Here is my dissertation, written nearly five years ago, on the different strands of religion that weave in and out of the story of Jane Eyre. I did not get as high a mark on it as I would have liked, as the comments from my professors stated that the Druid link “was going a bit too far”. I disagreed then, and I still do today.
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is a text which has often been studied in a religious context, examining the Christian influences in various readings. However, Brontë may have been influenced by other spiritual discourses which may be evident in the text. In this dissertation, I will examine the text with regards to its Evangelical influences, as well as look for possible pagan influences set within a gothic genre. Franklin states:
Charlotte Brontë was a devout Christian. Nevertheless, she had strong reactions to the stern Evangelical Christianity of her time, and to the increased fragmentation and dissention within Christianity in nineteenth century Britian … she finds it necessary to call on a more archaic discourse of spirituality – the super natural – and to create a new discourse of spiritual love through which to heal Christian spirituality (Franklin, 1995, p.478, online).
In this work, I will try to establish how a new spiritual discourse can be found, not through a rejection of Christianity but a moderation of it with other spiritualities that existed at the time.
In Chapter One, The Gothic Influence, I will investigate the gothic genre in relation to the text, to see how certain gothic influences may be found in the text. I will also look at how this genre works with Christianity to subvert a patriarchal culture. I will then see how religion may suppress behaviour, such as desire, in relation to the gothic theme. Sexual imagery in the text, as well as biblical references, will be investigated to find out whether the heroine denies a purely one-sided Christian worldview. The use of the gothic supernatural may offer the possibility of other spiritual discourses in the text.
In Chapter Two I will explore The Evangelical Influence on the text. Brontë was the daughter of a minister, and her upbringing would have been influenced by this. This is where the paradox will be looked at closely, in which God’s law must be held first, and yet how women must submit to men in the Evangelical faith. I will attempt to offer a reading of how the heroine deals with this paradox. I will examine themes of idolatry in the text, as well as social conventions of the time, to see if a female voice is to be found alongside a dominant Christian male voice. I will look at evidence in the text, particularly the recurring use of the word, “spirit”, to see how this affects spirituality. Christian morality will also be explored, to see whether it is used for self-interest or survival.
Chapter Three takes a closer look at pagan influences on the text, to see if another, Third Spiritual Discourse can be found. I will try to find out whether pagan and supernatural elements in the story are in response to a limited Christian Evangelical worldview. Evidence can be found in nineteenth century literature of pagan concepts, most evidently found in Romantic poetry such as Coleridge and Keats. I will look at the Druid Revival of the eighteenth and nineteenth century to see if there can be any correlating link to the text which contains these pagan discourses. Jane may be seen as a modifier, moderating numerous discourses into her spirituality.
The final chapter will look at the characters as Religious Rolemodels to find out how this affects Jane’s spiritual outcome. The author and her heroine may have been influenced by other spiritual discourses and I will examine the text closely to see whether evidence can be found for this. I will examine Jane’s character as a compromise between extremes, to see if this further emphasises her moderation in life. I will see if Jane’s moderateness can create a modified religion that provides happiness for her in this world and the next.
The Gothic Influence
Jane Eyre, with its rich blending of Christian imagery and supernatural forces, can be seen as gothic fiction. Gothic fiction usually contains ghosts, a large house, manor or castle, a romantic love interest which may double as either the hero or villain (or both), and a threat more often than not to a woman’s virtue. All of these ideas are incorporated in Brontë’s work, therefore placing it in the category of gothic fiction. Brontë, following on Bunyan’s idea of temptation and salvation in Christianity similar to Pilgrim’s Progress, incorporates into the text what was still popular at the time: gothic fiction. Gothic fiction is rich in imagery that speaks of social concerns as well as supernatural forces. The conventions of romantic literature fit the gothic story structure well, and while some may simply dismiss the genre as unrealistic, deeper and more insightful readings may be found. Incorporation of nature, and super nature, can be gothic forms of expression that subvert patriarchal injustices.
A theme that is heavily used in gothic fiction is the return of the repressed. Originally a term coined by Sigmund Freud, the return of the repressed in gothic fiction usually takes the form of a monstrosity of some sort.
According to Freud, the very act of entering into civilised society entails the repression of various archaic, primitive desires … however, even well-adjusted individuals still betray the insistent force of earlier desires through dreams, literature, or Freudian slips, hence the term the return of the repressed [my italics](Felluga, online).
