You are on page 1of 21

Littell 1

Claire Littell

Dr. Holmes

Thesis

6 May 2017

Discovering the Christian in Charlotte Brontes Jane Eyre

Many critics interpret Charlotte Brontes novel Jane Eyre as decidedly anti-Christian,

celebrating scholarly research which describes Jane Eyre as a character who chooses to live in

opposition to Christianity. Yet, a thorough reading of the novel reveals how Bronte presented

Christianity in a profoundly positive light, describing it throughout the text as the means through

which her main character finds freedom and fulfillment. Jane Eyre is fundamentally a novel

which celebrates the spiritual growth of the Christian by following the life of Jane, who matures

by Gods grace in her virtue, faith, and her understanding of vocations in relationship to God.

One of the earliest reviews of the novel was written by Elizabeth Rigby for the Quarterly

Review in 1848, one year after the novels publication, in which she scathingly critiqued it

saying, Altogether the auto-biography of Jane Eyre is pre-eminently an anti-Christian

composition (ONeill 15). Even in the modern era, many critics choose to reject Christian

themes within the novel, arguing that Charlotte Bronte wrote in opposition to Christianity

throughout her novel. Rigbys review is one of the most significant of literary criticisms which

portray this interpretation of the novel and the writer. Her interpretation is manifestly scornful

and contentious, outwardly stating that Jane personifies the shameful rejection of Christian

virtue. Rigby writes:

Jane Eyre is throughout the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined spirit,

the more dangerous to exhibit from that prestige of principle and self-control which is
Littell 2

liable to dazzle the eye too much for it to observe the inefficient and unsound foundation

on which it rests. It is true Jane does right, and exerts great moral strength, but it is the

strength of a mere heathen mind which is a law unto itself. No Christian grace is

perceptible upon her. (ONeill 15)

In this critique, Rigby accuses Jane Eyre as being an anti-Christian novel, and thus heathenistic,

describing Jane as rejecting Christian grace and doctrine, and instead relying entirely on her

own moral strength and heathen mind (15). Thus, when Rigby states that Jane personifies the

unregenerate and undisciplined spirit, she means to argue that Jane decidedly lives in

opposition to God, rejecting His grace and His teachings (15). Yet, such a scathing review

reveals an insufficient study of Brontes own religious beliefs and the novels portrayals of

Christianity and Christian virtue. Key characters and pivotal scenes of the novel contain

unforgettable traces of Christianity, portraying it in a positive light by alluding to the importance

of virtue and faith in God.

The first positive portrayal of Christianity is through Janes first companion, Helen

Burns. Helens role in the novel is of monumental importance; her friendship with Jane shows

her the importance of healthy relationships, fostered by genuine affection and tenderness.

Beyond amiability, Helen also shows Jane that love encourages the beloved to seek a life

characterized by continual growth in virtue and faith. She encourages Jane to seek Christ, saying,

Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how He acts; make His word your

rule, and His conduct your example (Bronte 58). Her gentle admonitions have real significance

for Jane, for they come from not only a dear companion, but from an individual who actively

lives her faith.


Littell 3

One of the most prominent examples of Helen living by her faith is how she echoes the

life of Christ as the suffering servant, enduring injustice silently and forgiving those who harm

her. Rather than speaking out against her teachers, she would endure their punishments; Jane

writes that Helen, when she was sent to stand in the middle of the school room as a punishment,

neither wept nor blushed: composed those grave, she stood, the central mark of all eyes (51).

Jane has numerous accounts of Helen being punished by her teachers. In each description, Helen

is portrayed as silent and stoic. To a teachers harsh admonition about the dirtiness of her

appearance, she makes no reply. Jane, overhearing the teachers yells, thinks, Why [] does

she not explain that she could neither clean her nails nor wash her face, as the water was

frozen? Then, without explaining the lack of ability to wash, Helen procures the instrument of

her punishment for the teacher to use: a bundle of twigs tied together. While the teacher flogged

Helen and inflicted on her neck a dozen strokes, [] not a tear rose to Burns eye [and] not a

feature of her pensive face altered its ordinary expression (54). Helens stoicism echoes the

silence of the suffering Christ, described in Scripture as like a lamb led to the slaughter or a

sheep before the shearers he was silent and opened not his mouth (Is 53:7). Thus, when Helen

admonishes Jane to live as Christ lives, she does from the perspective of a Christian who lives in

accordance to Christs teachings.

