‘Jane Eyre’: a love story (. / ?)

With close reference to at least two other parts of the novel, consider the view that ‘above all. Jane Eyre is a love story’.

The Greeks had six words for love, and each one described a different type of love to the others. These different types of love can be found in Jane Eyre: although the novel is filled with love, it isn’t one particular and defining love. Jane experiences a range of ‘loves’ – either directly or as a spectator – as well as projecting her love onto others.

The most apparent love throughout the novel is the romantic love shared between two characters: Rochester and Jane. However, the love they share is more of a journey and growth, rather than one particular emotion. Their love began within their witty banter, with Rochester questioning Jane’s residence on the world of faeries, and Jane bluntly telling him she did not find him attractive (‘No, sir.’). However, the shift to a more passionate love came with Jane’s extinguishing of the fire and Rochester begrudgingly letting her leave him: ‘What? … are you quitting me already?’ By the end of the novel, both characters have grown and changed, but alongside them their love also grew. Pragma is the name for a longstanding love: although the odds were against them, Jane and Rochester’s love withstood the hardships of life. Just as in the beginning Rochester ‘lean[ed] on [her] with some stress’, she ‘serve[s] both as his prop and guide’ at the end of the novel.

Devotion and love of God is seen throughout the novel, with Helen and St John presented as the highest devotees. Helen, upon her deathbed, reinforces her love for God whilst reassuring Jane that she is going to ‘a region of happiness’ with ‘God [as her] father’. Although to some modern readers, Helen finding ‘comfort[…]’ in her faith might seem unfathomable, the majority of the characters in the novel were believers in God; Helen believes that her purpose in life is to live in God’ light, and so feelings God’s love upon her deathbed means that she has done so and God will now take her ‘immortal part’ (soul). Similar, St John has given up his life in order to serve God and spread his message – to be a missionary. His love for God is above all and guides his life choices: although he admits to loving Rosamond ‘so wildly’ and with ‘intensity’, he realises she ‘would not make a good wife’ to a missionary, and instead decides to propose to Jane who he believes is better suited for the role, but who he does not love. Therefore, although this might not be the typical ‘love story’ outcome one might expect (Helen’s death and St John choosing God over Rosamond), Brontё still writes about love – except in this particular case it’s between a person and God.

Perhaps the most rewarding and trying love of all is the Philia – a deep friendship – and the one which Jane and Helen shared. Their relationship is possibly the most important in Jane’s life: Helen taught Jane how to love, through her love of God, and her love of Jane and others. Helen’s grave plaque had ‘Resurgam’ written on it, which means ‘I will rise again’: symbolically, Helen does rise again every time Jane overcomes hardship with the love and ‘skills’ Helen has taught her through their friendship. After Helen’s death, Jane was given a second chance at this type of love: she found it again in Diana and Mary. Between the two of them, they offer Jane the female companionship she had perhaps not realised she’d been missing since they passing of Helen. This kind of love between ‘sisters’ is clearly important to Brontё (perhaps due to her own closeness to her sisters) as she makes a point of re-introducing such characters later on in Jane’s life. Even at the end of the novel, Brontё highlights that despite the unfortunate ‘closure’ between St John and Jane, Diana and Mary remained ‘unreservedly’ faithful in their friendship to Jane.

Whilst love features in many relationships throughout Jane Eyre, Brontё also seems keen to highlight the importance of love through lack of love: she presents to the reader a relationship without love and respect and showcases the typical ‘there is no good without bad’. For instance, Rochester and Bertha’s loveless marriage is what – despite her having ‘madness’ in her family – probably leads to her mental deterioration: ‘the lunatic’, ‘the maniac’, ‘the clothed hyena’. In a paradoxical way, perhaps the zoomorphism of Bertha is Brontё’s way of emphasising how important love is to humans: Bertha has become an animal looking for love – she has reduced to baseness (?) in order to find something so basic. In the early Victorian period, the treatment of the mentally ill was what nightmares are made of: straight-jackets, experiments and a barely-touched visitor’s book. Therefore, it could be argued that Rochester harboured a certain love for Bertha, as he kept her in his home and provided her with a much better life than she would have ever had at a mental asylum. Arguably, Jane also experiences this lack of love with St John: he asks her to be his wife ‘not for [his] pleasure, but for [his] Sovereign’s service’ because ‘God and nature intended [her] for a missionary’s wife’. Jane realises that St John has ‘no more of a husband’s heart’ for her ‘than that frowning giants of a rock’, and so going to India with him would lead her ‘to premature death’ – she is emphasising the importance of love in her life: Brontё is revolving a vital decision on Jane’s part around love.

Although all of the different types of love I have explored are important features of the novel, the most important love – the one which has fought to surface throughout the novel – is Jane’s love of herself (Philautia). Stevie Davies argues that ‘the heroines name represents less a statement of identity than a question of identity’ – whether it be by her own journey and acceptance, or other contributing factors, by the end of the novel, Jane appears to have found that identity and so has come to love herself: whereas at Gateshead she ‘was at discord’, ‘a uses less thing’ in a ‘habitual mood of humiliation’ and ‘self-doubt’, by the end of the novel she is in ‘perfect concord’ and she has a purpose as Rochester’s ‘vision’.

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