jane Eyre_. She’d wanted her notes in front of her tonight so she could do a good job leading the discussion, making sure they all stayed on topic. Touching the book to her lips, she whispered, “Thank you, Lord, for problems.”
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