Helens faith in God, actively lived out in her day to day experiences, shows Jane the

foundation of a life of virtue and faith. The first example of Janes growth in virtue comes from

Helens advice to practice the virtue of Christian forgiveness. Christian forgiveness is the ability

achieved through Gods grace to release others from the debts that they owe. Helens foundation

for her belief in forgiveness is rooted in Christs teachings, shown in her references to Sacred

Scripture when she admonishes Jane to let go of the doctrine that teaches vengeance and
Littell 4

violence and rather to follow the way of Christ. She tells Jane Christs teaching on forgiveness in

His own words, saying, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you; do good to them that

hate you and despitefully use you (Bronte 58). However, Janes immaturity in faith and virtue

acts as a barrier to immediately assimilating Christs way of forgiveness.

Up to this point, Jane has been filled with resentment and bitterness towards her violent

cousin and cruel aunt who caused her many sufferings throughout her childhood. Although her

aunt gave her lodgings in her home, she treated Jane as a burden, isolating her from the other

children and treating her worse than the help in the house. Jane, being this rejected by her own

family, was further caused great sufferings, being subjected to the violence of her cousin John.

Having known only this rejection and violence, Jane began to develop a morality that endorsed

an eye for an eye vengeance, which is contradictory to Christs teachings. So, the loftiness of

the Christian call to love her enemies and actively forgive her persecutors remains yet out of

Janes reach; she is at first unable to assimilate to Christs teachings because the revenge

morality shes adhered to until this point was essentially contradictory to Christs call to forgive

and love ones enemy.

This revenge morality was manifested when she spoke to Helen about her personal

opinions on justice and punishment. Jane described to Helen how harsh punishment should be

fought back by the victim in like harshness and violence. Jane tells Helen, When we are struck

at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard [,] so hard as to teach the person

who struck us never to do it again (57). In this statement, two characteristics of Janes revenge

morality are evident: firstly, the need for self-protection; and secondly, the desire to correct the

perpetrator. Jane says, [If] people were always kind and obedient to those who were cruel and

unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so
Littell 5

they would never alter, but would grow worse (57). Her revenge morality brings to light

important considerations about the human experience regarding how the response to injustice

should naturally be a desire for the protection of the victim and the correction of the persecutor.

However, Helen remarks that Janes insistence on revenge is the doctrine of heathens

and savage tribes which Christians and civilized nations disown (58). This powerful

statement might be considered small minded or politically incorrect in a modern era, but in the

British eighteenth century mindset the purpose of the statement was to emphasize the freedom

that only Christianity can bring. Marianne Thormahlen, a literary scholar of Jane Eyre, described

that Helens purpose in telling Jane that her doctrine was heathenistic was to show that people

who are kind to those who are good to them, and dislike those who are not, cannot call

themselves Christian (Thormahlen 129). In this Helen describes to Jane that an important aspect

of Christianity is the ability to treat every person with respect and to uphold their dignity. But

Helens advice is not didactic; in her discourse with Jane, Helens responses reveal her

awareness of Janes inability to immediately convert to Christs way of love and forgiveness.

Her discourse also reveals her recognition of Janes concerns for justice and her genuine hope for

Janes improvement in faith and virtue.

This genuine concern for Janes spiritual improvement gives Helen the inspiration to

encourage Jane to seek a morality freed from vengeance. After Jane explains the tale of [her]

sufferings and resentments, Helens response brings to light an important consequence of Janes

revenge morality: anger ultimately results in the loss of freedom (Bronte 58). Helen responds to

Jane, saying [But] how minutely you remember all she has done and said to you! What a

singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart (58). By saying this,

Helen shows that she does care deeply for her friend; she listens to her story with careful
Littell 6

attention, enabling to her to make such a close observation of Janes moral life. Helen further

explains that Jane is consumed by her anger and that ill-usage so brands its records on [Janes]

feelings (58). Helen explains to Jane that her disapproval of stubborn resentment is founded on

the knowledge that revenge morality leads to the loss of the individuals freedom, for it

consumes the mind with records of wrongs and controls the individual with unchecked emotions.

