Saturday, March 20, 2010

What are the different marriages that Jane Eyre, as a novel, explores as possibilities?

In the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, the society’s expectations of marriages were meticulously criticized through the various different marriages that emerged as possibilities. The heroine, Jane perceived marriage as a relationship that consisted of two equal partners. This contradicted the Victorian society’s general take on marriages, whereby the wife played a traditionally subservient role.

Jane Eyre stepped into Thornfield as a governess and was attracted to Edward Rochester, her employer of substantial status and wealth. Jane herself was of an ambiguous class for while she possessed the delicate manners and sophisticated education akin to an aristocrat due to the very nature of her career, she remained a paid employee and more or less a servant at Thornfield. However, while intellectually equal, she was not quite his social and economical equal. The young maiden was worried that she would be indebted to him by “condescending” to marry Rochester. She rejected Rochester’s nickname for and refused to be called an ‘angel’ simply because she thought it compromised herself and she did not wish to lose her identity in the process. This possibility was further impeded by the fact that Rochester already been married to Bertha Mason. While Rochester was legally bound to Mason, Jane would only be a mistress had she accepted Rochester. This was not in accordance with the equal partnership that Jane had envisioned and therefore, it was not an ideal marriage. The damsel had to leave Thornton Hall to seek her fortune elsewhere due to the unfavorable circumstances.

Another marriage conferred in the novel would obviously be the marriage between Rochester and Bertha Antoinetta Mason. While by Victorian society’s standards this may have been an ideal marriage, it was certainly not so as depicted in Bronte’s illustrious novel. As was typical of Victorian marriages, it was nothing more than a financially beneficial match. Apart from the fact that they had nothing in common and Rochester could not stand her, Bertha had a family history of psychiatric problems and she soon showed signs of madness. Therefore, it was an unsuccessful marriage for they were not intellectual equals and Rochester had to seek gratification in the few mistresses he acquired.

Blanche Ingam’s marriage with Rochester was a fleeting possibility that made a brief appearance in the novel, Jane Eyre. This was however, unfeasible as it was centered upon economical and class factors, rather than actual passion. Rochester also had an affair with Celene Varens, a French opera dancer who was unfaithful to him and was merely interested in his money. This relationship too, lacked the passion that was the foundation of a good marriage and hence considered to be inappropriate.
Next, one would be inclined to momentarily examine the possibility of St. John Rivers with Miss Oliver. St. John did love her, but he was unable to give up his dreams of being a missionary for her. A marriage between St. John and Jane was consequently considered. Nevertheless, it did not have the equality and love that Jane sought. St. John was overtly bound to his duties and he merely viewed Jane as an instrument in achieving the greater good. He wanted Jane to stop learning German and learn Hindustani instead. Jane as a result, felt as if she had lost her individuality and thus, a marriage between the religiously devout St. John and the headstrong Jane Eyre would not have had been ideal.

The audacious female protagonist eventually returned to Rochester after she was reunited with her relations and had inherited a substantial amount of money. Rochester on the other hand, was blinded in an accident that had burnt down Thornfield. Those various factors caused the fair maiden and the gentleman to finally achieve a status of equality where. Bertha as a barrier had been removed for the general message of the novel would not have had come across as strongly as it had otherwise. Her divorce, rather than her demise, would not have viable as it may have added on to the immoralities upon Rochester’s scroll. Charlotte Bronte perfectly penned the conclusion of this novel by destroying all that was unseemly through a fire. One might even venture to compare the fire with the fiery passion between Jane and Edward Rochester for it was the fire that conveniently humbled Rochester and removed the mental walls between the both of them. To quote, “We are precisely suited in character, perfect concord is the result.”

*Note that I have yet to include an analysis of Miss Temple's marriage in this novel.

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