Passion in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre

Passion in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre

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Passion in Jane Eyre


      It is believed that we are born with a predestined personality.

Our spiritual individuality is just as much a product of our genetic makeup

as the color of our skin or our eyes.  With our soul firmly planted, we

can then build upon this basis as we are educated of the world. The social

climate and cultural atmosphere shape our personalities, however, it is the

people in our lives who have the greatest influence. Charlotte Bronte's

novel Jane Eyre  reveals this idea by the development of the protagonist.

Through a series of character foils, Bronte expresses her idea of self-

development and growth of the human spirit by contrasting passion with

reason. By my interpretation of the novel, Bronte suggests that in one's

life time, they will encounter a number of people and experiences that will

arouse enough emotion in them to have the power to change their direction

in life. St. John Rivers plays one of these life determining foils to Jane

Eyre. His confidence, devotion and reason intrigue Jane almost enough to

silence her inner passionate spirit, but it is the forces of nature that

prove to be stronger than human will.


      The life path of a Victorian woman was somewhat limited in it's

direction and expression of individuality. Jane Eyre strongly adheres to

the Victorian morality which was dominated by the Anglican party of the

Church of England in which passion and emotion were kept concealed.  Jane's

instinct for asserting herself was stifled at an early age  and could only

be expressed through defiance. The defiant declaration of independence from

Mrs. Reed , "You are deceitful",(v.i.37) gives Jane the power of freedom

and opens up a life of  "unhoped-for liberty",(v.i.37).


      Through the preceding years Jane develops into a highly educated,

well spoken and strong willed woman . She is taught to be patient and

thoughtful during her years in Lowood , and is introduced to the emotions

of the heart and spirit in meeting  Rochester.


      Bronte makes an emphasis on the spiritual and supernatural

atmosphere of Thornfield. The reference to the "Gytrash" and the mystical

atmosphere she illustrates of their first meeting in the woods (v.i.113)

could  suggest that she is playing upon natural imagery and allusions to

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express the idea that Jane and Rochester are a destined, yet mysterious

match of the souls.  " I knew would do me good in some way... I saw

it in your eyes when I first beheld you," Rochester tells Jane. (v.i.152)

and the use of the repeated references to fire foreshadow and symbolize

their growing passion for each other. However, it is the symbolic

interpretation of the lightning striking the horse-chestnut tree in half

that hints that their love will not evolve without a crisis. (



      It is this crisis that throws Jane into the life of the Rivers

family . Moor House and the values of the Rivers are the mirror image of

Thornfield. Where Thornfield was mystical and romantic , Moor House has a

comfortable and domestic setting.  Jane's instant rapport with the "

spontaneous, genuine, genial compassion", of Mary, Diana and St. John allow

her to feel at ease and safe. The contrast between Rochester and St. John

play a major part in the development of Jane's self-fulfillment.


      It is in Jane's description of the two men that the reader gets the

most tangible picture of their contrasts. Bronte uses words such as "wild"

and "moody" to describe Rochester, whereas St. John is "compressed,

condensed and controlled", (v.iii.356). A disciplined and educated

missionary, he is focused on his one devotion and remains static through-

out the novel. His ambition drives him and does not believe in the

importance of revealing emotions. As Jane comes to know him , she senses

that ,like her, he seems to be not at peace.  They are both restless and

seeking the greater power that rules them; for St. John it is judgment, for

Jane it is passion.


      Jane's admiration of St. John is of his thirst for knowledge and

his unresting mind.  She has the utmost respect for him and his devotion,

and learns diligently and faithfully under him . However, it is in the

contrasts between them that we see the true nature of Jane.  St. John's

moral beliefs suggest that he fears his own sexuality and views female

sexuality as a threat to his purity of vision.(Diedrick 1993) This is

evident in his dealings with Rosamond Oliver, whom he clearly has feelings

for ," Does she like me?' he asked. 'Certainly', Jane replied. ' It is

pleasant to hear this... go on for another quarter of an hour."(v.iii.377 )

He does not give back a reply of his feelings and does not act with his

emotions. It is his reason that he calls upon and instead of asking

Rosamond to marry him, he knows that it is Jane who would be the more

appropriate wife to accompany him in his missionary work.  He attempts to

succeed where Brocklehurst failed and render Jane submissive; his selective

praise of her as "docile, diligent, disinterested, faithful, constant..."

(v.iii.355) expresses his desire to subdue her to his needs .(Diedrick

1993) If anything , St. John has taught Jane to act with reason so when he

proposes that she go to India with him as his wife, it is her better

judgment that tells her that , " he prizes me as a soldier would a good

weapon; and that is all." (v.iii 356)  She realizes that he could never

love her the way she needs to be loved.


      St. John represents a life of Christian servitude and moral

ambition.  Jane has only known of a life of serving others, and for a time,

the power of this identity had kept freedom a secret from her. Jane's

experience of a life of servitude is only , "what I knew of existence. And

now I felt that it was not enough: I tired of the routine... I desired

liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer...".(v.i.86)

It is the responsibilities of servitude that suffocate her and constrain

her. Her anger at St. John's demand that she sacrifice all her desires to

his missionary ambition enables her to see him clearly for the first time

and gives her the strength to refuse him.


        As St. John persisted in subduing Jane, Jane became weaker in her

fight. Just as Jane was about to succumb, it was as if destiny and nature

were stronger than human ambition. A "freshening gale" created by delirium

and passion blew in the opposite direction of the "counteracting breeze"

of judgment and brought with it the voice of Rochester's love. Jane's "

human affections and sympathies" took a "most powerful hold of her",

(v.iii. 360) and she knew without a doubt that she could not live if she

was forced to stifle her passionate heart. It is in her nature to love

wholly and because of the antagonistic relationship between Jane and St.

John that she was able to become aware of the intensity of her love for

Rochester and allow it to complete her soul. As the symbol of the split

horse-chestnut suggested, their love could be put through disaster, but

they are fundamentaly one at the roots.
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