Jane Eyre Part III: Conclusion
For those of you who are new, my good friend RJ and I have been reading Jane Eyre together. You can find RJ’s blog here, and my previous posts can be found in the “Reading with RJ” category of this blog. This is my concluding post on the novel, because we have finished it this week.
When I finished Jane Eyre, I was not sure what I should write about. My previous post concerned the novel as a whole, so I didn’t want to do that again. I could write about the last chapter, which struck me as more of an epilogue than a chapter, and, in any case, I did not care for it. It was an ending that did not fit the rest of the novel. I could mention the excitement I felt at the uncertainty of Jane’s fate. Unlike with most romances, I did not know whether Jane and Edward would be together in the end. I like that. I like having doubt about a happy ending. I could write about the film, which I watched this evening, but I would rather this post focus on the novel (though perhaps a later post will be about the movie). After all this deliberation, I decided to write on St. John (whose name, I learned, is pronounced “Sinjun.”).
St. John both fascinates and repulses me. When he first appeared, I liked him very much. He is kind to Jane when she needs kindness, and is very generous toward her, despite the fact that she is a stranger. He is introverted and a bit harsh, but gives every indication of being a good man–which I still believe that he is. St. John, however, is not a nice man, though a good one he is. His expectations of others are too high, and while he is generous with his wealth, he is stingy with his forgiveness.
There are many things about St. John’s part in Jane’s tale that I was expecting: as soon as St. John asked Jane to learn Hindostanee, the language of the people to whom he planned to bring the gospel of Christ, I knew that he would propose to her. Since Jane had earlier proclaimed to herself that he would make an awful husband, I knew that she would reject him. I did not, however, anticipate the nature of St. John’s proposal.
That proposal goes down in (literary) history as the worst proposal of all time, beating out even Fitzwilliam Darcy’s to Elizabeth Bennet (which, if you have forgotten, was along the lines of, “I have struggled to smother my feelings for you because you are not worthy of them, but I cannot stop loving you; will you marry me?”). It takes an idiot to come up with a worse proposal than that, but St. John E. Rivers managed quite well. It was to the effect of: “I don’t love you, but you would make a great missionary’s wife, so will you marry me, so that I can take you to India? Now, remember, I don’t have feelings for you, but God wants us to get married.” What self-respecting woman would acquiesce to that? None. Only a desperate woman, one so desiring to please others that she would reject herself, would agree to such a marriage. There are many good reasons for marriage, not all of them eros, but allowing yourself to be bullied and following a cousin to India do not count as good reasons, at least not to me. So I am glad that Jane turned him down, and not only for her own sake. St. John is the type of man who is happier when he has responsibilities towards no one.
I think that I can learn many things from St. John, despite the fact that I lost my respect for him after that monstrous proposal. I will settle for describing only one. I, like St. John, tend to hold my personal standards and expectations high, and I am disappointed when others do not try to hold themselves to the same standards (though I like to think that I am not quite so difficult as he is). Watching St. John has shown me what an unattractive trait that is.
St. John is not a nice man. He is not even a reasonable one. Despite these things, however, St. John is
a good man. He worked hard to do what he thought was right, even when it meant sacrificing his happiness. I respect that.
[On an unrelated note, this is my first attempt to write in HTML. I just thought that I would share that.]