The part I like best—I don’t say it’s the best thing in the book absolutely, I don’t have an argument to establish that—is in Chapter 28, when Jane Eyre finds herself “face to face with Necessity” at what she will call “the sordid village” (and why sordid, exactly? because corrupt and mean in more than one sense). “Amongst the romantic hills … a hamlet and a spire” seem to promise well, situated by a green valley with a stream running through it, even if the scene summons the hitherto superior traveler to “strive to live and bend to toil like the rest.”
Yet in the space of a few pages, having failed in seeking employment, and information, and help from the church, she sinks to attempt the shameful barter for bread she had shrunk from at first. Then it was,
I was seized with shame: my tongue would not utter the request I had prepared. I dared not offer her the half-worn gloves, the creased handkerchief: besides, I felt it would be absurd—
and now it is,
I ventured the request—“Would she give me a roll for this handkerchief?”
She looked at me with evident suspicion: “Nay, she never sold stuff i’ that way.”
Almost desperate, I asked for half a cake; she again refused. “How could she tell where I had got the handkerchief?” she said.
“Would she take my gloves?”
“No! what could she do with them?”
Ah, her offer was spurned anyway. She falls to plain begging for bread, and at last to craving foul discarded stuff reminiscent of the “nauseous mess” that had greeted her at Lowood school years before (Chapter 5):
At the door of a cottage I saw a little girl about to throw a mess of cold porridge into a pig trough. “Will you give me that?” I asked.
She stared at me. “Mother!” she exclaimed, “there is a woman wants me to give her these porridge.”
“Well lass,” replied a voice within, “give it her if she’s a beggar. T’ pig doesn’t want it.”
The girl emptied the stiffened mould into my hand, and I devoured it ravenously.
From all this she will be rescued by a Schillerian archangel “anzusehen wie die Sternen Nacht [i.e., Sternennacht],” “to look upon, like the starry night.” It would be in bad taste to compare that heavenly vault to an upturned bowl of porridge.