Religion in Jane Eyre
Throughout the novel, Jane struggles to find the right balance between moral duty and earthly pleasure, between obligation to her spirit and attention to her body. She encounters three main religious figures: Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen Burns, and St. John Rivers. Each represents a model of religion that Jane ultimately rejects as she forms her own ideas about faith and principle, and their practical consequences. Brontë depicts different forms of religion: Helen trusts in salvation; Eliza Reed becomes a French Catholic nun; and St. John preaches a gloomy Calvinist faith. The novel attempts to steer a middle course. In Jane, Brontë sketches a virtuous faith that does not consume her individual personality. Jane is self-respecting and religious, but also exercises her freedom to love and feel.
The Three Faces of Religion
1. Mr Brocklehurst
- Brocklehurst is a cold and wicked character in the novel
- Though he is charitable as he gives money to the school (Lowood) it seems that he could be more giving, he is also seen to be hypercritical as his family are lavished in fine clothing
- When we first met Brocklehurst Bronte describes him as “a black pillar” with a “grim face at the top was like a carved mask” (Pg 25)• And again he is described as being “black marble” (pg 56) when he punishes Jane at Lowood
- These descriptions of Mr Brocklehurst make him seem cold, evil, two-faced and emotionless
- Mr. Brocklehurst illustrates the dangers and hypocrisies that Charlotte Brontë perceived in the nineteenth-century Evangelical movement.
- Mr. Brocklehurst adopts the rhetoric of Evangelicalism when he claims to be purging his students of pride, but his method of subjecting them to various privations and humiliations, like when he orders that the naturally curly hair of one of Jane’s classmates be cut so as to lie straight, is entirely un-Christian.
- Of course, Brocklehurst’s proscriptions are difficult to follow, and his hypocritical support of his own luxuriously wealthy family at the expense of the Lowood students shows Brontë’s wariness of the Evangelical movement.
2. St. John
- Another religious figure in the novel who is presented negatively is St. John
- St. John is described as being cold and emotionless, “Statue” “ivory” (pg304) –beautiful yet cold, “marble kisses or ice kisses” (pg352)
- Before St. John proposes a second time, he reads a passage from the bible about hell etc, this is very manipulative of St. John as he is trying to influence Jane's decision.
- He also doesn't want to marry out of love; he wants Jane as a wife to serve him and accompany him on pilgrimages
- His is a Christianity of ambition, glory, and extreme self-importance.
- St. John urges Jane to sacrifice her emotional deeds for the fulfillment of her moral duty, offering her a way of life that would require her to be disloyal to her own self.
- Jane's friend, is can be seen almost as a martyr figure
- At Lowood Helen takes many punishments, yet doesn't rebel, here she is almost Christ-like