Religion, heavy with Evangelical influences in Jane Eyre, is used as a tool for quelling those primitive, primal desires. Social convention, based upon this religious belief, also helps to repress desire in Victorian culture. Jane desires Rochester, but will not marry him, keeping her passions, which may have raged before as a child in the red room now under check.
I wanted to be weak that I might avoid the awful passage of further suffering I saw laid out for me; and Conscience, turned tyrant, held Passion by the throat; told her tauntingly, she had yet but dipped her dainty feet in the slough, and swore that with that arm of iron he would thrust her down to unsounded depths of agony (Brontë, 1996, p.295).
In Christian thought, the eye that lusts has already committed adultery in the heart. Repression is key to salvation, and Jane recalls the biblical passages of Matthew 5:29 and 5:30 to Rochester, foretelling his doom, saying “you shall tear yourself away, none shall help you; you shall yourself pluck out your right eye; yourself cut off your right hand: your heart shall be victim, and you the priest to transfix it” (Brontë, 1996, p.295). Jane is urging Rochester to suppress his desires, much as she is trying to suppress her own, for as in Matthew, it states that “if the right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee, for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body be cast into hell” (Matthew, 5:29). The desire in the gaze is just as sinful as expression of the physical desire. Jane not only represses her desires, but describes the Evangelical law to Rochester. She states that he should be his own priest, as quoted above, and that none may interpret deity for anyone. In Evangelical thought, one must be their own priest to attain their own salvation, and the Bible is the true standard (Anderson, 2008, online). Brontë exposed the hypocrisies of the Evangelical faith, as well as promoting it as part of salvation. Gilbert states that Victorian reviewers were “disturbed not so much by the proud Byronic sexual energy of Rochester as by the Byronic pride and passion of Jane herself, not so much by the asocial sexual vibrations between hero and heroine as by the heroine’s refusal to submit to her social destiny” (Gilbert et al, 2000, p.338). Jane is tempted throughout the novel, loosely based as it is on Pilgrim’s Progress, however, adherence to certain principles of Evangelical dogma, combined with the subversion of the gothic, opens the novel not only as an expression of Christianity, but the possibility of other spiritual discourses as we will see later. Christianity as part of a culture represses human desires. Brontë uses the gothic genre in the text to subvert this repression, demonstrating both the positive and negative aspects this repression may cause.
Repression in the form of Victorian Christianity denies sexual passion. The garden scene in Chapter 23 is laden with sexual imagery, such as when Jane sees Rochester strolling through the shrubbery smoking the phallic cigar, “lifting the gooseberry-tree branches to look at the fruit, large as plums, with which they are laden, now taking a ripe cherry from the wall” (Brontë, 1996, p.247). Jane is attracted to Rochester, but denies him, following the cultural norm of repression as dictated by the Evangelical tradition, using self-denial. EvenRochesterhimself experiences the cultural backlash of his upbringing, demonstrated by locking away his wife in an attempt to control both his passion and hers. “That was my Indian Messalina’s attribute: rooted in disgust at it and her restrained me much, even in pleasure. Any enjoyment that bordered or riot seemed to approach me to her and her vices, and I eschewed it” (Brontë, 1996, p.308). Rochestercannot deny his own sexuality however, and though he wishes to repress it, he simply cannot. “Yet I could not live alone, so I tried the companionship of mistresses” (Brontë, 1996, p.308). Rochester pursues his desire for Jane, yet with loathing remembers the mistresses he has already taken, which will culminate in a devastating gothic return of the repressed.
Similarly, Rivers wishes to possess Jane, at the same time denying a sexual need. He first denies Rosamund, due to the fact that he is extremely attracted to her. Lust has no place in the Evangelical marriage bed. Dunn states “St Johnmust make a religious duty of sexual need. He explicitly denies his own and [Jane’s] sexuality, fearing the passion which would make him mortal and vulnerable” (Dunn et als, 1987, p.489). The urge to succumb to what society believes a young woman should want, coupled with the underlying duty of a wife in the marriage bed, is a conflict that Jane herself undergoes. Jane’s self-governance was itself in conflict to the duty of a woman to a man. In this, she is truly a governess, using her spirituality to govern and repress her behaviour. If Jane did accept the offer from Rivers, she would fall victim to the Victorian and male gothic tradition of obliteration. The male gothic contains ghosts that are real, a tragic ending, female as the other, and the annihilation of woman (Williams, 1995, p.103). Had she acceptedRochester’s offer, the results would have been much the same, Jane eventually being cast away like all of his previous mistresses when he tired of them. The female gothic tradition, as Williams describes it, expresses the “terror and rage that women experience within patriarchal social arrangements, especially marriage” (Williams, 1995, p.136). Jane must repress not only her sexual desire for Rochester, but her spiritual desire for Rivers, lest she marry and lose everything, as a woman in Victorian culture would by simply becoming the property of her husband. Jane must moderate her desires if she is to survive, something which Rivers cannot do, and something thatRochester only can achieve after undergoing a symbolic death. Jane’s independence and self-governance is subversive to the patriarchal world in which she lives. The use of gothic imagery such as the ancestral home and the “phantom” prisoner all help Jane to express herself against a patriarchal culture.
