- March 27, 2017 at 3:38 pm #40MJ BookloverKeymaster
How satisfying do you find the ending of Jane Eyre? Rochester is made to seem less powerful in the relationship because of his physical dependence on Jane’s help, and Jane is more powerful because of her new wealth and family connections. Is this s uccessful resolution to the clashes of values depicted in the novel? Also, what is Bronte communicating by making the last words about St. John’s ministry in India, rather than about Jane and Rochester? Jump in with any ideas you have.
- April 6, 2017 at 1:41 pm #206AdamParticipant
I see how carefully and often you’ve read /Jane Eyre/, MJ, and I hesitate to offer my non-Victorianist perspective! In any case, it seems to me that /Jane Eyre/ does try to harmonize value systems, as you suggest. At the end, the heroine gets right with religion and everything else that she wants: a better position, love, marriage, family, Rochester domesticated. The world makes sense.
/Daniel Deronda/ offers an interesting contrast. I wonder if Brontë says you can have what you want, and Eliot replies, no, you can’t. I’m not sure that Gwendolyn gets what she wants (and perhaps neither does Dorothea in /Middlemarch/). Eliot is writing more than a generation later, and as the novel form ages, sometimes both its shape and characters cohere less. Brontë’s Jane seems coherent, integrated, triumphant, and so does her novel. Daniel Deronda, however, breaks in two as Gwendolyn’s plot diverges from Daniel’s. In both cases, the heroine’s fate seems bound up in the novel’s form.
Probably I’m overgeneralizing. In the twentieth-century, though, the novel-of-education form continues to disintegrate, and so does the protagonist as an integrated self (Samuel Beckett’s trilogy somehow clarifies this idea for me). I think my point is simply that /Jane Eyre/ imagines that harmony exists, both in the cosmos and in the self. Later novels (and some earlier texts) often don’t.
- April 9, 2017 at 11:07 am #227MJ BookloverKeymaster
Really interesting comparison between “Eyre” and “Deronda”! Whereas in “Jane Eyre,” as you say, the heroine is able to reconcile her moral principles with other goals and desires, pretty much the opposite is true for Gwendolyn in “Deronda.” She develops stronger and more morally-based values as the story unfolds, but it seems the more moral she gets, the less she is able to fulfill her desires or be comfortable in the world. Nevertheless, Eliot thinks she is still better off: better to be a good person than rich and successful in a worldly sense. Daniel grows more meaningful moral values too, after discovering his true Jewish heritage. And he does get a nice wife and a meaningful life purpose; but he doesn’t get Gwendolyn, who he finds powerfully attractive. As you point out, the form of novel reflects the impossibility of their coming together as the story splits into two plot lines. (Good insight about how form follows theme!) So I think I agree with you: Eliot says “you can’t always get what you want,” at least not if you want to be a good person.
But about Brontë: in the novel, of course, Jane gets it all–morals, social correctness, and all her individual desires. This ending pleases and satisfies many of the readers I have discussed the book with over the years. But not everyone, I have learned, finds this ending satisfying or believable. For one thing, to some people Rochester seems somewhat emasculated at the end; is Jane marrying the same man she fell in love with? For another, her bettered social position depends totally on a melodramatic contrivance. Of all the cottages in all the little towns in England, she collapses on the one doorstep that could open the door to wealth and a higher social class for her? Perhaps Brontë fits her big shaggy discussion of values and far-reaching social critique into a fairy-tale-like narrative, because that is what most readers want. And I do think she argues, like Eliot, for the primacy of morals in life choices. But I’m not sure Brontë herself would say, yes you can get what you want and still be a “good” person. I don’t think, in her own life, that she did.
Would love to hear more opinions here!
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