“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)
Jane Eyre is a Romans 8:28 type of story because everything worked out for the good for Jane in the end, even though there were many formidable trials and tribulations along the way for her to endure and pass through. The theme of God’s providential care for Jane Eyre often goes unmentioned in the standard reviews and yet it is one of the underlying themes of the whole novel, along with Jane’s quest to be loved and respected.
One in fact often reads of Charlotte Bronte’s hostility to religion shown by the way she portrays ministers in Jane Eyre, and this was a criticism Charlotte Bronte confronted head on in her “Preface to the Second Edition” of Jane Eyre, stating:
“Having thus acknowledged what I owe those who have aided and approved me, I turn to another class; a small one, so far as I know, but not, therefore, to be overlooked. I mean the timorous or carping few who doubt the tendency of such books as “Jane Eyre:” in whose eyes whatever is unusual is wrong; whose ears detect in each protest against bigotry–that parent of crime–an insult to piety, that regent of God on earth. I would suggest to such doubters certain obvious distinctions; I would remind them of certain simple truths.
Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.
[A]ppearances should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is–I repeat it–a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.”
From the quote above we get a glimpse of Charlotte’s Bronte’s strong personal faith, and perhaps even infer why the theme of God’s Providential care for Jane Eyre is so central to the novel.
There are two early hints (or foreshadowing scenes) in the novel that point to the fact that Jane will be the object of God’s special care and providence (both occurring in Chapter 3 of the story). The first hint is the hymn sung by the nursemaid Bessie to Jane while Jane was a young (and mistreated) orphan at Gateshead under the care of her Aunt, Mrs. Reed. Here are some of the words to that hymn (apparently composed by Charlotte Bronte herself!):
God, in His mercy, protection is showing,
Comfort and hope to the poor orphan child.
Ev’n should I fall o’er the broken bridge passing,
Or stray in the marshes, by false lights beguiled,
Still will my Father, with promise and blessing,
Take to His bosom the poor orphan child.
There is a thought that for strength should avail me,
Though both of shelter and kindred despoiled;
Heaven is a home, and a rest will not fail me;
God is a friend to the poor orphan child.
The second hint, or foreshadowing, comes just a few pages later when Jane learns that her father was a clergyman who died of typhus while helping out the poor. The text reads:
“On that same occasion I learned, for the first time, from Miss Abbot’s communications to Bessie, that my father had been a poor clergyman; that my mother had married him against the wishes of her friends, who considered the match beneath her; that my grandfather Reed was so irritated at her disobedience, he cut her off without a shilling; that after my mother and father had been married a year, the latter caught the typhus fever while visiting among the poor of a large manufacturing town where his curacy was situated, and where that disease was then prevalent: that my mother took the infection from him, and both died within a month of each other.”
So if there is a good clergyman in Jane Eyre it is Jane’s own father who died while helping out the poor! What could be dearer to God’s heart than that! I could argue that the tragic death of Jane’s parents is one of the keys to understanding Jane Eyre, but that would be supposition on my part! Still, as the hymn states, “God, in His mercy, protection is showing, Comfort and hope to the poor orphan child.” Now who is the poor orphan child?: – it is Jane Eyre. One need not be a literary guru to see the profound foreshadowing of God’s providential care for Jane in the two examples I have just discussed from Chapter 3.
So now, fast-forwarding to the end of the story, we see that, quite amazingly, things have truly worked out for the good of Jane Eyre! Unexpectedly, Mr. Rochester has undergone a profound religious conversion (he says, “I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance, the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were but very sincere”). And near the very end of the novel, having married Jane, the narrator attests to Mr. Rochester’s profound gratitude:
“When his first born was put into his arms, he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes….On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered judgment with mercy” (Chapter 37).
As to Jane herself, you, Reader, may ask: does Jane ever mention God’s providential care for her life? Well, here are a few examples:
“God must have led me on…I was weeping wildly as I walked along my solitary way…a weakness seized me and I fell: I lay on the ground some minutes, pressing my face to the wet turf. I had some fear – or hope – that here I should die: but I was soon up: crawling forward on my hands and knees, and then again raised to my feet – as eager and as determined as ever to reach the road” (Chapter 27).
“I felt the might and strength of God. Sure was I of His efficiency to save what He had made: convinced I grew that neither earth should perish, nor one of the souls it treasured. I turned my prayer to thanksgiving: the Source of Life was also the Saviour of spirits. Mr. Rochester was safe; he was God’s, and by God would he be guarded. I again nestled to the breast of the hill; and ere long in sleep forgot sorrow.” (Chapter 28)
“Oh, Providence! sustain me a little longer! Aid – direct me!” (Chapter 28)
Finally, at the end of the novel, Jane attests to the profound happiness and joy she has experienced in her marriage to Mr. Rochester, a marriage that came about by way of Jane’s abandonment to Divine Providence and Mr. Rochester’s dramatic and profound conversion:
“I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest – blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character – perfect concord is the result.” (Chapter 38)
Jane Eyre is a Romans 8:28 type story. Everything has worked out for Jane’s good. God cares for the poor orphan child.
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Note: Does Charlotte Bronte ever allude to Romans 8:28 in Jane Eyre? Yes she does. In a foreboding moment before her wedding day, we hear Jane say these words to Mr. Rochester: “Yesterday I trusted well in Providence, and believed that events were working together for your good and mine….” (Chapter 25; Vol. II, Chapter 10). But after their failed marriage in Chapter 26, Jane will have to trust even deeper in God’s providential care for her life as she abandons herself to God under the most distressing of circumstances. So the reference to Romans 8:28 in Chapter 25 finds its true fulfillment in Chapter 38 when Jane ultimately marries the severely humbled Mr. Rochester.
Image: Portrait of Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre, by George Richmond, as it appears at Wikipedia. The date is 1850. According to Wikipedia this work is in the Public Domain for the U.S.A., but may not be for other countries. See the Wikipedia article on Charlotte Bronte incorporated herein by reference.
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