She then encourages Jane to forgive and forget her past persecutor, to give her clarity of

mind and freedom to live. She says, Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her

severity, together with the passionate emotions it exited? Life appears to me too short to be spent

in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs (58). Thormahlen, in her research on the novel, says

that Helens advice to forget the injustice shes suffered and to turn away from animosity

contains a grain of utilitarian practicality which Jane, as her subsequent development shows, is

able to assimilate, unlike the teachings of Christ which remain beyond her (Thormahlen 129).

The utilitarian practicality in Helens advice, as Thormahlen suggests, is the simple grain of

truth that hating is bad for you (129). Although Helens second bit of advice is more utilitarian

than religious, she in no way is attempting to reject God or attempting to replace Him.

Immediately after her advice, Helen muses aloud on the goodness of the Creator, leading into

one of the most essential Christian witnesses in the novel.

The happiness that Helen suggests to Jane results from recognizing the transience of time

and the coming of death for every person. Rather than eliciting an existential depression, this

sordid recognition of the passing of time elicits in Helen peace and trust, gifts which stem from a

solid faith in a merciful God. Her faith in the mercy of God is manifested in her witness of her

faith, in which she says:


Littell 7

I hold another creed; which no one ever taught me, and which I seldom ever

mention; but in which I delight, and to which I cling: for it extends hope to all: it

makes Eternity a resta mighty home, not a terror and an abyss. Besides, with

this creed, I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can so

sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last: with this creed revenge never

worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never

crushes me too low: I live in calm, looking to the end. (59)

This creed changes Janes outlook on life, morality, and relationships and has incredible

significance in her future. Three aspects of Helens creed have a profound impact on Janes faith

throughout her life: Helens creed witnesses to Jane firstly, the ability for human persons to

claim their faith as their own; secondly, that Christianity brings encouragement and real hope for

the believer; and thirdly, the ability for human persons to have an intimate, personal relationship

with God. The first aspect of Helens creed describes how her faith is claimed as her own; she

describes it as a creed [] which no one ever taught me (59). Here, Helens faith is described

in a way which might be understood as an evasion from doctrine. This element of her faith is an

understandable result of the harshness of the school teachers, whose tough regime would

necessarily lead to a dislike for doctrine. However, within this aspect, Helens faith becomes

deeply personal for her. Her faith is something that she claims as her own, showing Jane that

faith is an intimate relationship with God, rather than a rule to be followed. In his literary review,

Michael M. Clarke remarked that all three [Bronte] sisters are remarkably free of doctrinal

elements, which would explain why Helen, who serves as a figure of genuine Christianity

(according to the beliefs of Charlotte Bronte), would represent a faith without strict

indoctrination (2).
Littell 8

Helens faith also witnesses to Jane how Christianity brings her encouragement and hope.

Her faith gives her delight [] for it extends hope to all (Bronte 59). J. Jeffrey Franklin

describes how Helens creed in this aspect denotes her belief in universalism in contrast to the

eternal punishment doctrine of extreme Evangelicalism (10). Universalism is the belief in

universal salvation for all human persons. Helens belief in universal salvation can be understood

as an extreme belief in the mercy of God, which places her, at Jeffrey notes, at a perfect

contradiction to the extreme Evangelicalism. Jeffrey also describes how this extreme trust in the

mercy of God makes Helen the foil, or antidote, to Mr. Brocklehurst (10). This contrast is

evident in the two characters religious speeches: Mr. Brocklehurst warns of eternal punishment,

and attempts to coerce the students to believe in God out of fear of Hell; while Helen describes

God as fundamentally merciful, who extends hope to all (Bronte 59). Michael M. Clarke also

reflected on the universalism in Helens creed, noting that Charlotte Bronte believed that not

only are the doors [of salvation] open to the faithful, but they are open to even the most wicked

reprobate after a period of purification in Hell (3). Therefore Clarke states that for Charlotte,

there is no eternal damnation (3). Freed from the idea of an eternal damnation, Eternity for

Helen is a place of complete resta mighty home, not a terror and an abyss (Bronte 59). This

solid trust in the goodness of God encourages her in times of great distress and brings her peace.

