[Part IV 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 dates Brontë stated with exactitude can be examined with accuracy. Intriguingly, there are other dates — more properly described as indications of dates — in which the author has intimated at the hidden message in the text. The first such example reads, "One afternoon (I had then been three weeks at Lowood)..."[I.73]. The date must therefore be around February the 9th to the 11th. At this time occurs the dreadful first visit to Lowood of Brocklehurst and his family since Jane arrived at the Institute. The whole episode recounts hypocrisy and bullying, ending in Jane"s slanderous humiliation in front of the entire school. The Lessons for daily prayers over these dates are all from Exodus and detail the attempts of Moses to free hi people from Egyptian bondage. The following chapter of Jane Eyre is devoted entirely to the aftermath of Brocklehursts ferocious outburst. The chapter is a eulogy to Miss Temple, the head teacher. Moreover, as an indicator of time, we are told, "About a week subsequently to the incidents about narrated" [I.86]. This moves the time onto February 16th to the 18th. There is on this only occasion, an appropriate Lesson taken from the New Testament: Matthew Ch.XXVI v13. This reads, "I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel is preached in the whole world, there shall also be this, that what she has done will be told in memory of her". The appropriateness of this Lesson is understood in that Miss Temple has not accepted the slanderous accusations made of Jane by Brocklehurst and infront of the entire school exonerates Jane by proving Brocklehurst to be wrong.
The preceding chapter relates of deaths at Lowood from fevers for which "semi-starvation and neglected colds" were the main contributing factors [I.89]. "April advanced into May" [I.89] and "One evening early in June" [I.91] spans a time of maladministration and death at Lowood. The Lessons for these months are all taken from stories of folly and corruption in the Old Testament. All the stories relate how old regimes were replaced by better and more efficient governments that were closer to the people. The Lessons all end in the same manner, "Now the rest of the acts of...behold they are written in the book of...". At the beginning of chapter ten of Jane Eyre the first paragraph begins, "Therefore I now pass a space of eight years...a few lines only are necessary to keep up the links of connection" [I.97].
The time arrives for Jane Eyre to leave Lowood. She does so in the "rawness of an October day" [I.108]. As with the "drear November day" at the beginning of the novel, the month is significant enough for Jane to record it. Within the novel the religious context of the month is important. The month of October not only contains the Saint Day for the gospel writer Saint Luke, but the readings for Evening prayers are taken exclusively from his gospel. The significance to the novel is that Saint Luke was the chronicler of Saint Paul"s journeys. Jane Eyre is soon to meet Rochester, who is, as we shall see, if not Saint Paul, then Saul of Tarsus prior to his conversion into Saint Paul.
The connecting of Rochester to Saint Paul is made in chapter 12 of the novel. "One afternoon in January", Jane Eyre is walking down Hay lane [I.126]. It is there that she meets the man destined to dominate the rest of her life. The man is Rochester, owner of Thornfield Hall, and employer of Jane. At this meeting she is not aware of these facts, neither does he tell her. Though he quickly establishes Jane"s identity and position at the Hall, he deliberately misleads Jane as to his identity. Why such a bizarre meeting? Was it necessary for Rochester to fall off his horse? Why not a conventional interview on his return home from his business affairs? The answer lies in the date: "One afternoon in January". In Christian history, only the missionary years of Jesus Christ overshadow the work of Saint Paul, whose conversion takes place whilst on the road to Damascus. The date given in the Prayer Book for the conversion of Saint Paul is January 25th and special Lessons are given for that celebration. Brontë makes sure that the significance of such a meeting is not lost for she tells us, "It was three o"clock; the church bell tolled as I passed under the belfry" [I.126]. This is an earlier England, without benefit of bright artificial lighting. Evening service in mid-winter would be held in mid-afternoon. The Prayer Book tells the Minister that he "shall cause a bell to be tolled thereunto a convenient time before he begin". The Lessons for January 25th are listed as special to the anniversary of the conversion of Saint Paul. Jeremiah Ch I v1-11 reads, "God will support inexperience" and Isaiah Ch.49 to v13 contains the line, "Return and restoration". Jane Eyre will change Rochester forever. He will eventually confess "...something new a fresh sap and sense stole into my frame" [I.127]. The impoverished, plain, Quakerish girl changes an embitted and cynical sinner into a God-seeking, open-hearted Christian. What better analogy could Brontë draw than the conversion of Saint Paul, who fell to the ground a sinner and arose a Saint.
Further on in the novel another generalised date is used but in this instance a totally different approach is used. Rochester is explaining to Jane the circumstances behind his wardship of Adele Varens. It is the story of his betrayal of a woman which occurred on "so warm a June evening" [III.351]. On June 24th, the Prayer Book gives a Saints Day to the absolute example of a victim of a woman"s betrayal: the day is set aside for Saint John the Baptist. The special Lessons include Malachi, Ch.V, "A responsibility is placed on the care of orphans". Adele Varens, Rochester"s charge, had been abandoned by her mother, the woman who had betrayed Rochester"s love, claiming he was the child"s father. Brontë is already re-assuring her readers that Rochester, sinner though he is, is also aware of his Christian responsibilities.
