s meditations on the need for a proper balance of passion and reason, Tennyson's "Tithonus" and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre have surprisingly much in common. Tithonus, a man whose reason failed him, disrupted the natural order of the world by asking for immortality. In essence, he allowed unbridled passion to dictate this request — passion that overlooked such concerns as man's place in the universe or even the desirability of immortality. As a result, Tithonus has watched himself whither away, growing unimaginably old. Old age, of course, connotes both passionlessness and well-developed reason, and the story of Tithonus embodies a progression from healthy (if excessive) passion to none — and middling to insightful reason.
Jane Eyre also deals with progress to a proper balance of passion and reason; like Tithonus, Jane must develop her reason and harness her passion. Similarly, both authors convey that a proper balance of passion and reason leads to one's proper station in the universe: for Jane, a happy life with Rochester, and for Tithonus, death.
The stylistic device of first-person narrative lends itself well to the exploration of this theme in both works. This device, coupled with the narrator recounting events of the past, offers a sense of objective subjectivity — an accurate, insightful knowledge of their subjective pasts — which gives the narrator the appearance of authority. In Jane Eyre, the device of first-person narrative reinforces the resolution of the book; if the story of Jane Eyre is the story of the narrator's progression to an equilibrium of reason and passion, the fact that Jane supposedly documented this progression and resolution shows that the story is over — that a proper balance exists. In "Tithonus", the narrator's pathos — expressed so forcefully by personal testament — serves to dissuade a desire for immortality, which Tithonus presents as passion untempered by reason. If Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H. embodies "the poetry of experience," then the speakers in these two works serve as the voices of experience — narrators capable of shedding light on the proper balance of passion and reason.
In the Victorian context, the dangers inherent in both excessive passion and excessive reason paraellel and embody the tension between religion and science. Unrestrained passion — linked through Scottish emotionalist philosophy with the Evangelicals — had connotations of imprudence and excessiveness for the Victorians (as well as of the destructiveness associated with the French Revolution), and brought to light the danger of excessive piety. Untempered reason, on the other hand, described the icily analytical side of science; Tithonus's brooding passionlessness seems to personify a human being stripped of all curiosity, and living in a mechanistic world devoid of natural wonders. Both "Tithonus" and Jane Eyre, then, reaffirm Plato's hierarchical, reason-centered conception of the human soul, while asserting the importance of passion and its humanizing virtue.
Last modified 1995