Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Jane Eyre Read-Along: Chapter 32

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.

Favorite Lines:

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?


  1. I never thought about Miss Oliver as a foil for Jane, perhaps, but I think that Blanche Ingram is also. I've definitely thought St.John is for Mr. Rochester. I'm fascinated by St. John's intensity, while I think he is crazy, I still find his purpose and will fascinating. While Rochester's overwrought drama usually gets on my nerves in the book (part of why I decided I didn't want to finish my reread) although I loved him in the 2006 version.

    1. I suppose Miss Oliver could be a foil for Jane too, and St. John for Rochester. But I was thinking of them the other way around -- Miss Oliver for Rochester, and St. John for Jane.

      Miss Oliver and Blanche are both, I suppose, foils for Jane in their own ways, since they're both unmarried young women in pursuit of a man.

      I think we're backwards on St. John and Mr. Rochester, hee! It's St. John's endless, moany holitude that I find overwrought drama, while it's Rochester's intensity and restless drive that intrigue me.

      Is the 2006 the one with Toby Stephens? I must admit he's my least-favorite Rochester of the 4 I've seen.

  2. You getting to the side of St. John that I like!!!
    Anyway, to the questions!
    Yes, I do find that to be true. It (once again) reminds me of Elinor Dashwood of Sense and Sensability.
    Yes, I think I like Mr. Rochester better.

    1. Movie Critic -- well, good :-) We're having a lovely effect on each other!

  3. Very interesting what you write about the similarities between Jane and St. John and Mr. Rochester and Miss. Oliver! Maybe Jane and St. John 's characters can be understood as both the good and the bad consequences of having an iron resolve. You can use it to protect yourself from bad situations, but also to keep yourself from good relationships. Although, I always believed St. John and Miss Oliver would have been a good couple, but reading the book again this time, I do highly doubt it. Maybe she is made more intelligent in the adaptations? I seem to remember many things more from adaptations than from previous actual reads of the book...

    1. Birdie, that's a great way too look at it! I'm a very stubborn person, and I know from my own experience that I can put my stubbornness to good use and stand firm on an issue or principle... but I can let it get in my way too.

      I think Miss Oliver is really sweet in a couple of adaptations (and entirely missing from some of them), so that has skewed my views of St. John a lot, I'm finding. I'm not nearly as mad at him in the book right now as I remember being.

  4. I really don't have time to comment on all I wish to say, but, as always, I love the things you point out and make me think about during this read-a-long!

    I found that passage about reserved people needing frank discussions about their feelings interesting as well. I tend to think it true. I am reserved only to strangers or people I'm not the best of friends with, though, so I can't with any real authority say it's true for ALL reserved people.

    1. Natalie, that's so cool! I love hearing that these posts are giving you things to think about.

      I'm reserved around a lot of people -- I don't tell people what I'm thinking or feeling deep down unless I know and trust them very deeply, and it takes many years for me to reach that level of trust. Really, there are only 3 people to whom I feel I can confide basically anything and trust them with it. Happily, I'm married to one of them :-)


What do you think?

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