The Victorian Reward — Simple Love, and Marriage with God, for a Christian Life of Toil


The Pickwick Papers, Jane Eyre, and North and South, each conclude with a wedding, or a pledge of love, which contains the promise of a tranquil experience for the remainder of the protagonist's lives. The theme communicated by this example is that, after a life of testing through hardship and trial, people who led "Christian" lives-- lives marked by good, charitable, and industrious behavior-- would be rewarded by enjoying later years in which they were surrounded by friends and peace. The context for this idealistic view grew out of nineteenth-century Evangelical Christian ideals.

Religion, specifically Christianity, was in decline in urban areas of Britain during the industrial era. One cause of this was largely because the church failed to expand with the cities. In many new urban areas there was little or no church presence (George P. Landow, Lecture, October 22, 1996). One of the reactions to this by the Church of England was the founding of an Evangelical Party. This group stressed that "persecution indicates the holiness of the persecuted," and that "believers must demonstrate their spirituality by working for others, thus evangelical zeal in missionary work... and many social causes (George P. Landow, "The Doctrines of Evangelical Protestantism", The Victorian Web)." Given the hardship that many people endured during the 1800's, this philosophy promised a reward for believing in God, enduring suffering, and helping others. Lives of simplicity and selflessness were rewarded by the eventual marriage with God at the end of life. To parallel this sentiment, some nineteenth century authors created characters who were rewarded for their Christian qualities after their struggles throughout a novel by being entered into a marriage, or some similar familial relationship, in a situation that was similar in tone to being united with God.

The similarity of tone in the final chapters of Jane Eyre, The Pickwick Papers, and North and South, involves a feeling of simplicity and clarity of action. Margaret's love for Mr. Thornton is expressed not even in a formal marriage, but by a simple, beautiful, nonverbal action:

She turned her face, still covered with her small white hands, towards him, and laid it on his shoulder, hiding it even there; and it was too delicious to feel her soft cheek against his, for him to wish to see either deep blushes or loving eyes. He clasped her close. But they both kept silence. (Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, North and South, 424)

It could be argued that, in the Christian view, sight is the root of much evil. It causes people to be vain and to look at the physicality of a person instead of the soul. Similarly, words complicate action by allowing people to be insincere and to lie. In the tone of silence and sightlessness, all that remains is love. Margaret led an life marked by an intense concern for her parents and for the working poor of her town. This life was not only connected to God through her action but through her relationship with her father, a minister. Her reward was a love marked by the comforting ideals of simple and unreserved love. The implication was that in loving each other in this way, Margaret and Thornton loved each other in the way that God should have been loved. This was supported by the quiet, chapel-like atmosphere of this scene.

The marriage of Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester was characterized by the same tone, which is, interestingly, established by the same devices:

Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present. When we got back from church, I went into the kitchen of the manor-house, where Mary was cooking the dinner, and John was cleaning the knives, and I said:--

"Mary, I have been married to Mr. Rochester this morning." The housekeeper and her husband were both that of the decent phlegmatic order of people, to whom one may at any time safely communicate a remarkable piece of news without incurring the danger of having one's ears pierced by some shrill ejaculation, and subsequently stunned by a torrent of wordy wonderment. (Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 437)

Again an atmosphere of quiet and tranquillity was established. Jane selects her housekeeper for imparting the information because her housekeeper was "a decent phlegmatic" person, who gives the sense of being a Christian person through her conduct, who will not destroy the tone of simplicity with words. She described her experience of being in the company of Rochester as "to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company... to talk to each other is but a more animated and an audible thinking (439)." The obvious interpretation is that the experience that she describes is one of being at one with God. The non-verbal communication is like prayer, the notion of never being alone is like feeling God's presence. Rochester's blindness was emphasized, for the same reasons that sight was limited in the passage from North and South. Put in a clichˇ, this reason is that love should be blind. The tone that was established by emphasizing blindness and silence makes this sense of peace, this metaphor for existing with God, possible.

The reward of Mr. Pickwick was slightly different from that of Margaret and Jane, in that he is not personally married:

In the midst of all this [the concluding marriage], stood Mr Pickwick, his countenance lighted up with smiles, which the heart of no man, woman, or child, could resist: himself the happiest of the group: shaking hands, over and over again with the same people, and when his own hands were not so employed, rubbing them with pleasure: turning round in a different direction at every fresh expression of gratification of curiosity, and inspiring everybody with his looks if gladness and delight. (Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 895)

However, in the sense that marriage is a act of creating a family and establishing a unity with others, Pickwick became part of the families of all of his friends. He was rewarded for his goodness, with the love of all. He became everyone's children's godfather, and everyone felt a need to live near him in the country. There is not the same simplicity to the physical wedding as in the Gaskell and Brontë texts, because the Dickens novel involves far too many people and actions. However, the reward parallels that of the other marriages in its simplicity. Pickwick welcomed everyone, "for riches or poverty had no influence on Mr Pickwick" (895). Additionally, he lived a selfless life, "'The happiness of young people,' said Mr Pickwick, a little moved, 'has ever been the chief pleasure of my life. It will warm my heart to witness the happiness of those friends who are dearest to me, and beneath my own roof'" (893). So, although Pickwick is not himself married, he was established in a paternal relationship with everyone in the novel. Similarly, although he was able to see and therefore had the potential for sin, he resisted. His vision is uncorrupted by elitism or class-consciousness, demonstrated here by his acceptance of both the rich and poor relatives. And although the wedding is lively, there is an honesty to Pickwick's purpose of wanting to help others that sets him apart and sets him on a silent pedestal. Dickens draws back from the action at the end of the narrative:

Let us leave our old friend in one of those moments of unmixed happiness which, if we seek them, there are ever some, to cheer our transitory existence here. There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. (896)

By departing from Pickwick while still discussing him, Dickens creates a mood of reflection and quietness, as if, although the reader is no longer a part of the party, he or she can see the action and hear the description of life's rewards that is offered. The sense of a life mixed with both good and bad, of happiness which can be sought through goodness, is indicative of the sense of God in the text.

Margaret Hale, Jane Eyre, and Samuel Pickwick were all rewarded for a life of adherence to the Christian ideal by receiving, at the end of their trials, simple unison with those whom they loved. The tone of simplicity, blindness, and silence set this experience in an esoteric light, creating a clear metaphor for the joining of the individual with God that was the reward for Victorians at the completion of their struggle with turbulent times. In the changeable and confusing time of the 1800s such an image of peace must never have grown tiresome to the Victorian Christian.


Victorian Web Overview

Last modified 1996