Sunday, July 10, 2011

Jane Eyre - insights from my 35th reading

I've been pondering the character of St. John, Jane's cousin. Hear how he describes himself:

"... I am simply, in my original state-- stripped of that blood-bleached robe with which Christianity covers human deformity--a cold, hard, ambitious man. Natural affection only, of all the sentiments, has permanent power over me. Reason, and not feeling, is my guide; my ambition is unlimited: my desire to rise higher, to do more than others, insatiable. I honour endurance, perseverance, industry, talent; because these are the means by which men achieve great ends and mount to lofty eminence. I watch your career with interest, because I consider you a specimen of a diligent, orderly, energetic woman: not because I deeply compassionate what you have gone through, or what you still suffer."
"You would describe yourself as a mere pagan philosopher," I said.
"No. There is this difference between me and deistic philosophers: I believe; and I believe the Gospel. You missed your epithet. I am not a pagan, but a Christian philosopher--a follower of the sect of Jesus. As His disciple I adopt His pure, His merciful, His benignant doctrines. I advocate them: I am sworn to spread them. Won in youth to religion, she has cultivated my original qualities thus:- From the minute germ, natural affection, she has developed the overshadowing tree, philanthropy. From the wild stringy root of human uprightness, she has reared a due sense of the Divine justice. Of the ambition to win power and renown for my wretched self, she has formed the ambition to spread my Master's kingdom; to achieve victories for the standard of the cross. So much has religion done for me; turning the original materials to the best account; pruning and training nature. But she could not eradicate nature: nor will it be eradicated 'till this mortal shall put on immortality.'"

Interesting, isn't it? Naturally he is cold, hard and ambitious. As a christian he is still these things, just bent in a different direction. God doesn't eradicate our natural selves, he puts it to use.

I think that's what gifts are. They are natural qualities used for gospel good. But 'till this mortal should put on immortality,' they will still have their dark side. St. John's restless ambition and drive to do more than others made him the right person to go to India. It also made him heartless towards Jane, who he wished to marry.

"What makes you say he does not love you, Jane?"
"You should hear himself on the subject. He has again and again explained that it is not himself, but his office he wishes to mate. He has told me I am formed for labour--not for love: which is true, no doubt. But, in my opinion, if I am not formed for love, it follows that I am not formed for marriage. Would it not be strange, Die, to be chained for life to a man who regarded one but as a useful tool?"
"Insupportable--unnatural--out of the question!"
"And then," I continued, "though I have only sisterly affection for him now, yet, if forced to be his wife, I can imagine the possibility of conceiving an inevitable, strange, torturing kind of love for him, because he is so talented; and there is often a certain heroic grandeur in his look, manner, and conversation. In that case, my lot would become unspeakably wretched. He would not want me to love him; and if I showed the feeling, he would make me sensible that it was a superfluity, unrequired by him, unbecoming in me. I know he would."
"And yet St. John is a good man," said Diana.
"He is a good and a great man; but he forgets, pitilessly, the feelings and claims of little people, in pursuing his own large views. It is better, therefore, for the insignificant to keep out of his way, lest, in his progress, he should trample them down."

A couple of ideas.

1. There are many books out there that encourage ministers to covet the St. John gift set. But why? Guys who are like that, are like that, because they are like that! Ultra-ambitious and impossibly hard working ministers are a gift to the church, but they are also an impediment.

2. Many women who work in churches, work for St. John types. (It is St. John types that have the biggest churches, and churches generally are pretty big before they employ women.) This is hard because women often (innocently) seek affection as a reward for hard work. They want their boss to like them. But the most you can hope for from a St. John type is (momentary) approval. And to get this you have to be seen to be working as hard as them. Can you see the difficulty?



  1. I know you've said before why you hate je but I can't find it. Remind me.

  2. It's the whole "mad wife locked up in a room thing" that I just can't get past.

    Maybe I was too young when I read it.

  3. Is there then no hope for St John? Is his character fixed so that he could never learn to be more loving, to acknowledge "the feelings and claims of little people"? I would like to think the Spirit can change us in that direction although he has his work cut out for him. Otherwise St John will end up like Mr Kurtz.

  4. Yes. There's hope. The gospel had already wrought a huge change in St. John. His affection for his family had been expanded into a desire to serve humanity - he set up pretty decent schools to educate poor boys and girls in his home town. He was no longer ambitious purely for his own advancement but now for the kingdom's - hence his India dreams.

    Of course he could learn to be more loving - and from the few letters that we're told he sent Jane from India indicate that he did progress a little in this. But I don't think he would ever have become a naturally sympathetic person.

    Similarly most St. John types, I would think. They may learn to become better employers of women, but few would become the kind of bosses that women absolutely adore working for.