he way a narrative concludes indicates a great deal about its meaning, and judgments of a novel's end have much to do with judgments of its perceived meaning. That some twentiteh-century critics have disliked the end of Jane Eyre tells us just as much about their agendas — their belief and values — as about Brontë's. According to R. B. Martin, "Those critics who have suggested that Miss Brontë has dodged the real issue of the novel by having Jane leave Rochester until his first wife is dead have neglected the careful structure of the plot up to this point. The issue is never whether Jane should become Rochester's mistress. To settle for nothing less than the best is not to be narrow; the test is to become worthy of love, not to take it on any terms but to deserve it: not to violate one's own nature and morality but so to expand that nature that it deserves reward. Jane and Rochester, learning to respect the inviolability of the soul as much as earthly delights, become a microcosm of man's striving for Christian reward" (83).
Part of the reaction to the conclusion derives, of course, from our view of Rochester, as, as Martin points out, "The modern temptation in reading this novel is to forgive Rochester for his life of dissipation on the grounds that the failure of his first marriage is not his fault. Clearly, this was not the view of Miss Brontë, for she goes to considerable trouble to indicate that he marries in accordance with the conventions of society, and avoids "the prurience, the rashness, the blindness of youth" (94-95). Moreover, the marriage is arranged for financial gain. What can we conclude about other elements in the marriage — that the wealth, for example, derives ultimately from the West Indian slave economy?
Other comments on Jane Eyre by R. B. Martin
Martin, Robert B. Charlotte Bronte's Novels: The Accents of Persuasion. NY: Norton, 1966.
Last modified May 1994