Helens faith recognizes Christ solely in His mercy, perhaps encouraged by Scripture passages in

which Christ presents himself as the giver of rest. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew, Christ

says, Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. [] learn

from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (11: 28-30).

Helens faith then, while rejecting some components found in other denominations, is

fundamentally Christian; she believes in Christ as He presents Himself: as merciful.


Littell 9

The third aspect of Helens faith is the recognition that human persons have the ability to

foster an intimate, personal relationship with God. When Jane asks Helen questions about her

faith, Helen describes her relationship with God, giving the second most essential witness to the

Christian faith in the novel. Jane asks Helen, What is God? (83) Helens response is

monumentally important for Jane; it will be the foundation of her faith in God as manifested later

throughout the novel. Helen responds, I believe God is good; [] God is my father; God is my

friend: I love him: I believe he loves me (83). This belief shows Jane four aspects of God,

touched at previously in her creed, but explicitly stated here in her response: God is good, He is a

Father and a friend for all human persons, and he is loving. Helens belief in God as a merciful

Father and a friend in whom she can confide and receive life-giving love revealed to Jane that

human persons can cultivate an intensely personal relationship with God. This relationship is one

in which human persons can draw near to God and be assured of his desire to be with them.

As the readers know, Helen dies shortly after this incredible witness to Gods mercy and

love. Jane is therefore without her friend, yet the wisdom from Helen follows Jane throughout

her life. The novels structure as a bildungsroman shows Janes progress from the immature Jane

who needed Helens gentle admonitions to accept a morality of forgiveness and love, as well as

her witnesses to Gods unfailing mercy, to the mature Jane who is confident in her faith in God

as merciful and good. One of Janes most dramatic examples of her testament to her profoundly

matured faith happens immediately after the discovery of Mr. Rochesters wife, Bertha. The

ordeal that Jane suffers on account of Mr. Rochesters deceitfulness reveals Janes relationship

with God since Helens death.

Janes faith plays a very prominent role in this scene, when she is surrounded by the

darkness of the chaos ensuing around her. The discovery of Mr. Rochesters wife had shocked
Littell 10

her to a state of deep dismay. She describes her response as a death, saying, My hopes were all

deadstruck with a subtle doom, such as, in one night, fell on all the first born in the land of

Egypt and later, I lay faint; longing to be dead (301). This death can be compared to the

spiritual darkness that many saints underwent an extreme dryness and total darkness, with no

consolation from Heaven. She describes how in the midst of this death, faith alone lived within

her. One idea only, she says, still throbbed life-like within mea remembrance of God

(301). This remembrance of God throbbed life-like within, evoking imagery of the heart,

which throbs and pushes blood as the source of life for creatures. If she herself was dead, then

her remembrance of God must have taken place in a purely supernatural manner. Her use of

metaphors to show her faith as throbbing life-like within, while describing herself as faint

and longing to be dead, shows a central characteristic of her faith: it exists beyond her own

capacity to will it into existence (301). The death of her hopes, which renders her will as

powerless, contrasts against the living faith, which is described as creative in nature, by bringing

forth a prayer.

Jane writes that her faith begot a muttered prayer: these words went wandering up and

down in my rayless mind, as something that should be whispered; but no energy was found to

express them: - Be not far from me, for trouble is near: there is none to help (301). The

muttered prayer which was carried in her thoughts brings a dramatic allusion to the death of

Jesus Christ, through their shared reference of this psalm. Janes prayer, Be not far from me,

is a line from The Book of Psalms, chapter twenty-two, the same chapter that Jesus Christ

references during his crucifixion.

To understand the weight of the reference Jane includes in her autobiography, a pursuit

for the Christological context of the psalm must be made. The book of Matthew records the
Littell 11

crucifixion of Jesus Christ saying that on the cross Jesus cried with a loud voice, Eli, Eli, lama

sabach-thani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46). In

Ancient Jewish tradition, it was common to recite only the first line to refer to an entire Psalm.

