Thoughts on the Ending of Jane Eyre

Bicknell captures St. John's zeal.
Jane Eyre does not close with Jane Eyre's marriage to Rochester, the birth of their son, and their happily married life. It certainly mentions those things ("Reader, I married him") but it ends instead with several paragraphs about St. John. The passage is worth quoting in full:
As to St. John Rivers, he left England: he went to India.  He entered on the path he had marked for himself; he pursues it still.  A more resolute, indefatigable pioneer never wrought amidst rocks and dangers.  Firm, faithful, and devoted, full of energy, and zeal, and truth, he labors for his race; he clears their painful way to improvement; he hews down like a giant the prejudices of creed and caste that encumber it.  He may be stern; he may be exacting; he may be ambitious yet; but his is the sternness of the warrior Greatheart, who guards his pilgrim convoy from the onslaught of Apollyon.  His is the exaction of the apostle, who speaks but for Christ, when he says—“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”  His is the ambition of the high master-spirit, which aims to fill a place in the first rank of those who are redeemed from the earth—who stand without fault before the throne of God, who share the last mighty victories of the Lamb, who are called, and chosen, and faithful.

St. John is unmarried: he never will marry now.  Himself has hitherto sufficed to the toil, and the toil draws near its close: his glorious sun hastens to its setting.  The last letter I received from him drew from my eyes human tears, and yet filled my heart with divine joy: he anticipated his sure reward, his incorruptible crown.  I know that a stranger’s hand will write to me next, to say that the good and faithful servant has been called at length into the joy of his Lord.  And why weep for this?  No fear of death will darken St. John’s last hour: his mind will be unclouded, his heart will be undaunted, his hope will be sure, his faith steadfast.  His own words are a pledge of this—

“My Master,” he says, “has forewarned me.  Daily He announces more distinctly,—‘Surely I come quickly!’ and hourly I more eagerly respond,—‘Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!’”
Since I am not a fan of St. John's insidious bullying of Jane during the proposal, I've always shrugged off this part of the story as "spin"--Bronte's attempt to pacify her Victorian audience.

Buchan captures his honesty.
Recently, however, I rethought that idea. Victorians were domestic and pious (they were also earthier than we often imagine them to be; still, they thought of themselves as domestic and pious). Take Jane getting married and having a kid: Victorians readers wouldn't have been too happy about Jane's boldness in returning to Rochester before knowing for sure that his wife was dead and they wouldn't have been too happy about a lowly governess marrying the head of a household although Jane was of a legitimately good family and had her own inheritance. And they wouldn't have been too terribly pleased about her strong  physical response to Rochester's physical advances.

But, still, ya know, marriage and a kid isn't so bad.

St. John, however, for better or worse turned his back entirely on domesticity. Victorians, in resemblance to their beloved queen (who was far less motherly or wifely than her image: see below), placed a high premium on loving God and supporting missionary work--from the comfort of hearth and home. Being religious was very, very important (no atheists here!) but in a restrained, civilized, non-weirdo American way (all those cults!).

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert: Wedded Life
St. John is extraordinarily . . . Catholic in his response to his personal call to go abroad. There's a kind of fervor in his decision and in the outcome of that decision. The guy wanted to be a martyr and by George, he succeeded!

That is the furthest thing from the married, middle class, wedded bliss purported by the queen and her subjects plus Victorian painters and poets. And it made me wondered if Bronte was pushing the envelope in more than one direction--not just in extolling Jane's supreme self-confidence in her right to choose (rather than be guided by her male relative) but in praising St. John's supreme self-confidence in his single lifestyle that puts a cause above all else.

The St. Johns of the world make me mighty uncomfortable. I'm like Spike--I like the mundane fun of ordinary life. But I can certainly commend Bronte for knocking down all the fences in her path.

1 comment:

  1. Not satisfied with that answer. Still seems to me like something the publisher/editor insisted on, like insisting on having "what happened next" stories in the end credits. Even then, that it's the very last thing in the book is very weird.

    ReplyDelete