At the end of Great Expectations and Jane Eyre Pip and Jane are not the only characters significantly effected by the final events of the novels. In fact, Estella and Rochester, the objects of love (and desire), have also profoundly changed. Rochester, for example, tells Jane:
“I am no better than the old, lightening-struck chestnut tree in Thornfield orchard;" he remarked, ere long. “And what right would that ruin have to bid a budding woodbine cover its decay with freshness?"
"You are no ruin, sir-no lightening-struck tree: you are green and vigorous. Plants will grow at your roots, whether you ask them or not, because they take delight in your bountiful shadow; and as they grow they will lean towards you, and wind round you, because your strength offers them so safe a prop. [Jane Eyre, p. 450]
Rochester compares himself to a destroyed, old and damaged tree, one that has not faired well in the face of disaster. Jane, however, sees him in a different light, and also compares him to a tree, but one that is solid, dependable and grand. Estella, too, has developed an honorable and touching disposition which Dickens demonstrates by juxtaposing the words “majesty" and “charm" with the descriptions of her “friendly touch" and “softened eyes".
Estella, too, describes herself as chnaged for the worse.
"I am greatly changed. I wonder you know me." The freshness of her beauty was indeed gone, but its indescribable majesty and its indescribable charm remained. Those attractions in it I had seen before; what I had never seen before was the saddened, softened light of the once proud eyes; what I had never felt before was the friendly touch of the once insensible hand. [Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, p.450; place within the complete text of the novel]
In the passages above, Dickens and Brontė describe the altered Estella and Rochester in new, dignified terms. This characterization of dignity results from the specific word choice which, in each case, evokes an air of stability and, as Dickens himself uses, “majesty".
Rochester and Estella are survivors. At the conclusion of the novels, they have both experienced the destruction of their places of origin, and thus the destruction of their pasts. Along the way, they have endured a great deal from which Rochester emerges physically disfigured and Estella emotionally so. Nevertheless, the exposed inner dignity of these two characters when the novels conclude prove that the destruction of Thornfield and Satis, and the deaths of Bertha and Miss Havisham were liberating. Dickens and Brontë are really writing about a process of renewal. In order for Estella and Rochester to have places in the protagonists' futures, they must be emancipated from their pasts, the reminders of which must be destroyed. Estella was enslaved to Miss Havisham, her demented designs, and eventually an unhappy and abusive marriage. Rochester was hostage to the realities of his insane wife and to their connected past. They gain their emancipation from a series of disasters which, in the end, serve to purify and dignify them.
Perhaps this theme of destruction and renewal can be understood in the context of religion in the Victorian era. Religious choices were increasingly broadening, to the extent that not only were there myriad Christian denominations one could choose from, but there were also non-traditional alternatives, such as spiritualism. The one unifying force among Catholicism, Deism, Anglicanism, Broad Church, and Evangelicals (to name a few), is that they all espoused the notion of a supernatural force, be it God or something else. The destruction and subsequent renewal in Great Expectations (for Pip as well as Estella) and Jane Eyre seems to follow along those same lines of belief. The renewal that comes from the destruction is a renewal of spirit, similar to that which is associated with religion.
Last modified 28 June 2007