Love in Jane Eyre
How are the ideas of love and relationship portrayed In Jane Eyre? Jane Eyre is fundamentally a novel about the conflict between love. and the artificial context of relationship, which introduces impediments and pain to what should be pure and unconstrained. It Is the pain of love forbidden by the constraints of societal morality which drives Jane to leave Thornfield Hall, and It Is love’s attraction which pulls her back there at the end ot the novel, overcoming this barrier.
The love that blossoms between Jane and Rochester Is in many ways the strongest and most lasting impression given by the novel. It is, however, a paradoxical attraction in that it causes Jane, and probably Rochester (although the first person narrative means we cannot be sure of his feelings except through his own expression of them), as much pain as It does Joy. Jane, nursing her secret love for Rochester, is hurt so much by his supposed engagement to Blanche Ingram that she decided to leave Thorntleld, and the man she loves, in order to escape the pain.
In the passage in the novel where she presents Rochester with this decision, the pain Is clearly and emphatically expressed, Jane tells Rochester that “it strikes me with terror and nguish to know I absolutely must be torn from you”, and she equates the “necessity of departure” from his presence to the “necessity of death” itself. Jane and Rochester’s relationship is a deep and Intrinsic attachment, binding them together “as If I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a slmllar string situated In the corresponding quarter of your little frame”. learly, then, this love is no superficial romantic attraction, as is perhaps the relationship between StJohn and Rosamond Oliver that we come across later in the novel. It is lso, as this image of mutual attachment suggests, a relationship of equality. “l have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! ” Jane cries to Rochester: the kind of declaration she would never make to St John, though the situation in this passage, and that In the part of the novel where StJohn proposes to Jane are very similar. For the relationship between the two cousins is everything Jane and Rochesters isnt.
Whereas in the latter relationship Bronte demonstrates a heartfelt passion, through which “my spirit addresses your spirit; just as f… we stood at God’s feet, equal”, the former is empty of all such emotional value. It is just as St John says – “l claim you – not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereigns service”. Between Jane and StJohn there can be no true love, for the his heart is given to God and to his missionary calling, leaving him with cold eyes and heart which sees only Jane’s “human weakness” and her use only for “labour, not for love”.
Rochester, however, understands her splrlt and her soul, through the knowledge of which she, though “poor and obscure, and small and plain” becomes “as [his] own flesh”. Through her love for Rochester Jane flourishes both in confidence and appreciation of life. The timid, proper young girl who arrives at Thornfield, though she might acclaentally aamlt sne Tinos ner employer “not at all Inanasome]”, would never make the passionate declarations of emotion that we see in this passage, nor would she be bold enough to dismiss one of far higher social status as “inferior”.
Bronte, then, demonstrates throughout the progress of the novel, but particularly at this emotionally intense point in the narrative, the energy, confidence and passionate belief that love can nurture. The relationship proposed by St John Rivers, however, would sap Jane of every quality granted her by her love for Rochester. She speaks of going “to premature death”, and St John calls her “docile”, intimating the loss of that precious spirit and independence which makes Jane as a literary character of the time so unique and special that would occur were she to acquiesce to his request.
Under the conditions of this relationship, all the “forms of love” become something to be “endure[d]” rather than treasured or enjoyed, and the “spirit” which makes Jane and Rochester’s love so passionate and authentic is “quite absent”. Given the importance of Jane’s independent spirit both to herself and to Rochester, this fate is clearly intolerable, as Jane herself admits. Whereas for Rochester, who loves her, she is “my equal… and my likeness”, for St John, who cannot, she can only ever be as a “good weapon” is to a soldier: a role she will not willingly play.
We can see, then, the fundamental fire and passion that drive Jane and Rochester together, and which are utterly absent between St John and Jane. This authenticity of love is the quality to which Jane, and through her Bronte, ascribes the highest importance. The relationship between Rochester and Blanche Ingram, though in terms of social position, wealth and upbringing a perfect match, is an empty, hollow semblance of love. Its falsity and fickle nature are exposed by Rochester himself when he speaks of the “coldness from both [Miss Ingram] and her mother” that he receives after their hearing of his supposed poverty.
The very use of the word ‘coldness’ here evokes the sense of barren, false love that Jane finds so wrong and unnatural, enough indeed to declare to Rochester that she would “scorn such a union”, in which one member could “sneer” at the other, and not “truly love her”. Bronte also explores the other extreme: a relationship based not on societal grounds, and divorced from physical attractions, but one formed solely of what St John calls “a ere fever of the flesh”.
He himself tells Jane that while he “love[s] Rosamond Oliver so wildly’, he nonetheless knows that “her promises are hollow – her offers false”, and although Jane at first attempts to drive the two together, to “advocate their union”, and see that love fulfilled, even she eventually comes to the understanding that the same must be true of this ‘love’ as would be between herself and her cousin: that St John’s heart is already committed to his divine mission, and cannot be shared with any woman.
Any love he offers must therefore by empty, and after St John’s hollow roposal of marriage, Jane again demonstrates her hate of such a false love. “l scorn your idea of love,” she tells St John, “l scorn the counterfeit sentiment you offer. ” Bronte, then, gives us four different models of love, but only one blossoms with the true fire of passion. Paradoxically, the relationship between Jane and Rochester is perhaps the most outwardly unlikely.
Unlike the perfect physical pairing of St John Rlvers ana Rosamona Ollver, or tne seemingly 11Kely soclal matcn 0T Rocnester ana Blanche Ingram, or even the union of the dutiful, adventurous Jane with the ntelligent, committed, honourable St John, none of which would be unduly surprising in a novel of Bronte’s time, it is only the love between the apparently mismatched Jane and Rochester which proves true.
What is important to Bronte, therefore, is not outward appearances, but inner reality. Between Jane and Rochester, as Jane herself declares, it is not class speaking to class, or beauty to beauty or wealth to wealth, all superficial, coincidental qualities, but “spirit to spirit”. In contrast, however, to this deep seated, natural attraction, is placed the fundamentally unnatural barrier of marriage: both the imagined marriage to Miss Ingram, and the real one to Bertha Mason.