Quakerism in Jane Eyre

Quakerism in Jane Eyre

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Quakerism in Jane Eyre

 
Quakerism is mentioned many times in Jane Eyre. Beyond the explicit descriptions of Quaker-like appearances or behaviors, many parts of Quaker lifestyle are also used in a less obvious manner in Jane Eyre. Quakerism would have been known in the Yorkshire moors where Charlotte Bronte grew up and near where Jane Eyre lived, especially since that is where the religion began (Moglen 19; Barbour and Frost 27). As a more moderate approach to denying the self than Evangelicalism, Quakerism seems to be embraced in the novel. Unlike Mr. Brocklehurst's or St. John River's philosophy (Bronte 95, 98; ch. 7), Quaker simplicity does not mean asceticism or forbidding earthly joys, though it does mean rejecting indulgence (Barbour and Frost 44).

Jane frequently associates herself with the Quakers, more formally known as the Society of Friends, particularly in her clothing and manners. She says of herself, "I was myself in my usual Quaker trim, where there was nothing to retouch-all being too close and plain, braided locks included, to admit of disarrangement" (160; ch. 14). Later she says she is merely Mr. Rochester's "plain, Quakerish governess" (287; ch. 24). Simplicity is one of the Quaker's "testimonies," which included plain clothing of black, brown, or gray (Barbour and Frost 44). Jane wears black for her everyday outfit and her more formal dress is of gray (151; ch. 13). Even when Mr. Rochester insists on buying her new silk dresses, she persuades him to purchase only black and gray ones (296; ch. 24).

Jane resembles the Quakers in more than what she tells us. Her childhood sympathies mirror Quaker teachings. From her earliest childhood, she sees her disposition as "passionate, but not vindictive," and not inherently bad, as Mrs. Reed does (64-5, 68-9; ch. 4, 267; ch. 21). The Quakers believe that babies "were born innocent and [that] children retained their innocence until they reached an age of reason" (Barbour and Frost 115). The taint from "original sin" is not embraced by Jane nor by Quaker doctrines. Furthermore, Jane sympathizes early on with the plight of slaves (43; ch. 1, 44, 46; ch. 2). Quakers think slavery is barbaric, cruel, and inhumane, and were one of the first religious sects to denounce it (Barbour and Frost 119).

Part of Quaker education is to study the Bible and to learn how to "dress and speak plainly, to control one's temper, to accept moderation in outward desires, and to act with a becoming sobriety of manners" (Barbour and Frost 190, 115-6).

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Jane learns and acts on this throughout her life, in spite of the more extreme asceticism which is promoted at Lowood and Marsh End, and the greater luxury available to her at Thornfield Hall.

Quakers were expected to speak plainly and refrain from "tattling, tale bearing, and meddling" (Barbour and Frost 109). Jane certainly follows that requirement. Mr. Rochester says to her that she is not the type that tells tales and that trusts that she will continue her habit relating to the fire in his room as well (181; ch.15). She also speaks plainly and seldom speaks without purpose. When Mr. Rochester commanded her to speak, she does not chatter frivolously, but waits until she has something to say (164; ch. 14). At Marsh End, Jane notes that "it always was my way, by instinct - ever to meet the brief with brevity, the direct with plainness" (372; ch. 29). Her simplicity of speech clearly matches with Quaker ideals.

Like a good Quaker, Jane is "cautious not to launch into business beyond what [she could] do" (Barbour and Frost 109), since she makes sure, though she wants to leave Lowood quickly, that she asks for a pupil who was under the age of fourteen (119; ch. 10). While she certainly knows enough to teach someone older than fourteen, she wants an age difference between herself and her pupil so that she can command respect (119; ch. 10).

Jane is surprisingly similar to Quakers in her beliefs about love and marriage. Of Quakers' beliefs on the subject, Barbour and Frost say:

Friends wanted marriage for love, but love was defined as stemming from a spiritual harmony between the persons and resting upon similarities in religious feelings, outwards temperament, and class. Friends spoke out against marriages of rich and poor, steady and frivolous, old and young, and Quaker and non-Quaker, but only the latter constituted a disownable offense. (112)

Jane loves and eventually marries Mr. Rochester because they are similar in temperament and rejects St. John's proposal because they are so different (476; ch. 38, 431; ch. 34). She also follows the later Quaker view that love can also be romantic and passionate (Barbour and Frost 130). Jane also matches Quaker views on engagement being almost as serious as marriage, and marriage is indivisible, when she says that Mr. Rochester's bride stands between them (281; ch. 23). Later she says that, because he is married to Bertha, she cannot even tell him that she loves him (311; ch. 27). Matching with Quaker beliefs, she certainly will not marry him because he has previous entanglements (339; ch. 27; Barbour and Frost 113).

Throughout the book, Jane's Quaker-like beliefs and behaviors are challenged, but she decides several times to keep to her standards and finds herself grateful. For example, she decides that she must not become Mr. Rochester's mistress (339; ch. 27). She decides at Marsh End not to marry St. John, who will obviously suffocate her spirit (443; ch. 35). Both of these times she is glad that she kept her standards, for in the end, she gets to marry the man she truly loves with no strings attached (475; ch. 38).

Works Cited:

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London, Penguin Books Ltd.: 1996. (Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Michael Mason).

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