[Part III of "Rochester vs. St. John Rivers: or why Jane Eyre preferred a cynical sinner to a religious zealot." All page and chapter references are to the Penguin Classic edition of the novel which contains an introduction and notes by Michael Mason.]
he Prayer Book lists every day of the year, starting in January, as does Jane's journeying. Each day has four Lessons to be read, two at the Morning Service and two at the Evensong. Two readings are taken from the Old Testament, two from the New Testament, one each per service. In addition, particular Psalms are listed each day of the month, to be used in rotation. Also laid down are various "saints days", set against the days of the year put aside for their special commemoration. It is this calendar, with the list of Lessons and Saints, that has been used in a extraordinary way throughout the novel Jane Eyre.
When the first actual date is given the reader is already aware that Jane Eyre is the very unwelcome charge of Mrs Reed, and is the object of spiteful bullying from the young Reed family. Jane is a destitute orphan, living an unhappy life in the midst of affluence and snobbery. It is January 15th and unknown to Jane she is about to meet her new tormentor, who, under the guise of Christian charity, is a self-satisfied, arrogant hypocrite — the Rev. Brocklehurst [I.38]. Jane is questioned by Brocklehurst about her Bible reading. The answer reveals an outstanding knowledge. All her preferred readings, we discover, come from the Old Testament, with the exception of the final book of the Bible, Revelations. In the Prayer Book, the instructions for the readings from the Old Testament span the year, whereas readings from the New Testament should be read twice over in the same period. In addition, the Prayer Book limits use of Revelations to specific times and numbers of Lessons. A dislike of Psalms is also mentioned by Jane. The explanation for her dislike of Psalms seems reinforced by noting that Psalms are quoted by Jane at times of deep personal distress [I.42]; Psalms were an integral part of daily worship, as so ordered by the Prayer Book. Hymns were not part of the service. Clearly Brontë, by focusing Jane's interest on the Old Testament ensures that the Lessons to be read are only applicable to the specific day indicated. Thus January 15th gives the following: Morning Service first Lesson, Genesis Ch.XXI v33 to Ch.XXII v20; Evensong first Lesson, Genesis Ch.XXII. The former Lesson ends, "And Abraham sojourned in the Philistine's land for many days". The later describes the testing of Abraham's faith in God to the very limit. Both Lessons portray an accurate description and forewarning of Jane's predicament in her early days at Lowood.
The next date given in the novel is January 19th [I.50]. It is the commencement of the next stage in a so far short and unhappy life. The Lowood Institute will prove almost as harrowing as Gateshead Hall, at least as long as the Rev. Brocklehurst remains in charge. Jane Eyre will return to Gatehead only once, on a much later visit in very different circumstances. Not least of the changed circumstances will be the deathbed confession of Mrs Reed that she had deliberately sought to prevent Jane from receiving a substantial inheritance. This fact is, of course, not apparent or even possible at this stage of the novel. Nevertheless, that it is intended in the future is shown in the first Lesson of Evening Prayers for January 19th: Genesis Ch.XXVII to v30. The Lesson is the story of disinheritance of Esau, plotted by his mother Rebecca, a theme repeated in the houseparty charade game later in the novel at Thornfield [ II.207].
The next date is January 20th, Jane's first full day at Lowood. On this day the various teachers of the Institute are identified. By far the most important and influential is the Superintendent Miss Temple. Jane at a later date, is accorded the singular honour - at least in Jane's eyes - of being "entrusted" to carry Miss Temple's Prayer Book to church [I.57]. "The next day commenced as before...", are the opening words of the next chapter in the novel [ I.63]. The date is therefore January 21st and shows another use of the Prayer Book by Brontë. The day is set aside as a Saint's Day, the particular Saint being Agnes, Roman virgin and martyr. The martyrdom of Agnes was as a result of refusing to marry a man chosen by her father, claiming she was already "a bride of Christ". This chapter of Jane Eyre is taken up by the description of the bullying of Helen Burns at the Lowood Institute and the subsequent meeting of Jane and Helen, whose short but intense life could be described as heroic. Helen Burns leads a life that Jane, as dutiful a Christian as she is, admits never being able to emulate.
It is not until much later in the novel that the next specific date is related: "I reached the lodge at Gateshead...afternoon of the 1st May" [II.254]. Jane is returning at the request of Mrs Reed, who is on her deathbed. She left Jane at Lowood, an unwanted orphan. When she returns, Jane is still unloved, but very much in control. Again, May 1st is a Saint's Day, dedicated to Saint Philip and Saint James, Apostles and Martyrs. The special appointed Lessons for such a Holy Day aptly sum up the ambience which surround Jane on her return to Gateshead Hall. Isiah Ch.XXXI reads:
"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed ...For I, the Lord love justice and hate robbery and wrongdoing;...he has robbed me in salvation as a garment and clothed me in integrity as a cloak.
Jane Eyre will witness the disintegration of the Reed family and the deathbed confession of Mrs Reed, revealing her hatred of Jane and her duplicity towards her. The first Lesson for Evening prayer confirms Jane's triumph over her unhappy childhood at Gateshead Hall. Zechariah Ch.IV recounts the praising of Zerubbabel. Here the significance is not the Lesson, for on such a special Saint's Day as May 1st alternative readings are given. However, the praising of Zerubbabel is a reward for him, proving that truth is stronger than any other thing. He argued "Women are strongest, but truth conquers all", a statement which surely must have appealed to Brontë.