The Evangelical Influence
The Evangelical tradition urges its followers to experience deity for themselves. Lamonaca states “Jane demonstrates that women, true to one facet of Evangelical doctrine – must experience God directly, through the heart, despite Evangelical models of femininity and gender which, paradoxically, denied women this very possibility” (Lamonaca, 2002, p.252, online). All those of the faith had the freedom to find their own calling and salvation. However, this could only truly be achieved by a man, for a woman who followed in this faith was subject to her husband’s will. He would determine for himself and his family the correct road to salvation. “Evangelicals championed the liberty of discernment and conscience for all believers, but also prized [sic] a model of marriage in which wives were spiritually subordinate to their husbands [original italics] (Lamonaca, 2002, p.247, online). The paradox lies in the view that everyone should hold God’s law first, however, wives must put their husbands first and foremost. Jane cannot allow herself to put a man before God. “I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me” (Brontë, 1994, p.314). Searle states:
Principled independence refers to Jane Eyre’s determination to follow her understanding of biblical principles and how they should be applied, despite the alternative and often oppressive interpretations given to these by Victorian Society and the people around her (Searle, 2006, p.37, online).
Jane must continue her spiritual bildungsroman, while Rochester’s house falls around him. Once she has completed her spiritual quest, and Rochester has lost his strength and power, then and only then can Jane return to him, both being equal.
Jane’s spiritual bildungsroman is fraught with divine temptations, or seemingly divine temptations from a church that invests authority only in men, and not women. In self-governance, Jane follows the Evangelical law of interpreting deity and experiencing it for herself. Jane is tempted by Rivers’ proposal of marriage; he is a good-looking, upstanding Christian. Lamonaca explains “[b]ecause women’s salvation relied so heavily on men’s understanding of religion and God’s will, conduct books and sermons urged women to be especially careful in their choice of a spouse” (Lamonaca, 2002, p.248, online). Jane’s social status and cultural background urge her to take his offer, both as a woman in this world and to live in happiness in the next. With Rochester, Jane nearly committed idolatry (as well as adultery), for in the Christian faith one should cast their lot with God only, and be answerable only to God. Lamonaca states:
Brontë explores this threat most forcefully in the novel’s insistent concern with idolatry: Jane’s idolatry for Rochester, which temporarily eclipses God, and St John’s arrogant certainty of God’s will … [these] suggest a dangerous conflation between male spiritual mediators and the Divine itself (Lamonaca, 2002, p.248, online).
Not only must Jane beware the temptation of social convention to succumb maritally in order to be a good Christian woman, she also learns that if men are the voice of God, then that voice can speak falsely, selfishly.
The Christian tradition is about salvation. However, salvation requires surrender in Christian thought, surrender to a higher power, for one is born a sinner through Original Sin. Jane does not surrender to either man when they demand it of her. She may briefly fall into traps of deceit, but eventually works her way through. Her friend Helen Burns shows that surrender to fate and destiny can only lead to death, therefore providing Jane with an example of how not to follow the faith. Meacham states “God ruled the world. Yet to accept his Judgement was not to resign oneself to blind destiny” (Meacham, 1963, p.90, online). Jane’s marriage to Rochestermay appear to be a surrender at the end of the novel; however, Rochesteris no longer demanding or manipulating Jane, he is no longer deceiving her for his own self-interest. Jane is not surrendering to Rochester, but partnering with him. She chooses love instead of a life alone with her new wealth – Jane did not have to marry. Religion can be viewed as self damaging in the text, as in the case of Helen Burns, where humility is used to propagate oppression. Yet religion in the text also rejects that view to look for a new spirituality, a more rounded and compassionate spiritually when the female voice is heard and heeded.
