Vicky Simpson’s article on storytelling in Jane Eyre brought up an issue I had not fully thought about while reading the novel previously, though I had made similar observations. Workman is said to have pointed out how Jane is “far less influenced by the Word of Christianity than by the words of passion, of desire, of love” (10). It is Rochester calling out to Jane that draws her back to Thornfield; she rejects St. John Rivers’ proposal to do missionary work in India, and instead decides to be with the man she loves. The distinction being made here is that “Word of Christianity” refers to Christian beliefs and principles, whereas “words of passion, desire and love” refer literally to words spoken by the people Jane knows. Two instances come to mind, the first of which is Jane telling Helen that she would rather endure having her limbs broken, or being tossed by a bull or kicked by a horse than to be shunned or hated; she desperately needed “real affection” from those that she “truly loved” (78). This is followed by Helen urging her to remind herself of ways to find independent and inner peace, and also consider another (non-human) presence that she should strive to win the favor of. “Hush, Jane! You think too much of the love of human beings; you are too impulsive, too vehement; the sovereign hand that created your frame and put life into it, has provided you with other resources than your feeble self, or than creatures feeble as you…God waits only the separation of spirit from flesh to crown us with a full reward” (78). We see Helen trying to redirect Jane’s powerful emotions towards faith in a supreme being rather than towards other mortals who, in Helen’s eyes, are feeble and flawed. However, chances are that Jane is only listening precisely because of her love of Helen, a mere human being – and possibly also because of the utterance of her name, which seems to always have a strong effect. As Workman notes, it is Rochester’s “Jane! Jane! Jane!” (though in a vision) that brings her back to him.
The second instance of Jane’s love of human beings comes through in a few particularly potent lines at the end of Chapter 24: “My future husband was becoming to me my whole world, and more than the world; almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for his creature, of whom I had made an idol” (272). Woo! Talk about some heavy stuff right there. While Bronte does not make Rochester as “ugly” in Jane’s eyes as she intends to make in ours (she does have one of Jane’s cousins call him ugly at one point, so that we understand how he is generally perceived physically), it is not Rochester’s looks that attract Jane as much as his words do. He is playful, stern, affectionate, mischievous and teasing by turn, and Jane derives much pleasure from talking to and listening to him. Again, her love for a human being takes center stage, and rather than make her more cognizant of God’s presence, power or bounty, as a passionate love may do for others, it eclipses God and religion altogether (though Rochester is fulfilling the role of an idol here, so it is not as though some kind of god isn’t present). It seems that the Word of Christianity constantly seems to be overshadowed by the qualities of the human beings that Jane loves – qualities she grows to admire sometimes when these individuals exhibit quiet patience or emotion, but most often when they speak their words.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996. Print.