Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte is a first person narrative written in the Nineteenth Century. Throughout this period Religion was a dominant aspect of daily life. However it is in this novel that these traditional ideas are tested by Bronte and her Romanticist ideologies. These are portrayed through the character of Ms Eyre. The novel begins at Gateshead, the house in which Jane lives with her Aunt, Mrs Reed and three children. Throughout this section of the novel it becomes clear that Jane has a very childish and undeveloped understanding of Religion.
This is particularly evident in Jane’s encounters with Mrs Reed. During one of the many disputes between Jane and Mrs Reed, Jane protests ‘My uncle Reed is in heaven, and can see all you do and think. ’ Asides from the childlike tone which indicated immaturity. We can also see a lack of understanding in the words spoken by Jane. The statement is true of the general belief in the Nineteenth Century; however, the way in which Jane repeats this information shows minimal understanding of heaven. She talks of it in a supernatural and literal way rather than taking into consideration the symbolism of heaven.
However when Jane looks back on the relationship between herself and Mrs Reed, she states ‘I ought to forgive you, for you knew not what you did. ’ This imitates the biblical quotation spoken by Jesus on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. ’ (Luke 23:34) The quotation is evidence of how Jane’s religious views will change with age as she appears to have a more forgiving attitude when looking back in hindsight. Jane’s lack of religious understanding is also portrayed during her first meeting with Mr Brocklehurst.
Jane tells Mr Brocklehurst that she prefers to read the bible ‘Revelations’ in comparison to ‘Psalms’ as they are ‘not interesting. ’ This again shows Jane’s unsophisticated attitude as the Revelations consist of a collection of more child friendly stories. It is evident that Jane has limited religious education and influences which has resulted in a natural childlike attitude to develop. This stage of Jane’s life sets the level of her religious understanding and allows us to assess the progression throughout the rest of the novel. When Jane is Send to the Lowood Institution for Girls her lifestyle takes a dramatic change.
She is thrown into the strict and religious routine that Lowood forces upon its pupils. Jane is subjected to tedious lessons of ‘prayers’ and ‘Bible-reading’ which contribute to Jane’s religious education. It is here, in these restrictive surrounding that Jane is introduces to Helen Burns, who also plays a part in the development of Jane’s understanding of God. The moral guidance that Helen gives Jane marks the beginning in her reconsideration of her outlook on life. It is now that she understands that she ‘should love Mrs Reed. ’ As Helens explains that ‘life appears too short to be spent nursing animosity.
As the relationship between the two girls develops we see a definite neutralisation of Jane’s passion. She looks up to Helen with great respect and begins to mimic her devotion to God and subsequent way of life. However, the crisis of Helens death lets us understand the development of Jane’s religious faith at Lowood. Upon her death bed Helen attempt to reassure Jane by giving her faith though the concept of heaven. She explains that they will not be apart for long as when Jane dies she will ‘come to the same region of happiness’ under the ‘mighty universal parent.
However Jane struggles to simply accept these claims without explanation, this is evident when she asks ‘Where is God? What is God? ’ Jane’s questioning of the afterlife in contrast to Helens acceptance of death show us that ultimately Jane’s passion is still present. She has the need to interpret ideas before accepting them such as the idea of ‘God. ’ This compared to Helens willingness to seek happiness with God and allows the reader to see that Jane has a determination to find happiness on Earth. ` After finishing her education at Lowood as moving on to become a teacher, Jane begins to become restless.
This encourages Jane into the next stage of her life in which she finds work as a governess at Thornfield. The arrival of Mr Rochester (the Master of the house) distinguishes a new stage of Jane’s life. Jane describes Thornfield as ‘no longer silent as a church. ’ As their relationship blossoms they engage in intellectual conversation which allow Jane to demonstrate her views of religion and life. She challenges Rochester’s debates with insightful statements such as ‘remorse is the poison of life with ‘repentance’ said to be its cure.
Rochester does not see Jane as a social inferior, as her boldness and surety of belief has been shown. In this case religion helps Jane to settle in to her new surroundings and depict herself as an intelligent and respected woman. After a long period of time spent at Thornfield, Jane gets news of her sick Aunt, Mrs Reed. This results in Jane leaving Mr Rochester in order to return to Gateshead. When in the company of the dying Mr Reed, Jane gives her great sympathy. She explains that she had once vowed that she would ‘never call her aunt again’ but she was now willing to ‘break that vow.
