This week wraps up our readalong of Jane Eyre (thanks for playing, everyone!), so my apologies if this post is a bit on the long side...
"I know no medium: I never in my life have known any medium in my dealing with positive, hard characters, antagonistic to my own, between absolute submission and determined revolt."
Jane utters this line to her dear readers somewhere in the midst of St. John's proposal, and it sticks out to me as relevant not only to her interactions with St. John (creep that he is) but with nearly every strong character in her life: Mrs. Reed, John Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst, Rochester, St. John, Rochester again. I have commented before on Jane's sudden and often impossible behaviors, vacillating between a Jane that bites her tongue and holds her place and a Jane that speaks her mind and makes a new place for herself; personally, I prefer the latter Jane, but can understand, to some extent, how her tendency toward extremes would lend itself to the former Jane.
With St. John's proposal, though, she finds--for perhaps the first time--some kind of middle ground. She sees the small grain of rational thought in his proposal (and small it is, I tell you), but refuses to budge on her convictions that a marriage would be wholly wrong for both of them. And all this despite St. John's utterly romantic tendencies:
"A missionary's wife you must - shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you - not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign's service."
"I want a wife: the sole helpmeet I can influence efficiently in life, and retain absolutely till death."I noted at the end of the last section that this guy gave me the creeps, and I was apparently on to something, though I'll confess I never quite thought it would be this (any more than I thought Jane would turn out to be the Rivers' cousin... what a coincidence!).
Still, I am grateful for his all-around horridness because it brings Jane back around to herself; she once again find her resolve, her send of self-worth (troubled though it may be), and her wit. And, lo and behold!, just as she rediscovers these things within herself, she hears Rochester's voice calling for her. Someone last week suggested that St. John was the opposite of Rochester, the foil she needed in her separation from her past; I can't recall who that was, but I have to agree--as awful as he is, St. John was, in a way, the person Jane needed at that particular time--the person that would ultimately drive her back to Rochester.
And back to Rochester she goes, where she finds not only the man she loved--has always loved, it seems to me--but a man conveniently single and ill enough to be dependent on her; now she can move forward in life as both the wife of the man she adores and as his helper. Not only do Rochester's injuries give Jane something to keep her occupied:
"I love you better now, when I can be really useful to you, than I did in your state of proud independence, when you disdained every part but that of the giver and protector."But they put Jane and Rochester on more even footing; both will be giver and protector to the other. Rochester is her medium, in the end: she can labor with him and for him, keeping her from the idleness we have seen make her restless at Thornfield and with the Rivers, but still loved and appreciated in a way St. John never could have offered her.
In some regards, I feel that this novel has four parts that represent four very different stages of Jane's life: first, as a child, subjected to the whim of the Rivers and then the teachers at Lowood; then at Thornfield, experiencing love for the first time; then with the Rivers, where she loses herself in her desire to forget Rochester and her subjugation to St. John's will; and finally, to her reclaiming of herself, of her fortune, of her fate, and of her lost love. Though at times I struggled to reconcile one Jane with the other (I still think she was too hasty in leaving Rochester in the middle of the night with no money), each phase lead us to the happy Jane we encounter at the end of Jane Eyre, which makes me love those difficult sections just a little bit more having finished.
So, to Jane! Cheers! And thanks everyone for participating. Great discussions from a great group!
|Nothing wrong with a little toast on a Monday morning.|
Readalongers, what do you think now that you've finished? (Non-readalongers feel free to share as well!)
* Forgive the borrowed phrase, but I just finished Joshua Ferris' amazing first novel, Then We Came to the End, and am more than a little obsessed. Plus, it seemed a fitting start to this week's Septemb-Eyre post.