By crying aloud, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me, Jesus is reciting its first line of

Psalm twenty-two, the same psalm Jane Eyre will refer to. Seen in its entirety, the psalm can be

read in voice of Jesus Christ on the cross, due to his reference and due to the specific prophetic

verses about Jesus suffering.

The prophetic material in the psalm is remarkable and beautiful. Having been written far

before Jesus time, the prophetic imagery of the cruel treatment of Jesus by his persecutors is

astonishing. The narrator of the psalm says, I am a worm, and no man; scorned by man, and

despised by the people. All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their

heads; He committed his cause to the LORD; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he

delights in him! (Psalm 22: 6-7). With this, the psalm foreshadows specific events that take

place during Christs crucifixion: the mockery of the onlookers, their actual movements, and

their words. Through these prophesies, the importance of this psalm comes to light to a

remarkable degree, for with it, the psalm is tied to the universal meaning of Christs Passion and

the subsequent salvation of the whole world. Much more than a literary embellishment, Jane

Eyres reference to psalm twenty-two reveals the strength of the influence of Christianity in her

faith.

For example, by referencing the psalm Jesus cried out during his crucifixion, noticeable

similarities become evident between Jesus and Jane in their experiences. When Jesus references

this psalm, he has suffered the abandonment of his companions and the bodily torture that his

persecutors inflicted on him. When Jane references this psalm, she has just suffered through the
Littell 12

discovery of Mr. Rochesters mad, but true wife; which reveals his unfaithfulness to her and the

necessary abandonment which she must suffer. Even though their sufferings are different in

degree and manner, they unite in meaning in this psalm.

The psalm begins with the lament of the suffering servant of God, who feels abandoned

by God, and suffers immensely from the cruelty of others. The voice of the suffering servant,

whose voice becomes the crucified Christs, laments, saying, I am poured out like water, and all

my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast (Psalm 22: 6-7, 14,

15). In these verses, Jesus describes his heart being melted within him as wax, describing the

depths of his agony. Jane also uses heart imagery to describe the death of her faith. As explained

above, Jane portrayed her faith as the heart which throbbed life-like within (Bronte 301).

When overcome by the torrent, symbolizing the depths of her agony, Jane says that the whole

consciousness of my life [was] lorn, my love lost, my faith dead-struck (301). Just as Jesus

heart died, melted as wax, Janes faith, portrayed as her heart, also died in the torrent of

depression. The psalm contains other imagery that is used by Jane in the depictions of her

misery. The suffering servant says, [My] strength is dried up [] thou dost lay me in the dust of

death (Psalm 22: 14). Jane also expresses her loss of strength, illustrating it through the imagery

of lying abandoned on the dry earth. Jane says, Self-abandoned, [] I seemed to have laid me

down in the dried-up bed of a great river [and] to rise I had no will, to flee I had no strength.

(Bronte 301). Just as the suffering servant lied in the dust of death, Jane, being likewise

without strength, was abandoned on the dried-up bed of a great river (301).

Not only does Jane use the psalms imagery and language to express her suffering, but

she also uses the term the bitter hour to describe her agonizing state of depression. After Jane

describes how her faith was dead-struck and the torrent swayed full and mighty above [] in
Littell 13

one sullen mass she continues, saying, that bitter hour cannot be described (301). The term

bitter hour has been held in Christian tradition as the experience of Christ in the garden of

Gethsemane, in which he suffered his agony. This psalm and the term are both used by Jane to

unite her experience of depression to Christs Passion. These similarities in description of their

sufferings cannot be accidental or regarded as simply literary decoration; rather, the shared

language and imagery imply the authors specific intention of linking Janes emotional turmoil to

Christs crucifixion.