Many feminist readings of the text conclude that the male voice is dominant, expressed in the ending where Jane seemingly conforms to the patriarchal society and settles down, marrying and having children. With a strong Christian influence on both society and the text, power is invested in those who share the same sex as their deity. If one is not of the same sex as their deity, they are often viewed as weaker and less empowered; in the case of Christianity, less able to make decisions about their salvation and spirituality without the guidance of a male authority. Christianity is a gendered religion, investing power in men rather than in women. This view is clearly shown in the relationship Jane has with Rivers, who is adamant that he knows what is best for both him and Jane, and for the world at large. Lamonaca demonstrates this, by stating
[t]o complicate matters further, Jane must once again deal with a domineering male character who is firmly convinced of God’s will for them both. Because God is all-knowing, St John seems to believe that he himself, as God’s servant, is likewise omniscient (Lamonaca, 2002, p.250, online).
Jane’s view of religion works on the concept of spirit, and spirit has no gender. “[I]t is my spirit that addresses your spirit, just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal – as we are” (Brontë, 1994, p.251). In saying this toRochester, Jane is voicing a new concept, tempered in the fires of her experience. She will not accept a gendered religion that invests authority only in men. In the Evangelical tradition, self belief equates to self respect. Jane’s belief in herself will not allow her to compromise either her morals, as whenRochesterasks her to become his mistress, or to compromise her view of religious and spiritual equality. She rejects this limited Christian worldview.
However, Jane is torn between conformity, the law of God sanctioned by man, and her own religious progression. Benvenuto states:
Jane is divided between two concepts of salvation, for she is both a child of God, accountable to a morally structured universe, and a free human being with an independent will … [to] remain independent, her will embraces values that run counter to religious duty and social convention, but she never renounces her faith or seeks exile from society (Benvenuto, 1972, p.623, online).
What some critics (such as Penny Boumelha) see as the socialising aspect of Jane’s experiences, I would argue is an attempt to survive in a faith and a society that invests religious authority in men only. Survival and socialisation are two different concepts. Alienation may lead to death. Had she chosen a life alone, she would have lived in poverty, never meeting her relatives or knowing about her fortune, indeed, may have ended up much the same as Lily Bart in Wharton’s House of Mirth. Socialisation implies that there is a choice, that one chooses to move into other circles of society, to improve upon one’s status. Jane never sought to become rich by marriage or to move in higher circles. If Jane had wanted socialisation, she could have just married Rivers. Peters states “[i]n reality, society often used Christianity to justify differences in gender and class by arguing that these differences were God’s appointment” (Peters, 2004, p.61, online). Jane considered herself spiritually equal to those who thought of her as lower class, however, after the inheritance the heiress shows her equality both in the material and the spiritual world. Jane had no need to marry, she simply wished to, enjoying happiness in this life as well as the next. Jane needs the money that the happy ending provided, to show that she is not climbing a social ladder, marrying instead for love, not money. She keeps just enough after sharing her wealth so that she will never have to work again, never being subservient or subordinate to another. She proved that her religious view of the equality of spirit despite gender or money was morally superior to all – the Reeds, Lowood, Rochester and Rivers. Perhaps her self belief did indeed lead to self respect, and the monetary gain she received at the end of the story not simply fantasy or wish fulfilment, but to prove that Jane was equal to men in all respects.
The Pagan Influence
Brontë’s spirituality is quite clear in the texts that discuss the life and times of the author. However, cracks in the façade appear when considering her work, and other influences may have had an impact on her spiritual world view. I would hesitate to call Jane’s spirituality entirely Christian at the end of the novel, after all her supernatural and very un-Christian experiences. Brontë was writing at the end of the Romantic age, where poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge were exploring more pagan, elemental ideas. Kuhn describes this, stating:
[o]ne of the characteristic features of English and Continental Romanticism …[e]specially inEngland, among Classical scholars, antiquarians and learned churchmen [was] was a zealous desire to resurrect divinities long forgotten and to find in them and their exploits a relevance for the modern age (Kuhn, 1956, p.1094, online).
