This post is part of this year’s April Challenge to write a post a day. I’ve chosen to write about my greatest literary passion: Jane Eyre. Today it’s all about Jane Eyre’s Cousins Reed, told by Jane herself.
I was an orphan, but I had many uncles and cousins. I’m going to tell you about my Reed cousins on my mother’s side. I’ll tell you about my Rivers cousins, on my father’s side later on.
I’m afraid the information I have is sketchy because some of the records were lost, and my surviving family were not able or willing to give me all the missing facts.
My mother’s maiden surname was Reed, and she had one brother, who looked after me when my parents died, although he died shortly after, when I was a child.
Nine years later, Mr. Rochester informed me that my uncle had been a respected Magistrate. He was a good man, who loved his sister, my mother dearly, so he adopted me when I was an infant.
Unfortunately, his wife, my Aunt Sarah Reed did not fulfill his wishes. When he died she treated me cruelly. They had three children, who were my cousins John, Eliza and Georgina. They did not love me, or even like me. Their mother had poisoned them against me, and treated me as little more than a servant, or unwanted guest.
My cousins Liza and Georgiana ignored me most of the time, and my cousin John abused me often. He would hit me and tease me several times the day, although I tried to keep out of his way. Eventually, when I was ten years old, my Aunt Reed sent me away to Lowood, which in retrospect, was one of the greatest things she ever did for me. At Lowood I excelled in all subjects and became a teacher. It was my profession which enabled me to be free by providing me with an honest employment and independence at an early age.
When I left Gateshead Hall, my cousin’s grand but unwelcoming abode, I never saw them again for the rest of my childhood. My aunt gave strict instructions that I should never be allowed to return, even during the school holidays. Eight years later, I was employed as governess at Thornfield Hall in October. In May of the following year, I returned to Gateshead having been summoned by my aunt who was on her death-bed.
My cousin John died before his mother at his chambers in London. He was leading a life of debauchery, ruined himself and is believed to have committed suicide. The news so shocked his mother, my aunt, that it brought on an apoplectic attack.
My aunt informed me, to relieve her conscience, that three years earlier, she had received the following letter from my uncle, my mother’s other brother, John Eyre:
‘Madam,—Will you have the goodness to send me the address of my niece, Jane Eyre, and to tell me how she is? It is my intention to write shortly and desire her to come to me at Madeira. Providence has blessed my endeavours to secure a competency; and as I am unmarried and childless, I wish to adopt her during my life, and bequeath her at my death whatever I may have to leave.
‘JOHN EYRE, Madeira.’
She had informed my uncle that I had died of typhus fever at Lowood. She confessed that she had done it because she hated me because my uncle doted on my mother and insisted on adopting me when she died. She confessed that she hated me the first time she set my eyes on me because I was a ‘sickly, whining, pining thing who would wail in its cradle all night long—not screaming heartily like any other child, but whimpering and moaning.’ I must say that when I heard my aunt’s words, my heart for that poor little orphan. Was it my fault I had been born and survived my parents? How could a little baby girl, who has just lost her parents, inspire anyone to hate her?
My cousin Georgiana, who was reportedly beautiful, although I considered her too large, loud and boistrous, reminding me of Blanche Ingram, eventually married a wealthy worn-out man of fashion.
Her her sister Eliza became a Roman Catholic nun in France, becoming Mother Superior of the convent where she passed the period of her novitiate, and which she endowed with her fortune.
When I look back, I think of life’s unexplainable mysteries. My aunt thought she was punishing me by sending me to Lowood and then by telling my uncle I had died. In fact, she did me a great favour.
In the first place I gained knowledge, self-respect, a disciplined character, and a profession at Lowood, which I would never have attained had I remained in her house as a maid. Secondly, if I had been sent to Madeira with my uncle three years ago, I would never have worked as a teacher at Lowood or as a governess at Thornfield Hall, and I would never have met Mr. Rochester.
Perhaps that is why, when I remember her, my heart has no hate and seeks no revenge. Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord, and I’d say, she has had her fair share of sorrow without my participation.
I never met my Uncle John, but in the end, his lawyer, Mr. Briggs found me while I was in Morton, where my cousin Rivers’ lived. I inherited all his belongings when he died childless. It was a great deal of money, which enabled me to return to Mr. Rochester as a wealthy and independent woman, able to build my own house and be my own master, if I should so wish.