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[167] Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

janeeyre“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart!” [222]

“Why was I always suffering, always browbeaten, always accused, forever condemned? Why could I never please? Why was it useless to try to win anyone’s favor?” [12]

For eight-year-old Jane Eyre, poverty is more than being connected with ragged clothes and exiguous food. It is synonymous with degradation. Her father is a poor curate, who falls in love with the daughter of a rich, prestigious family that disowns her immediately after their marriage. Jane, who at its very birth, is left to the mercy of fate after she is orphaned. Charity carries the friendless child to the house of its rich maternal relations; it is reared by an aunt-in-law called Mrs. Reed, who treats the orphan with an acrid spite and aversion. To be rid of the underhand creature, Mrs Reed sends Jane Eyre off to Lowood, a girls boarding school whose unhealthy nature and preposterous austerity later excite public indignation in a high degree. Semi starvation and negligence of colds predispose the girls, including one of Jane’s best friends who awakes her sense of faith, to fatal sickness.

“How dare I, Mrs Reed? How dare I? Because it is the truth. You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity.” [31]

At Lowood Jane achieves a rational discipline, and the tacit disappearance of sense of outrage is acceptable enough as a consequence of maturity, especially since she has at school found both affection and self-respect. I’m not surprised when she forgives her aunt in death-bed. This is an intelligible adult act of feeling which the child (from ten years ago) could not have achieved. For she deems “love your enemies” impossible and negates heaven’s existence. Obviously she has reconciled to the faith at the meeting with her dying aunt.

From pupil she becomes a teacher at Lowood, which she leaves to become a governess at Thornfield, where she undertakes the education of the ward of Edward Rochester, who professes to offer marriage to her. At the very altar she discovers he is bound by a previous marriage—a wife yet alive, though a lunatic. Although she doesn’t ascribe vice to him and forgives him, Jane’s hope is blighted and the attribute of stainless truth is gone from his idea.

“I do love you, more than ever: but I must not show or indulge the feeling: and this is the last time I must express it…I must part with you for my whole life: I must begin a new existence amongst strange faces and strange scenes.” [267] (Note interesting repetitive use of colons.)

The religious argument, as pronounced as it’s ubiquitous, is bound to be less convincing in rearing her decision. Her rejection of Rochester is entirely in keeping with her sense of dependence and memories of humiliation, and her hard-won independence and dignity come out convincingly in her relations with the Ingrams (whose contrived efforts fail to charm Rochester). In her wary pride she keeps him at a distance, and the characteristic flash, during her great moral conflict, when she remembers his cast-off mistresses, prudently if unfairly, she distrusts him. It is this pride and common sense that assert themselves at the time of choice. She affirms her need for dignity and self-respect, which impels her towards renunciation of him.

The novel then follows Jane Eyre to the discovery of paternal relations and accession to fortune. Her life at Moor House is complicated by the proposal of St. John Rivers, who wants to marry her only because she would make a suitable missionary’s wife. She scorns the fact that it’s his office he wishes to mate. While she manages to confirm her superiority by refusing to be put in the same social position as Rochester’s former mistresses, she ascends the next gradation of glory as she refuses to accompany Rivers to India as his wife. She has overpassed the religious grounds on which everyone, whose human narrow doctrines and self-righteousness, has held her accountable. She triumphs over all the hypocrisies and religious non-sense.

Jane Eyre, being a religious novel, concerns with the meaning of religion to man and its relevance to his behavior. During adolescence she discovers that she can comprehend religion only when religion has some relation to man, but everywhere she observes the opposite error, of man attempting to make religion to his own convenience. In every relationship she ascends from inferiority to superiority, challenging and rebelling against customs and conventionalities. Rochester offers her love without marriage, and Rivers offers her marriage without love. The schoolmaster at Lowood is anything but Christian-like in proclaiming her not being a true member of God’s flock and that she should be ostracized. Conventionality is not morality, she claims, and in resisting indulgence, she has triumphed. The movement of this novel is literally transcendence with a vengeance.