This shows that she has learnt from Helens advice to ‘love your enemies’ and therefore marks her personal progression with religion. In this crisis it is evident that religion has helped Jane to overcome her bitterness towards Mrs Reed in order to do the moral thing. Upon her return to Thornfield, Jane and Rochester’s relationship intensifies, which is confirmed by Rochester’s proposal to Jane. At this point in the novel Jane’s infatuation with Rochester begins to come between herself and her religious faith. She describes Rochester as her ‘hope of heaven’ and explains that ‘he stood between [her] and every thought of religion.
In these quotes it appears that Jane is close to sin as she talks of Rochester as a godly figure. This marks the declination of Jane’s religious faith as a result of her unconditional love for Rochester. It is not until the wedding ceremony, when Mr Rochester’s debauches past is revealed that Jane is faced with a ‘remembrance of God. ’ – Now that she feels the pain of Rochester’s betrayal she understands that God is the only one who will remain true to her. Jane describes Rochester’s felonies as ‘little better than a devil.
This strong comparison on Rochester and Satan indicated the severity of the situation in Jane’s world. It also marks her sudden loss of faith. Shortly after the ceremony is disrupted Jane explains that her ‘faith was blighted’ however her trust in God ‘still throbbed life-like’ within her. She emphasises the important of still, to indicate that her love for God had always been present, regardless of her strong feelings for Rochester taking precedence. From here on we see Jane’s religious views beginning to regain the dominance they had when she first came to Thornfield.
Even when she makes the decision to leave Thornfield. Despite Jane’s vulnerability upon leaving Thornfield, she still maintains hope in the ‘might and strength of God. ’ This hope is tested as Jane is pushed into starvation whilst searching for a new life. However; Just as Jane is about to give up all hope she hears ‘a bell chime – a church bell. ’ As soon as she hears this she begins to see her surrounding that she had ‘ceased to note an hour ago’ e. g. ‘the romantic hills’ and the ‘glittering stream. ’ Instantly it is clear that Jane is regaining her faith.
This faith is further restored by her introduction with St John Rivers, the local Clergyman. The Clergyman takes interest in Jane’s religious opinions when she states ‘I believe in God. Let me try to wait his will in silence. ’ Rivers relates to this devotion to God and takes her into his household where she spends the next chapter of her life. In this sense it is evident that Jane’s strong religious faith saves her from the disastrous route of a life of starvation at the ‘workhouse. ’ St John Rivers plays a significant role in the restoration of Jane’s faith.
He represents how not only her own religious faith helps her in time of crisis but also how he as a religious figure does – clergyman. He was her saviour when she was close to the end. As she ‘dragged my exhausted limbs’ towards clergyman’s house. ‘Dragged’ and ‘exhausted’ imply her body was giving up. However she forces herself forwards with the faith in religion – whereas before she heard the bell she was close to death. However it is not just the religious impact that Rivers has on Jane that is relevant. We can also look on Jane’s effects on Rivers in order to see how religion has guided her.
Jane can’t help but to notice the ‘resistless emotion’ that St John feels for Mrs Oliver. She sees that he ‘loves’ her ‘so wildly. ’ This is the main point in which we are reminded of Jane’s Romantic ideologies as she tells Rivers he could stay with Mrs Oliver as he ‘need not be a missionary. ’ This suggests that Jane thinks it appropriate to put passion before religion in this case. Which is highly against the beliefs of Rivers. Another moment in which we see a split in their ideas is when Rivers proposes to Jane. He refers to Jane being his wife as a ‘noble career’ – a duty to God.
This implies no feelings of love or lust. However Jane cannot commit to this. He concludes that she will no ‘abandon herself’ in a heartless marriage, but instead ‘giver her heart to God’ which implies that regardless of Jane’s strong religious faith she is still determined to find happiness amongst humanity. Jane finally returns to Rochester. This allows us to understand that Jane’s passion is still an important part of her. However as she gave Rochester time to repent we can also see that she has found a balance between her passion and religious faith.
The novel is concluded with a religious quote – ‘Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus! ’ which contrasts to the passionate scene in which Rochester and Jane are re-united. This again emphasises balance that Jane has found between religion and passion. However when analysing Jane’s journey with religion is not as simple as to say she has always had a ‘very strong religious faith. ’ As the reader it is clear that at times Jane questions or even doubts her religious views. However this helps Jane find her way in the struggle to find a religious equilibrium.