The early hours of the next day provide the first clue indicating the dreadful secret of Thornfield Hall. The Lessons for the proceeding days warn of "corrupting influences" and "idolatrous practices". Such warning prove to be an accurate description of Jane's predicament. Thornfield will soon be full with guests for an houseparty, several members of whom will make Jane the butt of malicious and spiteful innuendo. During this houseparty a game of charades takes place [I.161]. In describing the charade enacted by Rochester and Lady Blanche Ingram, another message, using a religious metaphor, is passed to the reader. The charade has two characters, Eliezer (Rochester) and Rebecca (Blanche). This is made clear by Jane actually calling the two by these names. Jane"s own description of Blanche in the charade is of a "Israelitish princess of patriarchal days". Brontë"s choice of this particular setting for the charade is interesting. It caries within the context of the novel three definable messages. The biblical story itself is of Eliezer looking for a wife, not for himself, but for his master Issac. He chose Rebecca, who later as the mother of the twins Esau and Jacob, defrauded the former of his inheritance in favour of the latter, her favourite. The word acted out in the "dumb show" spells out Brideswell, the third scene in the charade. It was the colloquial term for a debtors prison. The definable messages are thus that Rochester is not looking for a wife for himself (later confirmed by him to Jane) [II.206-209]; the attempt to defraud Jane of her inheritance (admitted by Mrs Reed on her deathbed) and the word Brideswell signals Rochester"s inevitable fate should he marry Blanche.
Jane is unexpectedly called to Gateshead. Whilst in her sojourn at Gateshead Hall, the Prayer Book is again mentioned as being read by the fanatically pious Eliza Reed [II.285]. With the return to Thornfield another generalised, but calculable date is mentioned: it is the ill-fated offer of marriage on "midsummer eve" [II.263]. There are two possible midsummer"s eves, on June 20th or 23rd. In this instance it does not affect the chronology of the novel. It is a span of several days a month later that is of interest, being full of drama. It captures the very essence of Brontë's use of the Common Prayer Book. The ill-fated wedding is on July 21st, 22nd or 23rd. We know this because "The month of courtship had wasted" [II.278]. Jane describes an incident occurring during the evening of July 20th/21st. It occurs on awakening from a nightmare and is a visitation of a "foul German spectre...the Vampyre" [II.308]. The Prayer Book dedicates the 20th of July to Margaret of Antioch. This particular Saint was already declared apocryphal by 494 but over 200 churches in England were dedicated to her. She was called upon by women in times of great stress such as childbirth, or danger from demons and fiends. Joan of Arc claimed to have heard Saint Margaret"s voice. Over this entire period all the Old Testament Lessons in the Prayer Book calendar are taken from a single book -- Proverbs. These readings embrace the whole of Jane"s dilemmas in her fateful days leading up to and immediately after the abortive wedding ceremony: "Wisdom invites the unwise to her feast, they are arrogant and do not feel the need for either religion or learning"; "Stolen waters are sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant" (a euphemism for adultery used for centuries); "The labour of the righteous tended to life; the fruit of the wicked is sin". The latter is surely meant as Jane's response to any who thought she should have accepted Rochester"s offer of a secret marriage outside England.
After the abandoned wedding ceremony, Rochester tells Jane, "You intend to make yourself a complete stranger to me" [II.317]. The whole of this chapter contains the purest form of Brontë's religious principals. She explicitly lays out her belief that only complete adherence to God's will brings about salvation. It is the low church Wesleysian which formed the backbone of both her father and mothers families. As Jane tells Rochester, "Laws and principals are not for times when there are no temptations....stringent they are; inviolate they shall be". The Lessons from Proverbs continue, "Give pledge to a stranger and know no peace; refuse to stand surety and be safe". Immediately after the doomed wedding ceremony and in her moments of deepest bewilderment, Jane recites a direct quotation from Psalm 69, "The waters came into my soul; I sank in deep mire..." [III.338]. The Psalms continues, "What I did not steal must I now restore". Then follows the flight from Thornfield Hall and subsequent arrival at the village of Morton after "two days had passed...and now I am absolutely destitute" [II.331]. By calculation it must have been the end of July, but no actual date is given. In the village of Morton, Jane is utterly humiliated, she is forced to beg and eat pigswill. The evening Lesson for the 25th July sums up Jane's desperate plight. Jeremiah Ch.XXVI v8-16 reads, "but I am in your hands: do with me whatever you think right...but you will be murdering an innocent man" [III.362].
Other Portions of This Essay
- The Book of Common Prayer and Jane Eyre
- Specific dates: the link between Jane Eyre, 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