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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

The final paragraphs of Jane Eyre and what they signify

It had been a long time since I'd read Jane Eyre and I have to say I'd completely forgotten that by the time Jane reunites with Rochester he is blind, somewhat crippled, and living as a recluse - he's in the depths of despair and she brings him back to life, in a sense. Of course it's a preposterous, contrived, over-the-top ending but that's also what makes this novel, for all its faults, a pretty great read. The main characters suffer - and they learn through their sufferings. Jane learns that she needn't always be a self-effacing prig, that she can stand up for herself and recognize her heart's desire, and her sexual desires. Rochester learns that he can't order everyone around, tease, command, and mock - he at the end is contrite and humble, and also heroic: he was blinded and injured rescuing his household from the fire that destroyed Thornhill. Like most great works of literature, there are parts of JE that are strange and incongruous - and I think tops on the list is the character of St. John (Rivers?), Jane's cousin, who goes off to India as a missionary and wanted Jane to marry him - even though it was clear he didn't love her or desire her in the least. Oddly, St. John gets the last paragraph(s) of the novel, as if what we're really waiting to learn is not Jane's fate or R's or their child's but his - and we learn that he did go to India, he did maintain communication w/ Jane, and he died in his service as a missionary. Why does Charlotte Bronte end the novel on that odd note? Perhaps she recognizes, on some level, that Jane chose a more settled, comfortable, conventional life - but that St. John, for all of his faults, is the more heroic character. His is the path not taken, in a way, and this novel - which like most British novels of its time is about the outsider's gaining acceptance into British culture and society - also recognizes the other mode, what I call the more American ideals for a literary hero: escape, solitude, death.


  1. Interesting about St. John Rivers. I hadn't remembered that the last paragraphs are about him. But I recently read a biography of the Brontes in which the author mentions several times that Charlotte insists she never wrote about a feeling she didn't experience. The biographer also recounts a proposal of marriage Charlotte received--and turned down--very like St. John's to Jane: It was from someone who barely knew her and who had recently been turned down by another woman. He, too, wanted to be a missionary. It was a very business-like letter that contained his proposal. She turned him down because she did not want
    a husband who didn't truly love her. "Reader, I turned him down."???

    According to this biography, it would appear that the man she eventually married did love her, and went to some lengths to get her to agree to marry him.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment - I should read more about the Brontes.