A further significance of the fixing of the date of Jane's arrival at Gateshead Hall is that other dates and events can be related to it, in particular the dramatic attack on Richard Mason and the accelerating effect it has upon the close bond now evident between Edward Fairfax Rochester and Jane herself. It can be calculated that the assault on Mason must have taken place overnight on the 28th/29th April [II.234-244]. The certain date is April 29th when Jane receives an urgent call from Mrs Reed of Gateshead Hall [II.249-250]. All the Old Testament Lessons covering this period are taken from Samuel Ch.XIX to Ch.XXV. They relate to the special bond of friendship that existed between David and Jonathan. In particular the Lesson to be read at Evening prayers on 28th April, the eve of Jane's urgent message is Samuel Ch.XX v18, "...Tomorrow is the new moon; and you will be missed because your seat will be empty". A conversation is recorded in the novel when Rochester learns of Jane's intended departure. Jane is asked, 'shall you come down to the drawing room after dinner?". She replies, "No Sir I must prepare for my journey". Rochester continues, "Then you and I must bid goodbye for a little while?" [II.254].
The next precise date given is a precursor to a huge change in Jane Eyre's fortunes and the final, and ultimately triumphant journey. The date is November 5th [III.413]. Following a visit by St. John Rivers, enquiries made by him not only establish Jane's true identity, but show her to be the inheritor of a substantial fortune and a relative of the Rivers family, to whom she had developed a strong attachment. All this information is passed to Jane on November 6th [III.426-427]. The Lessons for reading could hardly be more appropriate to the narrative of the novel. Ecclesiastus Ch. V: "Do not rely upon your money and say I am independent. Do not yield to every impulse you can gratify or follow the desires of your heart". Ecclesiastus, Ch.7 v27: "Honour your father with all your heart, do not forget your mothers birth pangs; remember your parents brought you into the world; how can you repay what they have done for you?". Additionally, it is a Saint's Day to commemorate St. Leonard the patron saint of prisoners, prisoners of fate and circumstance.
The fifth appearance of a named day is somewhat of an anomaly. It is the only exact date recorded by Jane Eyre in her narrative in which the incident described and the date itself has not yet arrived, and will in any case be of only passing interest to Jane herself. The date is June 20th. On that day it is established by St. John Rivers that "...I have taken my berth in an East Indiaman which sails on the twentieth of June" [III.447]. In fact the date is included in a speech which is part of an ultimatum of marriage, rather than a proposal of Holy Matrimony. It is the offer of a loveless marriage. The relevance of this date, although still within the Prayer Book, is not with the Lessons for the day but with the nominated Psalm. Prior to St. John Rivers making his declaration of marriage, Jane has described how on that day she had felt particularly bad about her separation from Rochester, and had described being in tears over her self-enforced separation. The Psalm to be read (or sung) on the 20th day of every month is Psalm 102. It is actually entitled, "Prayer for healing in sickness". It reads, "Hear my Prayer O Lord: and let my crying come unto thee. Hide not thy face from me in the time of trouble...for my days are consumed away like smoke...". Jane Eyre's sickness was, of course, a sickness of the heart.
There is one final specific date in the novel, June 1st. "It was the first day of June: yet the day was overcast and chilly" [III.447]. It is the beginning of Jane's final journey and results in the glorious end of her pilgrimage. Brontë plays a joke: Jane is in high spirits, although not sure whether her search for Rochester will be successful. She will at least actively seek him: her decision to reject St. John Rivers has been made. St. John Rivers is, of course unaware of this, and leaves for Cambridge as arranged. Just prior to his departure, he slips a note under Jane's bedroom door. It is a quotation found in both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, but has been amended by him to fit his own dogma: "...and pray that you fall not into temptation, the spirit (I trust), is willing bit the flesh (I see) is weak" [III.468]. Hardly words of endearment or encouragement to the young woman he hopes to marry. Jane is not impressed. June 1st is also a Saint's Day, dedicated to Nicomedes, of whom all that can be said is that a church was dedicated to him in early Christian Rome. The circumstances or whereabouts of his life or death are unknown, as is his final resting place. It is a fate that Brontë awards St. John Rivers; it is the humour of irony. [There are many books according to religious bias, on the life of Saints. One modern publication is a Calendar of Saints published by Orbis Publishing. The most famous Concordance is Crudens Concordance which would certainly have been known to Brontë.]
The added importance of June 1st as a recorded date, is as with the dates given when Jane leaves Gateshead Hall and arrives at Lowood. The proceeding events will extinguish almost every connection with her previous life. Additionally, the contemporary events of the novel can be accurately linked to Lessons from the Prayer Book. Thus, the reunion with Rochester can be calculated on June 3rd. He is blind and a cripple, but he is also a widower, and has repented his former lifestyle. To Jane he is now acceptable as a husband. The Lesson for this date are from Chronicles Ch. XIII and Ch. XIV. They are the story of the restoration of the true faith, "A triumph over apostasy". The following three days cover the restored love and marriage, and the Lessons from the Prayer Book underline Jane Eyre's new circumstances. They are taken from two Chronicles: "The restoration of the covenant" and "All the people rejoiced and the Temple was rebuilt and restored".
Other Portions of This Essay
- The Book of Common Prayer and Jane Eyre
- Indicated Dates in Jane Eyre: the Link between the Novel, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Bible
- The Biblical characters and the Book of Homilies in Jane Eyre
- Conclusion: Why did Jane Eyre choose Saul of Tarsus rather than St. John the Divine?
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Penguin, 1996.
The actual full title of the novel's manuscript was Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, edited by Currer Bell. The gender of the author was deliberately left ambivalent. The reason may become apparent during the reading of this article.
Last modified 19 January 1999