Brontë finds a relevance for the pagan, supernatural elements of her story by contrasting them with the limited Christian Evangelical worldview. The syncretics were very popular at the time, with many syncretic works and references being made in academia (Kuhn, 1956, p.105, online). Much as interest in the occult and other spiritualities in the 19th century enjoyed a renaissance (such as Druidry and Celtic Romanticism), so too did Jane undergo an awakening to other spiritual discourses. As Druidry in Victorian times was heavily influenced by Christianity, and indeed some sects still are today, Jane is also influenced by both Pagan (which contain the supernatural) and Christian worldviews to create a spirituality in which she can be both empowered and empowering. The gothic elements that Brontë incorporated into her novel were not merely to create and reinstate the fantasy, or parroting other popular works by authors such as Radcliffe. They have a much deeper meaning to Jane’s spiritual progress.
Abrams coined the term “natural supernaturalism”. This can be seen as “a tendency to reformulate ideas (the fall, redemption) within the realm of mind and nature alone – the human imagination becoming our means of salvation” (Williams, 1985, p.105). Franklintook this description one step further, and called it supernatural naturalism, wherein spiritual discourses from outside orthodox Christianity are incorporated into a spiritual worldview. The blend of gothic, pagan, and Christian discourses in Jane Eyre results in a book which is both neo-Gothic, Neo-Christian and Neo-Pagan. The pagan influences combine with Christian influences to create Jane’s new religion, to temper the fierce patriarchal overtones of her former Evangelical learnings.
Coleridge, in The Ancient Mariner, uses both the discourse of Christianity and a pagan otherworld, inhabited by the Polar Spirit and others beings to deliver messages and both help and hinder the hero of the tale. Coleridge explains in the marginal notes that the Spirit of the South Pole, obeying the angelic troop, helps to take the boat as far as the line, and together with other spirits foretell more suffering to come (Wu, 1998, p.538). The Mariner also changes his worldview after the moon comes out (Wu, 1998, p.535). This is similar to Jane’s supernatural experiences, where she received aid from otherworldly sources.
Helen Burns first voices this other world to Jane, who until then had only experienced it in the red room but never fully understood it. “Besides this earth, and besides the race of men, there is an invisible world and a kingdom of spirits: the world is round us, for it is everywhere; and those spirits watch us, for they are commissioned to guard us” (Brontë, 1994, p.71). Helen is explaining part of this other world to Jane, who will learn from it, and learn to trust in it as much as she trusts to her Christian morals. Her trust in this supernatural other world grows so confident that after she hears the moon goddess’ voice to flee, she surrenders herself into the arms of the nature spirit.
Nature seemed to be benign and good; I thought she loved me, outcast as I was; and I, who from no man could anticipate only mistrust, rejection, insult, clung to her with filial fondness. To-night, at least, I would be her guest, as I was her child; my mother would lodge me without money and without price (Brontë, 1994, p.320).
Much as the mariner in Coleridge’s work once saw “a thousand slimy things” he now saw only beauty (Wu, 1998, p.535). The female voice is coming through, to counteract the oppressing male Christian voice, whose self interest is evident throughout the text. However, Jane cannot abandon the spirituality that she has known all her life, and feels shame. “I abhorred myself. I had no solace from self-approbation: now even from self-respect. I had injured and wounded – left my master” (Brontë, 1994, p.318). The Evangelical legacy was not so easy to dismiss, and though the term master is here written in lower case, associating it with Rochester, it could also be thought of with regards to her divine master. Within a gendered religion, Jane is uneasy in the paradox of following her own God, and following her earthly master, the personification of her deity on earth as well as a nature Mother Goddess. Jane denies an earthly, male master, seeking refuge in the arms of Mother Nature. Jane rejects the aspect of Evangelical tradition that invests authority only in men, in order to blend her own version of Christianity with more pagan spiritual discourses. By doing so, she integrates a powerful female voice into her religion, to complement the male voice already heard.
In his essay, “Child of Nature, Child of Grace”, Benvenuto explores the two concepts that are presented by Mr Brocklehurst at Lowood. Brocklehurst intends that Julia’s hair should be cut, as her hair is naturally curly, where others, specifically his own daughters, have to use other means to obtain the fashionable hairstyle of the time.
“And why has she, or any other, curled hair? Why, in defiance of every precept and principle of this house, does she conform to the world so openly – here in an evangelical, charitable establishment, as to wear her hair one mass of curls?”
“Julia’s hair curls naturally”,MissTemplereturned, even more quietly.
“Naturally! Yes, but we are not to conform to nature. I wish these girls to be children of Grace” (Brontë, 1994, p.68).
