You're not going to believe this, but I'm starting to change my opinion of St. John Rivers. Just a bit. I didn't remember this chapter much at all -- to be honest, several of the times I've read this, I skimmed through this whole part of the book. I've always been irked with him for his seemingly high-handed rejection of Miss Oliver and insistence that being a missionary is holier than being a parish minister. I still disagree with the latter, but his decision not to pursue Miss Oliver makes a lot more sense to me this time through.
And I've had a thought. Do you think that St. John and Miss Oliver are foils for Jane and Mr. Rochester? This thought occurred to me when I was reading the description Jane gives of Miss Oliver's character: "she was coquettish, but not heartless -- exacting, but not worthlessly selfish. She had been indulged from her birth, but was not absolutely spoiled" (p. 426). That struck me as very similar to Rochester. And Miss Oliver herself says Jane is like Mr. Rivers.
St. John is handsome, and Jane is not. Miss Oliver is beautiful, and Mr. Rochester is not. Both St. John and Jane are poor, while Miss Oliver and Mr. Rochester are rich. Like all good foils, they have just enough similarities to illuminate their differences and show off the main characters' good and bad points.
St. John had an iron resolve, like Jane. Miss Oliver wants him to stay and marry her, and he believes he should not, just like Jane believes she should not stay and marry Rochester. But unlike Jane, who is morally right in her decision, St. John is merely stubborn. And unlike Rochester, who is intelligent and a good match for Jane in the ways that matter to them, Miss Oliver is St. John's mental and emotional inferior.
So, anyway, I don't quite dislike St. John like I always did before. I still agree with his self-assessment that he is "a cold, hard, ambitious man" (p. 434), and I don't think I will ever truly like him. But I think I understand and pity him more now.
To live amid general regard, though it be but the regard of working-people, is like "sitting in sunshine, calm and sweet;" serene inward feelings bud and bloom under the ray (p. 425).
Possible Discussion Questions:
Jane says, "Reserved people often really need the frank discussion of their sentiments and griefs more than the expansive" (p. 431). Do you find that to be true?
Have you changed your opinion of any characters during this read-along so far?