High School Literature, “Jane Eyre”, & My First Rosary

I had the joy of being slotted into Honors’ English in High School.  I loved everything about reading and writing — not so much the studies of grammar and form — but literature, poetry, mythology and the likes.  The teacher assigned to the ninth and eleventh grade classes had a propensity for drama.  I don’t remember if this occurred in the ninth or eleventh grade because the same teacher taught both.  During the course of reading Jane Eyre, the teacher split us in groups of four or five students.  We were assigned the task of selecting a scene from the book and bringing it to life for the class.  My group chose the deathbed scene of Jane’s Aunt Reed.  Jane gathered with her cousins Georgiana and Eliza at Mrs. Reed’s bedside.  I either naturally gravitated toward, or was unanimously selected to portray Eliza Reed.  Eliza was known to keep her head in the book of Common Prayer and to pray on beads.  Eliza’s ultimate end was life in a convent.  It was decided I should somehow look like an aspiring nun.  A Catholic in my group said that I couldn’t be a nun without a rosary.  She would bring me a rosary.

I possessed the rosary all of maybe a week.  The beads were ebony on a silver chain.  We were given a few days before having to present our little act.  I asked my friend about the beads and how they were used.  I was told the single bead was to pray “Our Father” and the sets of ten were to pray ten “Hail Mary’s.”  I had no clue those were the brief names of lengthy prayers.  At home alone with the rosary, I simply said, “Our Father,” followed by, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, etc.”  Once I was introduced to the full rosary during RCIA, I had a good laugh over this recollection from my past.  

Eliza was an interesting character.  Below is an excerpt from Chapter 22.  It is the chapter following Mrs. Reed’s death.  Jane is assisting her cousins in closing the home.  It is the first time I’d read this passage since I, “embraced the tenets of Rome.”  I only now realize that Eliza was not yet a Catholic in the scene I’d portrayed.  She was discerning.

At last I saw Georgiana off; but now it was Eliza’s turn to request
me to stay another week.  Her plans required all her time and
attention, she said; she was about to depart for some unknown
bourne; and all day long she stayed in her own room, her door bolted
within, filling trunks, emptying drawers, burning papers, and
holding no communication with any one.  She wished me to look after
the house, to see callers, and answer notes of condolence.

One morning she told me I was at liberty.  “And,” she added, “I am
obliged to you for your valuable services and discreet conduct!
There is some difference between living with such an one as you and
with Georgiana:  you perform your own part in life and burden no
one.  To-morrow,” she continued, “I set out for the Continent.  I
shall take up my abode in a religious house near Lisle–a nunnery
you would call it; there I shall be quiet and unmolested.  I shall
devote myself for a time to the examination of the Roman Catholic
dogmas, and to a careful study of the workings of their system:  if
I find it to be, as I half suspect it is, the one best calculated to
ensure the doing of all things decently and in order, I shall
embrace the tenets of Rome and probably take the veil.”

I neither expressed surprise at this resolution nor attempted to
dissuade her from it.  “The vocation will fit you to a hair,” I
thought:  “much good may it do you!”

When we parted, she said:  “Good-bye, cousin Jane Eyre; I wish you
well:  you have some sense.”

I then returned:  “You are not without sense, cousin Eliza; but what
you have, I suppose, in another year will be walled up alive in a
French convent.  However, it is not my business, and so it suits
you, I don’t much care.”

“You are in the right,” said she; and with these words we each went
our separate way.  As I shall not have occasion to refer either to
her or her sister again, I may as well mention here, that Georgiana
made an advantageous match with a wealthy worn-out man of fashion,
and that Eliza actually took the veil, and is at this day superior
of the convent where she passed the period of her novitiate, and
which she endowed with her fortune.

Jane Eyre, Ch 22


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