Monday, October 10, 2016

Jane Eyre Read-Along: Chapter 30

One of the things I have had the hardest time reconciling myself with, when I read books from the 1800s, is how often they rely on coincidence and convenience.  Faint with hunger and desperation, Jane just happens to fall in with people she likes!  And not just likes, but with whom she shares "perfect congeniality of tastes, sentiments, and principles" (p. 405).  I'm happy for her, but wow, how convenient, huh?  And the coincidence will come into play in a couple of chapters, but we'll get to that later.

The one thing that makes the happy, instant, blissful life for Jane at least a bit believable is exasperating, restless St. John, with his "reserved... abstracted, and even brooding nature" (p. 407).  I've been trying to figure out why I don't like St. John as much as Rochester, because really, he's a much better person.  Maybe it's that lack of "mental serenity" and "inward content" (p. 407) -- he seems to enjoy being discontented.  And he's so, I don't know, bound up and closed off, like he's closed and locked himself and tied himself all up so no one can ever get close to him.  It's not a healthy way to be, certainly, and it makes me tired just thinking about what being around him would be like.  I have a great need to make people happy, to help them out of unhappiness, but when someone like St. John steadfastly insists on being miserable, then my instincts are thwarted, I get annoyed, and eventually I give up on them.  And I think that's what makes me not simply like St. John Rivers less than Rochester, but actively dislike him at times.

And then there's the lack of Gospel in his sermon.  And in his life!  He's all Law, insisting on denying himself everything so he can earn his way to heaven.  Not how it works, buddy.

Plus, dude, what even are you trying to do by taking page upon page to tell Jane you've got a teaching job for her?  It smacks of teasing.

Possible Discussion Questions:

Why does Jane say, "compared with that of a governess in a rich house, it was independent; and the fear of servitude with strangers entered my soul like iron" (p. 411)?  When she left Lowood, she was more than happy to take a position as governess working for strangers.  What has changed?

7 comments:

  1. Okay, okay, sometimes I don't like St. John too. There! You got it out of me. ...And, you have more experience with the book, so, I'm not sure any more.

    You always ask such good questions! My answer is, I have no idea.

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    1. I always feel like I "ought" to like St. John better than I do. I'm trying to like him, this time through. I do feel sad for him in some ways.

      But you know, lots of people read this and don't like Mr. Rochester, so to each their own, right?

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  2. St. John certainly forgets or simply doesn't realize important parts of the gospel. I mean, what about, "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love"....? Has he read that verse? ;P

    Perhaps Jane is happy to be a school mistress instead of a governess because she won't be working directly under her employer's nose? I mean, maybe she wants freedom to do things her way and not feel subservient to someone? And after all she's been through, it makes sense if she doesn't want to start anew again in someplace, among people who could present new "drama" into her life. What are you thoughts?

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    1. Natalie, yes. St. John just... has issues.

      Perhaps that's part of Jane's thinking/feeling here. She has been treated basically like an equal and would have trouble going back to a lower status. Maybe also she would be tempted to compare her new life in a new family with what she left behind at Thornfield, and that would be more painful than teaching a school, which is wholly different?

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    2. I heartily agree. That makes perfect sense. :)

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  3. Hmmm, I'm curious about Mr. Rivers's theological standing. Charlotte Bronte mentions there were Calvinistic teachings in his sermon, such as predestination, but that he then neglected to integrate grace. As someone who holds to Calvin's teachings, I think she misrepresented Calvin a little with the negative connotations. :)

    Or maybe Mr. Rivers only took the part of Calvinistic doctrine which teaches total depravity and then cut the part which emphasizes salvation and joy.

    And then maybe she didn't intend readers to over think it like I'm doing. :)

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    1. Meredith, I think Bronte is portraying St. John as a bad Calvinist. And a bad Christian, really. I don't think she wants us to believe all Calvinists are like St. John, because look at his sisters -- they're full of Christian love and charity, and reflect God's grace very well. So I think St. John is presenting a warped, wrong version of Calvinism. I definitely agree we're supposed to look at him deeply and try to figure out what's wrong with him, if that makes sense ;-)

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What do you think?

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