Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Jane Eyre, Revelation, and Earthly vs. Eternal

Though Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books (I have explained that "this book is my soul"), it's been a while since I brought it up. Lately I've been pondering the ending. To refresh your memory, the book ends with Jane sort of summing up what has happened to other characters--namely, her Rivers cousins. On the one hand, this is entirely common for a Victorian novel. But the very last words feel more specific and less common. The novel ends by quoting St John Rivers quoting the end of the book of Revelation. If this isn't coincidence, then what is the meaning?

This could be a premise for a literary paper rather than a blog post. But I'll approach it blog post style, eh? 

Let's look at what else is in the last chapter of the book. Jane explains that she has married Rochester. She tells how happy they are together. But there is also great emphasis on Rochester's conversion. Faith is an extremely important element in Jane Eyre. This is one of the reasons why the 2006 movie version is my favorite: it includes the faith element. Yet even that film only gave Rochester a brief moment to mention that he had cried out to God in his distress. But the novel makes it clear that this is central to Rochester's ability to love Jane as an equal and to live his life now freely and happily. This is, of course, also why we have Rochester's literal blindness as a metaphorical expression. Eventually, his sight returns--that is, his eyes are opened, which is a concept commonly associated with spiritual awakening. 

It is indeed supernatural that Jane and Rochester are reunited at all. I remember hearing discussion about how Jane's experience hearing Rochester's voice calling to her when she is with St John is written in the style of Victorian religious/spiritual epiphanies. It is a fantasy element in a real world setting--so it could be interpreted as divine intervention. Rather than seeing it as Rochester is Jane's god (after all, she has earlier in the text referred to him as God's human being "of whom she had made an idol," which is why she chooses to leave him instead of taking him up on his offer of the villa), you can see that spiritual overtone as simply expressing God's involvement. 

That is, Jane at this time is pondering God's will and seeking guidance. She doesn't want to marry St John, but she also doesn't want to ignore God's will and so wants some sort of assurance that it isn't God's will for her to marry him. And Rochester is at this time experiencing his conversion. So you can look at it this way. God allows Jane to hear Rochester so that she will know that she doesn't need to marry St John and is free to return to Rochester. And this is also in response to Rochester's repentance; he is now free to experience God's mercy and the good gift of the love of the woman whom he loves. Whereas before Jane loved Rochester out of loneliness, now she has been her own person without him and can love him simply as a person. Whereas before Rochester loved Jane as redemption, now he sees redemption in God and can love Jane simply as a person. See a trend here? 

Now how does this connect back to St John and Revelation? You have at the end of the novel a picture of these two pairs. Jane and Rochester are an earthly relationship and earthly happiness. Jane chose to marry Rochester instead of St John. So St John has not married anyone else; he simply serves God, so in a sense his marriage is to God (you hear more often people talking about single women as being married to God, but you can apply the same symbolic concept to men). So you have that eternal relationship to compare with the earthly one. 

And the church is often referred to as the bride of Christ awaiting his return. St John quotes Revelation by saying, "Amen; even so, come, Lord Jesus," and bringing up that image of the bride waiting for the groom. St John, on the verge of dying, is about to meet the symbolic groom. Jane waited a long time for her physical groom. So what is the picture there to the reader? It's a juxtaposition and blending of earthly and eternal. 

The reminder is that Christ is coming and that one must live in readiness to meet him. So Jane gained her earthly happiness, but it is not ultimately portrayed as being more important than her spiritual state--which is why there is so much emphasis on her not betraying God simply to be with Rochester. Jane has her earthly comfort, but in describing St John's comfort even when he is so close to death, she is also describing how she will feel. Jane began life alone and unwanted--and from all of this we know that she will end it feeling loved and accepted. A bride waiting eagerly for her groom. 

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