“I am very happy, Jane; and when you hear that I am dead, you must be sure and not grieve: there is nothing to grieve about. We all must die one day, and the illness which is removing me is not painful; it is gentle and gradual: my mind is at rest. I leave no one to regret me much: I have only a father; and he is lately married, and will not miss me. By dying young, I shall escape great sufferings. I had no qualities or talents to make my way very well in the world: I should have been continually at fault” (97).
What struck me most while reading the beginning chapters of Jane Eyre was the maturity and wisdom of the children in the novel. When Jane is living in the Reed household with Mrs. Reed and her children, she appears far more intelligent and mature in comparison to Eliza, John, and Georgiana. In fact, one might even say she is wiser than Mrs. Reed herself. Once Jane arrives at Lowood, Helen Burns shows an even higher level of wisdom and maturity that is rarely found in youth. When Jane tells Helen the story of her time with the Reeds, Helen responds, “Life appears too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs. We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world: but the time will soon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting of our corruptible bodies” (69). This bit of advice is not something one would assume came from a child. In fact, most adults struggle to gain such insight. Helen’s wisdom later proves far beyond her years when she calmly explains to Jane that she is dying but there is no reason to mourn, for she did not have much to live for and that everyone will eventually die anyway. What is even more striking about this instance is the sadness of Helen’s reasoning. Although completely reasonable, the reader feels a deep sense of sorrow when Helen plainly states, “by dying young, I shall escape great sufferings. I had no qualities or talents to make my way very well in the world: I should have been continually at fault” (97).
The fact that both Jane and Helen are wise beyond their years cannot be incidental. It seems that this shared characteristic is a result of their similar upbringings. Growing up in the care of others and eventually becoming orphans forced these girls to grow up much faster than average children. Much of Jane’s time at the Reed household was spent in isolation, forcing her to contemplate far more than any other child her age. Additionally, both girls have never been given or felt any sense of love. Each girl has found love in reading and it is no incident that Jane and Helen’s friendship begins because of a book. These two girls who have never been loved find a love for one another, and this is what makes Helen’s death particularly heartbreaking.