By alluding and referencing to Jesus Passion in the descriptions of her suffering, Jane

shows the depth of the intimacy between Christ and the Christian, showing a development of

belief inspired by her childhood companion, Helen Burns. Remembering how Helen Burns faith

was characterized by a profound trust in Gods mercy and the love He has for His children on

earth, it is clear to see how Jane must have used such faith as a foundation of her own. Just

before her death, Helen told Jane, God is my Father; God is my friend: I love Him; I believe He

loves me (Bronte 83). From this foundational knowledge of God as merciful and loving, Jane

comes to regard Christ, who is God, as the one who helps her to understand her own suffering.

The descriptions of her emotional turmoil with allusions to Christs crucifixion reveals

that Jane understands Christ as the one who gives her the ability to understand suffering itself.

Jane sees her sufferings in light of Christs Passion by referencing the same Psalms that he

prayed on the cross; she is also able to see her anguish as united to the bitter hour of his agony

in the garden. Janes description shows that Christians can share Jesus Christs life to such a

remarkable degree that their sufferings can be united to Christs.

Other scenes which manifest Janes personal faith in God include her arrival at Moor

House, where she prays in earnest gratitude to God for his guidance. She says, Yes; I feel now
Littell 14

that I was right when I adhered to principle and law, and scorned and crushed the insane

promptings of a frenzied moment. God directed me to a correct choice: I thank His providence

for the guidance! (366 emphasis added). Here, Jane specifically describes God as providential,

in which he directs human affairs out of his kindness and love for humanity. With this prayer,

Jane manifests how God is involved in her personal life and cares about her wellbeing, so much

so that He guides her thoughts and leads her to make the correct choices.

After God guided Jane through the trial at Thornfield and led her to Moor House, Jane is

given another trial in which her faith is in God is tested. This time, her faith is tried by the

example of St. John, whose interpretation of Christianity differs from the faith she received from

Helen. By this point, Jane has become morally mature, having been victorious in her trials at

Thornfield, leaving temptation and genuinely forgiving Mr. Rochester. However, through her

friendship with St. John and his subsequent influence on her, Jane is tested in the faith she has

come to believe, revealing that her faith is continuously maturing, particularly in her

understanding of God and of her vocation.

Janes struggle in spiritual maturation is described in the scenes in which St. John

unknowingly, and therefore unintentionally, tempts Jane to lose her understanding of God and of

herself. Up to this point, Janes knowledge of God has been founded on Helens creed, which

describes God as loving and mercifulsomeone with whom human persons can have a real,

personal relationship. St. Johns understanding of God slightly contradicts this creed, tempting

Jane to abandon her religious understanding for his own. The most prominent example of St.

Johns difference in religious belief is his dialogue with Jane during his proposal. In one of his

proposal speeches to Jane Eyre (for indeed there are many longwinded arguments he uses to

persuade Jane to marry him) St. John tells Jane:


Littell 15

God and nature intended you for a missionarys wife. It is not personal, but

mental endowments they have given you: you are formed for labor, not for love.

[] You shall be mine: I claim younot for my pleasure, but for my Sovereigns

service. (Bronte 409)

In this exclamation, St. John pronounces his misunderstanding of the nature of the human person

in relationship to God and each other. His idea of Jane, and thus human persons, is that man is

formed for labor, not for love, revealing a sad, utilitarian view of human persons. This

utilitarian view is the dangerous tendency to see human persons fundamentally in light of their

abilities and productivity, which contradicts the Christian view that human persons are valuable

fundamentally in light of their existence. While his goals are good (he desires the expansion of

the Kingdom of God and the salvation of souls), his preoccupation with action and results

dangerously affects the way he views God and human persons. His foundation of belief in God is

that one can have a personal relationship with Him, but man must be laboring for God.

Christians reading the text might note that labor for Gods kingdom is fundamentally

good in that acts of service are an essential part of the Christian call. However, the temptation

that St. John personifies in the novel is the unhealthy preoccupation with deeds and actions,

which leads to the subsequent loss of understanding of the importance of love within service. St.

