Torment as Teacher
Consider Jane Eyre. Nearly her entire life was full of misery, disappointment, and hardship. When she was very young her parents both died of typhus. That will put a crimp in anyone’s development. Living then with her uncle she was consistently treated cruelly by her aunt and her cousins. Later, having been sent to Lowood Institution, a school for orphaned young women, she was subjected to even greater mistreatment. She is offered some respite after taking a governess position for a young girl where she falls in love with the master of the house. Soon, however, she learns that he’s actually already married to a lunatic woman he keeps up in the attic who likes to engage in midnight arson sessions and wedding garment rending. And, yet, despite — maybe even because of — all this misery and suffering Jane emerges as the novel’s most complex, principled, and virtuous character.
There may be some lessons here for Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and the rest of the War and Peace crew. The majority of the reading today consists of a bilious letter from Bilibin detailing the horrible goings on in the war effort. It seems as if at every step the Russians encounter some adversity.
It’s a tough letter for Prince Andrei to read. He’s got his own problems, remember. He tries to forget the letter, actually, as he must return to his own miserable life. When he does, deciding to check in on his feverish son, he suspects, hearing no more of the boy’s wailing, that the little guy has succumbed to his sickness. This thought it devastating to Prince Andrei who is already going through such great pain. It turns out though that what has actually happened is the boy’s fever has broke and he’s silently resting in convalescence.
Adversity assails all of us. There’s no avoiding it. But perhaps, like Jane Eyre, and maybe even Prince Andrei — we’ll see — the challenges and obstacles of life can be used to serve us rather than defeat us. It’s possible to locate lessons in our misfortunes, extracting strength from the attacks meant to weaken us.
No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley.
Seneca, De Providentia