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21 Responses

  1. One memorable book which stays with you always. No wonder it is one of my all time favourite reads.

    Here is my SS/WG #25 post

  2. One of my top favorites. I think of Jane Eyre as the model spiritual person: one who through her faith gives to others, serves others, as opposed to those for whom religion is merely a device to achieve self affirmation, self justification. I think I’ve read this book more times than any other.

  3. Great review! In Jane Eyre Brontë often juxtaposes Jane with characters who espouse strikingly different religious beliefs. This wide spectrum of beliefs makes it a book that I’ll re-read over and over again.

    It is easy to condemn Brocklehurst’s religious doctrine, but here Brontë also undermines Helen’s absolute and self-abnegating religious beliefs. Jane’s questions may not plant any seeds of doubt within Helen, but the reader would be hard-pressed to miss her point. Helen and, later, St. John Rivers seek happiness in Heaven; Jane is determined to find hers here on Earth.

  4. I really love this book. (I read it to purge myself of Wuthering Heights.) You review really made me think about the religious themes in the book

  5. Thanks for the great review, Matt! After reading your thoughts it sure makes me want to read the book sooner!

  6. […] [167] Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte […]

  7. Lovely review! I read this book first as a teenager and remember how outraged I was at Jane’s treatment at Lowood, and later as a governess. I also am interested in the treatment of religion in the novel, especially knowing Charlotte Bronte was the daughter of a clergyman, married a clergyman, and lived in a parsonage nearly all of her life.

  8. gautami:
    Jane Eyre is indeed memorable. It’s a spiritual journey of one of the most hard-headed characters. This book goes straight to the re-read pile. 🙂

  9. Greg S:
    You’ve said it. That’s what I admire Jane Eyre. It’s not an easy to read after the domestic drama with her aunt-in-law. But the effort is paid off at the end when I see her triumph over all the men who are dissipated by conventionalities of religion.

  10. John:
    Great thoughtful comments, John. I personally despise Brocklehurst the most. He’s self-righteous, arrogant, and vain. When he stripped her of all dignity by making her stand on the stool in front of the whole class, I thought this is the most un-Christian man who professes hypocrisies.

  11. Jessica:
    I’m with you on Wuthering heights, which I find too violent. Jane Eyre is so much more in-depth and provocative.

  12. Melody:
    I’m happy to hear that the review is gathering momentum for you. 🙂

  13. gentle reader:
    Religion plays a huge role in the novel. I read the Norton “authoritative text” edition with commentaries. On every other page there would be a biblical quote and allusion. This book must slap the face of many a church goer who doesn’t practice true Christianity.

  14. After rereading my review on Wuthering Heights, I was totally thinking of adding Jane Eyre to the stack.

  15. bookchronicle:
    Jane Eyre will be a very rewarding spiritual and literary journey for you. 🙂

  16. For those interested in reading, listening and watching (movie adaptation) the novel again online, there is a wonderful Audio-Text version of the book at:
    http://www.adamsmithacademy.org/etext/Charlotte_Bronte/Jane_Eyre_Chp_1.html

  17. […] The Tale of Genji, I’m planning to read books that are discussed in Mendelson’s book. Jane Eyre, which I read last fall, is selected for close examination of transition from childhood to […]

  18. Great review. I never focused on the religious dimensions of the book. I read it as a young girl and was naturally more interested in the romantic and passionate aspects. Have you seen the 2006 BBC adaptation of the novel? They have made it totally one-dimensional, I now realize. I will reread the book.

  19. […] remains faithful to her ways that pull her through all the adversity in her life. I recommend Jane Eyre along with The 19th Wife to Mizb17, who wants books that delve in religious […]

  20. […] that matters—the enemy within. Yet how often do we fall into this folly? Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre follows Jane Eyre to the discovery of paternal relations and accession to fortune. Her life at Moor […]

    • Thank you so much for reviewing my favorite book, and for not saying the G word. I have read this book for the first time when 12, and since then have read it every year for about 15 years. It never failed to give me hope and courage to seek and keep beauty inside.

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