Johns statement that Jane was formed for labor, not for love reveals his understanding of

Christian service as in opposition to love. This view of service leads to the idea that a Christian

does not need to love in order to serve; it places the fundamental importance on the act rather

than the intention. Janes personal reflections on St. Johns understanding of service also reveal a

hesitancy in determining whether St. John served others out of love or simply duty. Jane writes

that, No weather seemed to hinder him in [his] pastoral excursions: rain or fear, he would []
Littell 16

go out on mission of love or dutyI scarcely know in which light he regarded it (357). Janes

explanation shows a mature understanding of her inability to properly judge St. Johns intentions

and inspiration for his Christian service; most significantly, though, her musings reveal the

contention within his character based on the confusion between love and service, feelings and

duty.

Furthermore, if by love St. John meant primarily a romantic love, he would also be

making the grave mistake of believing that romantic relationships are in opposition to Gods

service. Quite contrary to this way of thinking, romantic relationships are traditionally

understood in Christianity as part of Gods plan for humanity. Likewise, romantic relationships

that blossom into marriage and family life are a profound and holy gift from God and a way of

salvation for many individuals. The importance of the vocation to marriage and family is brought

into light later in the novel, when at the decisive moment, Jane must confront St. Johns proposal

for missionary life and choose which path to take.

When Jane is first discussing with St. John his vocation as a missionary, St. John remarks

that when he finds those who are worthy of the work [of mission], and competent to accomplish

it, he feels that it is

right to stir them upto urge and exhort them to the effortto show them what

their gifts are, and why they were givento speak Heavens message in their

ear,to offer them, direct from God, a place in the ranks of his chosen. (Bronte

409)

In this statement, St. John reveals the grave error of believing that he as a spiritual director can

pronounce the vocation of an individual for them. While he mentions his desire to guide Jane to

recognize her gifts, he fails to respect her freedom and her interior relationship with God.
Littell 17

Ultimately, St. John fails in his role as a pastor and spiritual director by believing that he knows

Jane as only God can know her. By claiming to speak for her heart, St. John is abusing his role

as a helpful guide by using his authority to definitively proclaim her vocation (409).

Jane recognizes that St. John is overstepping his bounds as a spiritual guide, responding

to his powerful statement by asking him, If they are really qualified for the task, will not their

own hearts be the first to inform them of it? (409) Janes question reveals the nature of

vocations: they are a deeply personal gift from God. Christian tradition understands vocations as

a personal calling, revealed over time and after much prayer, by God speaking to them in the

silence of their hearts. Janes statement, that the heart informs the individual of their vocation, is

the fundamental idea that a vocation is part of the individualthat it is above all a personal call,

perfect for them. St. Johns proclamation to Jane, that she is called by God to be a missionarys

wife, rejects the element of the personal and reduces vocations to a task that one is charged to do

by an outside force.

So, by tempting Jane to abandon the call within her heart and adhere to his own

proclamation of her vocation, St. John acts as a figure of trial for Jane in her faith-life. Yet, just

as the strength of her morality was manifested in the trial at Thornfield, the strength of her

relationship with God is proven through this trial with St. John. At the decisive moment, when

St. John has almost persuaded Jane to join him as his missionary wife, Janes prayer is heard by

heaven and she receives the gift of locutions, in which a miraculous call is heard within her

heart.

After Jane responds to St. John, saying that she could agree to marry him if only she

knew that it was Gods will to do so, she beings praying within her heart. She says, I sincerely,

deeply, fervently longed to do what was right; and only that. Show me, show me the path! I
Littell 18

entreated of Heaven (426). By entreating Heaven to guide her along the right path, Jane shows

how even throughout all the trials of being with St. John and seeing his interpretation of God, she

still believes in God as merciful, providential, and benevolent. Likewise, the novel depicts God

in accordance with Janes faith, presenting Him as deeply invested in Jane. His active

involvement in her life is manifested in the scene where, immediately after her interior, prayerful

cries for help, Jane receives the miracle of locutions.

As the readers know, the voice who called her name in the locutions, saying, Jane!

Jane! Jane! was Mr. Rochester, who had called out her name that very night in prayer to God.

