Saturday, October 29, 2016

Jane Eyre Read-Along: Chapter 34

NOW I remember why I don't like St. John Rivers much.  It's this chapter.  It starts well enough, with all the Christmasyness, and did you catch that Jane's school had sixty girls now?  WOW!  (Also, I got this big kick out of the bit about how British peasants are better than other peasants.)  

But then St. John decided to skulk around being grim and gruff and positively unpleasant.  Here's the thing:  I hate being forced to do things, even if they're good things, or things I would otherwise want to do.  Tell me I must do them, and I won't.  Or I'll do them only under bitter protest.  Similarly, I detest it when people try to force others to do things.  No, and no, and no.  And when someone tries to change another person to suit their own needs or desires, I get angry.  So nope, turns out I do not like St. John better this time through.  I tried to like him, I started to like him a little, but nope, not gonna happen.  He's too much of what I dislike.

Besides, this chapter is creepy!  "By degrees, he acquired a certain influence over me that took away my liberty of mind... I fell under a freezing spell" (p. 461).  Oh my goodness.  Danger, Will Robinson!  That is creepy and controlling and awful.  St. John is forcing Jane to change because he wants her to change, and the fact that he shows no sexual interest in her does not make it better, it makes it weirder.  To me, anyway.  

We've brought up the idea of Jane being caged a few times.  It's here again, I think, when she says, "my mind is at this moment like a rayless dungeon" (p. 467).  And St. John refuses to accept that she is not what he wants her to be, and that he cannot force her to become what she is not.  Jane insists, "I have no vocation" (p. 466), and I believe her.  'Vocation' doesn't just mean 'occupation' in this sense, but 'calling.'  Properly understood, the idea of Christian Vocation is that anything we do that serves God and our neighbor is a good vocation.  Mothering, teaching, nursing, cooking, stocking shelves, fixing cars -- these are all worthy vocations for Christians.  Jane realizes that homemaking provides opportunities to serve God and others, just as mission work does.  St. John doesn't.  He's too focused on earning his way to heaven with sweeping acts of piety and sacrifice, and can't believe anything else is worth doing.  Hard, stubborn, wrong-headed man.  Blech.

Favorite Lines:

"I am disposed to be as content as a queen, and you try to stir me up to restlessness" (p. 453).

I would always rather be happy than dignified (p. 474) (Of late, this has been my favorite line in the whole book.)

Possible Discussion Questions:

Why do you think that understanding St. John gives Jane the power to refuse him?

10 comments:

  1. Those are some great points! St. John strikes me as a plausible character for his day, and that makes him even more unlikeable.

    It's been years since I read the book, but as I think about the story now, I wonder if Jane's independence kind of goes back to Brocklehurst. He was the first domineering, unpleasant man she stood up to. Maybe that childhood experience gave her the courage to resist Rochester and refuse St. John.

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    1. Thanks, MH. Yes, St. John is very believable, which makes it all worse.

      I think Jane's independence goes back farther than that, to when she was a small child and refused to be bullied by her cousin and stood up to her aunt.

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  2. Prior to reading Jane Eyre earlier this year, I was at least familiar with Jane and Mr. Rochester but until I read it, I did not know whether Jane ends up with him. So as I'm reading the St. John chapters I kept wondering who she might end up with (or perhaps she would end up with nobody). I didn't hate St. John but I just couldn't see Jane being with him eventually. You bring up some good points, though, that I had not thought about. St. John can be more disturbing than I initially realized.

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    1. Dale, I've disliked St. John for as long as I've known this story, but I never really took the time to figure out why until this read-through, I just instinctively disliked him. He makes me sad, really, with his stubborn wrongness.

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  3. Ooh, that line about being happy rather than dignified is great. :) I don't remember noticing it before.

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    1. Natalie, I didn't notice it until I saw it on a t-shirt once and was like, "Is that really in JE?" and went searching for it. LOVES IT!

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  4. Umph, I was sooo angry at St. John in this chapter. They way he tried to manipulate Jane, even calling in the 'God card'. I really hate it when people don't listen at all to other people's arguments and that is exactly what St. John is doing here. Jane could as well have been talking to a wall. I'm so happy to read how strong Jane is and how well she knows herself and her own worth.

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    1. Birdie, yes -- that's what makes me maddest, I think, that he equates obeying himself with obeying God, and disobeying himself with disobeying God. Duuuuuuuuuuude, so not okay.

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  5. Ah, finally I've caught up with my posts!

    I've always thought that St John's brand of Christianity was what made him dour and inflexible, but this time I noticed that it was actually his faith that moderated his actions and made him more human:

    ".... it was only as a sincere Christian he bore so patiently with my perversity, and allowed so long a space for reflection and repentance ........

    ......but still the Christian was patient and placid; ......"


    As for his manipulation of Jane, some people have a very strong character that almost commands an obedience and they wield it for their own benefit. Jane saw him as a man with a duty and a higher calling, for which I think she admired him, and also she wanted to like him as a person, but as soon as his faults became apparent, he was brought down to her level and she was able to deal with his forcefulness more easily.

    The way he punished her for not yielding to him, was truly uncharitable, and then he lied about it. Not cool.

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    1. Cleopatra, yes! So true. Imagine what St. John would have been like if he had been a nonbeliever :-o

      Jane has a strong character herself, and I think she likes the challenge of dealing with others who are also strong-willed and commanding. It's part of what draws her to Mr. Rochester, and part of what makes her sympathetic to St. John and interested in helping him, I think. I know that, as a strong-willed person, finding someone I respect who can exert their will even over mine makes me respect them all the more, and can make me like them a lot.

      But yeah, St. John is just too manipulative. Not cool indeed.

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