Claustrophobia and travel in Jane Eyre

“I desired more practical experience than I possessed … I shall be called discontented. I could not help it … [human beings] need action”.

Jane Eyre, Chapter 12

I have to admit that when I first read Jane Eyre I didn’t really ‘get it’ (though I didn’t realise that at the time). I really enjoyed it, but Jane would sometimes irritate me when she would say how discontent she was, how she felt so restless. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t simply happy with her situation – after a few years (and actually thinking about it) I now understand: of course she’s restless, how could she not be!

Thinking back, I should have realised straight away why Jane felt so claustrophobic. Before reading Jane Eyre, I had felt similarly trapped in my surroundings, wanting to travel. When I did read it I had travelled across the globe to Nepal, and was halfway through spending a month there, feeling a sense of freedom from being able to travel freely and explore the beautiful country. I now see this is what Jane wished for, though on a smaller scale – this was, of course an era where travelling by plane wasn’t exactly a reality. Travelling and freedom of movement was denied to her by her status, limited wealth and gender. I understand how ironic it was now – there I was, relaxing and enjoying my time exploring and yet I was unable to adequately comprehend the situation of a woman who longed for this but was unable to realise her dreams.

What caused me to finally see the light? Well, for a start I reread the book. While I enjoyed it the first time I read it, I found that revisiting the story really helped me to appreciate Jane and her situation. It may have also helped that I had returned from the wonders that were Kathmandu, Chitwan and Pokhara and had landed straight back into my day to day life, comfortable and fun but with the claustrophobia always drawing closer. Away from the idyllic setting where I had first visited the book I was able to sympathise with Jane’s troubles. I also did a lot of growing up, and discussed the book with friends who helped me to explore her world more deeply and to think about it further.

Jane Eyre is now a book that reminds me how lucky I am. I have grown up in a world where I can travel freely, comparatively cheaply and with relative ease. My gender is not a barrier to travel – though it does still hold some restrictions on what I can do I am not stopped from journeying in my own society. Unlike Jane I am not limited by the gates of the grounds. I did not have to contemplate marrying someone when I travelled to the African continent.

I would recommend Jane Eyre as a novel: it has a strong storyline, interesting characters and is eloquently written. While Rochester irritates me sometimes the love story between him and Jane is different to most and intriguing for that. I’m not sure what else people would see in it but for me it also serves as a reminder about how the world has changed and how lucky I am. Jane is a strong person, trapped by the circumstances of the day and unable to experience freedom alone. I admire and feel pity for her. It must be suffocating to be so trapped.

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