Perfection and Darkness: Choice in Jane Eyre
When reading Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, I find myself cheering for Rochester. After finishing the book, I ask myself why Jane chooses Rochester over St. John. After all, Rochester has a "mad" wife, Bertha Mason, locked in the attic of Thornfield Hall at the same time that he is proposing marriage to Jane. He has a ward living with him, possibly the offspring of an illicit affair with a French dancer. He is arrogant, pushy, and basically ill-tempered. St. John, on the other hand, is well mannered, respected, and has a promising future. To answer my own question, then, it is essential to look at how each man fits the idea of masculinity in Victorian society, at how each man relates to Jane, and at why Bronte creates her two leading men to be such extreme opposites.
St. John Rivers exhibits all of the qualities of a respectable Victorian man. His father "was a plain man enough; but a gentleman, and of as ancient a family as could be found" (Bronte 383). St. John's father, although a gentleman, had lost a great deal of money "by a man he had trusted turning bankrupt" (384). In short, St. John's station in life is one of a gentleman, although he lacks an inheritance of any kind. As he describes himself to Jane, "since I am poor and obscure, I can offer you but a service of poverty and obscurity... for I find that, when I have paid my father's debts, all the patrimony remaining to me will be this crumbling grange" (395-396). St. John sees his financial situation as a virtue. It is obvious that his financial situation does not distress him; he still goes to college and becomes a minister. In his account of his personal life he leaves out nothing. His past is known, an...
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...ropriety of the typical Victorian man.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Michael Mason. London: Penguin, 1996.
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Peterson, M. Jeanne. "The Victorian Governess: Status Incongruence in Family and Society." Suffer and Be Still: Women in the Victorian Age. Ed. Martha Vicinus. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973.
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