Monday, October 24, 2011

Killer Character Blogfest - Helen Burns

Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns
You may be thinking, who?

Helen Burns is a secondary character in one of my favorite books, Jane Eyre, and she gets my vote for Killer Secondary Character.

If you haven't heard of Helen Burns, or if you are wondering if she was the one with the axe (that was Lizzie Borden), let me elucidate.

When Jane is a child her hateful relations (after bullying and mistreating her) ship her off to a girl's school for the Perpetually Neglected. Food is meagre, it's effing cold and discipline is the only subject most teachers excel at. Jane is a stubborn, independent, opinionated young girl. In other words, she's doing the girl thing all wrong. But her classmate Helen Burns is a paragon of femaleness. She is docile, she suffers in silence, she submits to unfair punishments with grace. She's a freaking saint. Did I mention she's also consumptive? She gets a whopper of a death scene, calmly accepting her doomed fate and urging Jane (who she's developed a fast friendship with) to do the same.

So why is this milksop my choice for killer secondary character? Because she IS the secondary character, not the star of the show, despite all her good behavior. The one the story is about, the one that you root for, the character that stays with you is the anti-feminine ideal. Plain, fractious, disagreeable and steadfast to her ideals, Jane Eyre is the hero of the story.

I love how beautifully painted Helen is, how Charlotte Bronte allows her to develop as a role model for Jane. She's tempting fruit. If Jane can be more like Helen, her life will be easier. If she just submits, follows Helen's lead, she can be as 'good' as Helen. Jane loves Helen, is drawn to her kindness and wants to protect her. But when Helen dies Jane doesn't become like her. She tames herself, finds a way to get along, but never submits, even at the end when she could so easily close her eyes to the crazy wife in the attic.

So, who's your favorite secondary character and why?

Check out some of the other blogs on the Killer Character Blogfest here:


  1. That's a really thought provoking analysis, very interesting.

    Moody Writing

  2. Nice choice! I think Helen is an excellent supporting character. I was heartbroken for Jane when Helen died. Good job!

  3. You do such a great job of describing her. I actually have never read jane Eyre. I know I know.. I need to get with the program. But it's on the list!! So many books, so little time!:)

  4. I've never read Jane Eyre. I will have to, so I can check Helen out. Great post!

  5. I love this post so much I lurve it. LURVE. I don't often lurve anything.

  6. Great choice! I remember just being annoyed by Helen last time I read Jane Eyre. Maybe I need to try giving her another chance.

  7. That was a really neat post and I love how you thought about the characters and how Bronte developed them. Yours is the most unique choice I've come across - far more so than mine! :-)

  8. I...have never read Jane Eyre. I'm rather ashamed to admit it. I need to get on that.

  9. Thanks, guys for the nice feedback.
    @Jenny, Jenny S and PK - link to free online ebook of Jane Eyre -
    @Melissa, I loved your choice! I don't know how I forgot about Severus. I actually cried during his death scene in HP72. Plus, Alan Rickman has the best voice on the PLANET!
    @Jen - I hear you, Helen annoyed me too the first time I read JE, but now I have a soft spot for her - she's a canary in a cage, really and she doesn't even know it.

  10. Fantastic choice, and so beautifully set out. You're 100% right--Helen is nice and lovely and adorable and... well, everything that Jane is not. Helen's role as supporting character isn't to "support" Jane as, for example, Samwise supports Frodo--it's to reveal Jane's character by the comparison. But what I really loved about your analysis is how you perceive Helen as "tempting fruit"--it's EXACTLY right! Yes, Jane's life would be so much easier if she'd just conform... But she doesn't. She stands steadfast and sticks to her guns, in spite of herself almost. LOVE this book!

    Great job!

  11. So ... I've never read Jane Eyre either. *hides* I'm working on it, I swear! :)

  12. @Guilie - ok, you make my blog post sound so much cooler than it really is! But thank you and so glad someone else is such a big fan of the book. It's truly a book I go back to again and again.
    @Chantele - it's avail free online (see above comment) check it out!

  13. Wow, I hadn't even thought about her. It took me a long time to remember who she was - well thought indeed.

  14. Excellent choice. It has been years since I read Jane Eyre, but I remember her. I love your beautiful description.

    Thank you for visiting my blog.


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