Emily Griesinger remarks in her article, Charlotte Brontes Religion: Faith, Feminism, and Jane

Eyre, that the text does not claim that the voice originates in God, but the conclusion that God

is involved is warranted by Rochesters explanation at the end that indeed on that night he cried

out Janes name to God in prayer (14 emphasis added). Griesinger explains the miraculous

phenomena of locutions is a result of the couples prayers to God for help. She writes, If we

accept the mysterious counterpointing of Jane and Rochesters prayers are evidence of the

genuinely supernatural, then we must entertain the possibility, as Jane surely does, that the voice

crying in the night or in her own soul is evidence of Gods presence and power (15). So, in the

climactic moment where Jane prays for Gods help in determining her vocation, the voice of Mr.

Rochester in her heart or soul attests to the reality of God as present and deeply involved in his

childrens lives, affirming her faith in God.

The gift of locutions also reveals a deepening of Janes understanding of her vocation.

Janes calling takes on a literal meaning, because God reveals His will for her life through the

voice of Mr. Rochester calling out her name. Griesinger concludes that if this is Gods doing, as

Jane believes [], then God does not intend Jane to martyr her self in Calcutta but is setting
Littell 19

her free to pursue her hearts desire, which is marriage to Rochester (14). Griesingers

explanation shows that the locutions served to mature Janes understanding of vocations. After

her experience of hearing the voice, Janes return to Mr. Rochester reveals how she understood

that a vocation is comprised of Gods personal involvement with the individual in helping them

to realize that the desires in their hearts coincide with where they would be most fulfilled.

Janes fulfillment at the end of the novel serves not only to give a sense of closure and

leave the reader with a feeling of having read a classic fairytale, but also reveals the beauty

within all vocations. Janes happiness subsists in knowing that she is united to God and married

to her love, Mr. Rochester. The fulfillment or fruitfulness of their marriage is also shown in how

Jane, at the end of the novel, has a child with Mr. Rochester. Charlotte Bronte, however, does not

end the novel with a celebration of just the vocation to marriage. The final sentence, ending with

St Johns exclamation of hope and trust that he will soon be united to Christ in heaven shows

how Bronte, from the beginning until the very end of the novel, intended to write Jane Eyre as a

novel which upheld both vocationsmission and marriageas invaluable, sacred, and beautiful

ways for human persons to find their fulfillment.

While many critics may choose to read Jane Eyre as primarily a text which fancies the

revolt against authority, or as containing invaluable commentary on the female experience and

the importance of feminism, there is one claim that will always be quite evident, if one chooses

to allow the book to speak for itself, and that is how Jane Eyre celebrates the real presence of a

merciful and loving God. Janes testimony presents God as a merciful Father who leads his

children and places people in their paths to help themsuch as Helen, for Janeor others who

help to strengthen their resolve and trust in God through the trials that they present. Overall,

Charlotte Brontes Jane Eyre shows God as intimately involved in the lives of humanity and that
Littell 20

true freedom for human persons subsists in coming to know Him and in trusting that He will lead

them to a life where they will find the most fulfillment.


Littell 21

Works Cited

The Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015. Print.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 3rd ed. New York: Signet Classic, 1997. Print.

Clarke, Michael. "The Brontes and Religion." Religion & Literature, vol. 32, no. 3, 2000, pp.

111-115. EBSCOhost, fr.opal-

libraries.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=vah&AN

=ATLA0000173818&site=eds-live.

Franklin, J. Jeffrey. The Merging of Spiritualities: Jane Eyre as Missionary of

Love. Nineteenth-Century Literature, vol. 49, no. 4, 1995, pp. 456482.,

www.jstor.org/stable/2933729.

Griesinger, Emily. "Charlotte Bront's Religion: Faith, Feminism, and "Jane Eyre.." Christianity

& Literature, vol. 58, no. 1, Sept. 2008, pp. 29-59. EBSCOhost, fr.opal-

libraries.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rlh&AN=

35451535&site=eds-live.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Bibles, 2009. Print.

Thormahlen, Marianne. The Bronts and Religion. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

EBSCOhost, fr.opal-

libraries.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna

&AN=54585&site=eds-live.

Rigby, Elizabeth. Vanity Fair-and Jane Eyre. Quarterly Review. Critiques on Charlotte and

Emily Bronte, edited by Judith ONeill, University of Miami Press, 1968, pp. 15.