Growing up, Jane Eyre never receives love from her aunt's family and is denied a loving father. She eventually learns to depend on herself above all others. Perhaps this abandonment Jane experiences early in life is to blame for her very particular, inflexible attitudes towards marriage as an adult. Jane seems to eschew love in refusing two marriage proposals because of a possible underlying fear of being neglected once again. Her immediate response to these requests for her love is described as a perceived threat to what she regards to be her true self — the independent and isolated individual who she has been all her life. After the first proposal from Mr. Rochester, Jane narrates her conflicting thoughts: feelings of deep affection vs. those of rational disapproval. Ultimately, reason ("duty") compels her to flee from becoming a second wife of inferior status. When Rochester tells Jane, 'Then I should have asked you to accept my pledge of fidelity, and to give me yours: Jane — give it to me now,' she tells us:

I was experiencing an ordeal: a hand of fiery iron grasped my vitals. Terrible moment: full of struggle, blackness, burning! Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be better loved than I was loved; and him who thus loved me I absolutely worshipped: and I must renounce love and idol. One drear word comprised my intolerable duty — 'Depart!' [406]

When Rochester demands "Just this promise — "I will be yours, Mr. Rochester,"' she responds, 'Mr. Rochester, I will not be yours.' (407)

Concerning St. John's proposal later on, Jane's reason is satisfied, yet her emotional half is not — making accepting also impossible. (

St. John to Jane:) 'God and nature intended you for a missionary's wife. It is not personal, but mental endowments they have given you: you are formed for labour, not for love. A missionary's wife you must — shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you — not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign's service.' [501]

(Jane's unspoken narration: ) I believe I must say, yes — and yet I shudder. Alas! If I join St. John, I abandon half myself . . . I should suffer often, no doubt, attached to him only in this capacity: my body would be under rather a stringent yoke, but my heart and mind would be free. I should still have my unblighted self to turn to: my natural unenslaved feelings with which to communicate in moments of loneliness. [503-507]

Both Mr. Rochester and St. John command Jane's love rather than ask for it. Understandably, Jane would be put off by such wording if she were uncertain about her decision to begin with — particularly if she were weary of weakly submitting to an authoritative figure and not being loved equally, as in her childhood. The many factors influencing Jane's refusal (her sex, class, and past, among others) are ultimately selfish in purpose; they serve to protect her freedom in choosing her own future — the same freedom she fought for against Mrs. Reed during her momentous outburst as a child.

Questions

1. Jane seeks control: she will only marry on her own terms. Yet, how much control does Jane demonstrate over her turbulent, inner thoughts?

2. How might or might not Jane's refusal to obey these demands for love be interpreted as a feminist statement? What about other key moments when she insists on protecting her independence?

3. Does Jane lose her prized authenticity when she finally marries Mr. Rochester (saying "yes")? Does this act represent a failure (submission), or an accomplishment of finally finding a love in which she is an equivalent?

4. Judging from the conclusion, is the only happy ending in life found in marriage?


Victorian Overview Charlotte Bronte Jane Eyre

Last modified 25 January 2009