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Free Barron's Booknotes-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER 34

The money from Mr. Eyre makes it possible for Jane, Diana, and Mary to give up teaching and set up housekeeping together at Moor House.

NOTE:

At one time or another, all of us daydream about what we'd do if we were rich. Some readers think that Diana and Mary are idealized portraits of Charlotte Bronte's sisters, and that the way of life they lead in this chapter is a kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy-Bronte's own dream of having enough money so they could all live at home together. Happiness for Diana, Mary, and Jane means freedom from having to work for a living and the pleasure of just being together. St. John, it's true, tells Jane, "You have only worked for a few months!", and he hopes that she'll soon put her talents to use again. But Jane replies that she's perfectly happy just to live at Moor House.

Modern girls reading this will think, "That's not a very exciting dream!" Most of you are probably planning to have careers. But in Victorian times, women didn't have careers. They were supported-by their husbands if they were lucky enough to get one, or by their families if not. If they worked, it was out of absolute necessity. They didn't have a whole lot of choice in jobs, and they couldn't make very much money.

Meanwhile, Rosamond Oliver has finally given up on St. John and announced her engagement to another man. St. John pretends to be happy about this news. He tells Jane that giving up Rosamond was a "victory" over his sensual desires. Jane finds this hard to believe.


Nevertheless, Jane agrees to help St. John study Hindostanee (Hindi), the language he'll be using in his missionary work. Studying side by side with him, she gradually comes to appreciate his better qualities-patience, dedication, and a burning desire to do some good in the world. By the time summer comes, and St. John proposes that they marry and go to India together, Jane may be ready to consider the offer. You may well find this surprising. Why would Jane be willing to go off to spend her life in a strange country with a man she does not even like? The reasons Jane gives are she has no idea what has become of Mr. Rochester and needs to make some kind of decision about her future. She will probably never have another chance to marry. But are these reasons good enough? Reading between the lines, you may notice that Jane's feelings about St. John are more complicated than she cares to admit. Perhaps she feels guilty about not doing anything useful with her life. Or, perhaps, for all her seeming independence, Jane may be secretly attracted by the idea of marrying a man who wants to dominate her.

St. John doesn't make it easy for Jane to say yes. He tells her plainly that he's offering a loveless marriage. "I claim you-not for my pleasure," he says, but for God's service. This is too much for Jane. She answers that she will go to India with St. John as his coworker, but not as his wife.

St. John turns her down. His practical excuse is that it wouldn't be proper for him to take a 19-year-old single girl to live in India. The situation would be sure to cause gossip and misunderstandings. Jane, however, suspects that this isn't the real reason. It occurs to her that St. John won't be happy until he has complete control over her life.

NOTE:

Sadism and masochism weren't subjects that could be discussed openly in 19th-century novels. But if you read carefully, you may find hints that the author is trying to say that St. John has sadistic tendencies. For example, he tells Jane that if she won't marry him, God would regard her going to India as a "mutilated sacrifice." What kind of man would use language like this in trying to get a woman to marry him?

The way St. John talks in this scene may also remind you of Mr. Brocklehurst-another clergyman who seemed to enjoy seeing the poor suffer. When Jane Eyre was first published, some readers were shocked by the way it portrayed ministers of God. Charlotte Bronte was accused of writing an "anti-Christian" book. Today, some readers would say that the novel is very religious in spirit-and that it only criticizes those who pretend to do good, but without love in their hearts. You will have to decide for yourself whether the view of organized religion in Jane Eyre is a fair one.

Before leaving Jane, St. John quotes a line from a poem by Sir Walter Scott: "Looked to river, looked to hill." We're not sure what he means by this, but it reminds us that Jane is torn between St. John (whose last name is Rivers) and Mr. Rochester, whose mansion Thornfield is set on hilly ground. Rochester offered Jane love, but without marriage. St. John offers marriage, and with it the useful and socially respectable position of a missionary's wife, but it is an offer made without love.

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