Jane Eyre and Mrs. Seacole
While we did not read all of Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, we did read enough to be able to compare the historical person Mrs. Seacole to that of the fictional character Jane Eyre.
Jane Eyre and Mrs. Seacole are quite similar in a few ways. One can see early on in both of their lives that they both wish to travel. Jane spends hours poring over Bewick’s History of British Birds, on which she comments about the desolate landscapes portrayed therein: “Of these death-white realms I formed an idea of my own: shadowy, like all the half-comprehended notions that float dim through children’s brains, but strangely impressive” (Bronte, 3). She continues to describe how she imagines these places, and stories that might go with them. Jane is enthralled by these birds and the stories they may have; she is intrigued by birds later in life as well, and comments on them to the reader. She even paints a picture while at Lowood which contains a cormorant that is “[D]ark and large, with wings flecked with foam; its beak held a gold bracelet…” (Bronte, 173). Jane enjoys the idea that this cormorant (or any bird) might leave at any point and has the ability to be free. Whereas Jane expresses her desire to travel through metaphor, Mrs. Seacole expresses her desire to travel a little more explicitly. In the first paragraph of her book, Mrs. Seacole tells the reader, “All my life long I have followed the impulse which led me to be up and doing; and so far from resting idle anywhere, I have never wanted inclination to rove, nor will powerful enough to find a way to carry out my wishes” (Seacole, “Chapter 1”). Mrs. Seacole is a strong-willed woman who will do what she wants how she wants to do it. Not only is she strong in her inclination to travel, but she runs a hotel on her own (though she co-owns it) and is a nurse (or “doctress”) to many. Mrs. Seacole notes that “[I]n so great request were [her] services, that for days and nights together [she] scarcely knew what it was to enjoy two successive hours’ rest” (Seacole, “Chapter 4”). Mrs. Seacole is committed to her patients, to helping them and bringing them the best of care. Likewise is Jane committed to Adele as a student and later to Mr. Rochester as a patient. Not only is she kind to Adele as a teacher, but as a friend. She entreats Mr. Rochester to allow Adele to join them on a ride into town, telling him that she “[W]ould far rather [Adele] went” (374). Though this intrudes on Mr. Rochester’s and Jane’s time together, Jane is willing to sacrifice that to be a servant to Adele. Both women display a remarkable propensity to serve others, especially in the face of hardship.
Though there are many similarities between Jane Eyre and Mrs. Seacole, there is one significant difference: Their personalities. Jane is a mild-mannered, quiet woman. Though she is vehement and outspoken as a child, her attitude tempers as she grows older. One can see glimpses of the passion she contains inside, however, such as in her outburst at Mr. Rochester: “Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings?…Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!” (Bronte, 356). Whereas Jane contains her emotions inside until they have nowhere to go but out, Mrs. Seacole tends to be blunt, a “truth-speaking woman” (Seacole, “To The Reader”). She says what is on her mind and knows what she wants. Mrs. Seacole must necessarily be a spirited woman because of her position: Nursing to those who have been wounded in battle, and dealing with unsavory types.
Though Jane Eyre and Mrs. Seacole come from entirely different backgrounds, they both emerge as strong-willed women throughout their narratives and possess many of the same qualities that make them successful.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Puffin, 1994. Print.
Seacole, Mary. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. London: James Blackwood, 1857. UPenn Library. Web. 31 Oct. 2014. <http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/seacole/adventures/adventures.html#IV>.