Not only is the hypocrisy of the Evangelical tradition, or more to the point, those with authority in the Church exposed, but it also demonstrates the man-made constructs that Jane seeks to delete from her own vision of spirituality. Benvenuto states:
Nature and grace identify the ethical norms and interpretive principles of behaviour that lay claim to Jane’s self-image. They are the opposite directions she takes in her search for the authority to which her existence will be held answerable (Benvenuto, 1972, p.624, online).
While I agree with Benvenuto’s idea that Jane is searching for moral authority from two different sources, I would not say that they are opposed to each other. Jane blends the supernatural pagan ideas and Christian values to form her own religion, however, Paganism and Christianity are not as far apart as many think. Christianity and Pagan theology were often combined in the 18th and 19th century, often in the form of Druidry inBritain. Shallcrass explains that
18th century revivalists tended to blend classical Druidry with Christianity … [having] links with revolutionary politics, unorthodox Christianity, or Freemasonry. The 19th century saw a remarkable flourishing of scholarship in the field of Celtic Studies, which again provided renewed impetus to the Druid movement (Shallcrass, 2003, online).
Jane is bringing together two spiritual discourses, bridging the gap in between. In this, Jane can be seen as a modifier between the earthly and the spiritual, between the worldly and the next life. Perhaps Jane is not succumbing to socialisation when she states “I resolved in the depth of my heart, that I would be most moderate” (Brontë, 1994, p.72). Jane’s resolve to be most moderate, when viewed in a spiritual context, means that she would not be taking too strong a stance on her own worldview, thereby allowing other views to be explored.
After Jane resolves to be most moderate, she receives the first of many mysterious summons that lead her life onto different paths. Jane seeks inspiration in finding a new path for herself, far from Thornfield, and draws back the curtains in her room to look out upon the stars shining in the night sky. She could think of nothing to aid her until she looked out into the night, and then stated that “[a] kind fairy in my absence had surely dropped the required suggestion on my pillow” (Brontë, 1994, p.88). The supernatural is making itself now known to her, to aid her in her life’s quest when other faiths may fall short on direction. Paganism, defined as religious paths that are not part of the Abrahamic tradition, can incorporate other religious doctrines to form a blended discourse. Christianity, however, with its one God, cannot. Christianity in the forms of Brocklehurst and Rivers is likened to stone pillars and columns, unchanging, unmalleable. Brocklehurst is a “black column which had frowned on me so ominously from the hearthrug ofGateshead” (Brontë, 1994, p.64) and Rivers, “[h]ad he been a statue instead of a man, he could not have been easier” (Brontë, 1994, p.341).
If Jane is a modifier, then indeed the two main men in her life can be viewed as the extremes that lie to either side. In this respect, we can seeRochesterrepresenting the child of nature, where Rivers represents the child of grace. Benvenuto explains that “[c]hildren of nature seek salvation from the law within them, which is their capacity for happiness now. Children of grace seek salvation from their portion of the law governing all, which is their promise of happiness hereafter” (Benvenuto, 1972, p.624, online). Jane receives happiness in her lifetime, as well as the promise of happiness in the afterlife through the choices she makes, and the morals and spirituality she lives by. Jane learns to balance worldviews, learning from multiple spiritual discourses, so that she can be happy both in this life and the next.
Jane’s guiding moral authorities, a Christian Father God and a Pagan Mother Goddess constitute a supernatural, divine parenthood for the orphaned Jane. She heeds both, and in doing so succeeds in both worlds. Boumelha’s argument, that after Jane comes begging at the Rivers’ door “begins Jane’s full incorporation into patriarchal society … [i]n short, thereafter begins the fullest sense of the providential narrative, the story dispensed by Our Father, in which the woman comes to know her place, her origin, her family, her marriage, inherits the earth” (Boumelha, 1990, p.137) can now be seen as not fully considering the supernatural authorities that help govern Jane’s morals. Had this only been the story of Our Father, Jane would not have denied Rivers. However, Jane’s super natural influences strengthen herself to go against the masochistic tendencies that both Rivers and Rochester display and promise Jane in their future life together. The moon goddess urged her daughter to leave Rochester.
‘My daughter, flee temptation.’
‘Mother, I will’ (Brontë, 1994, p.316).
Jane did, and survived with her virtue intact. That previous experience with the feminine may have contributed to Jane’s denial of Rivers’ offer of marriage. Rivers, a man of strong faith and spirituality in the community, was a very eligible bachelor for both this life and for happiness in the next. Jane is sorely tempted to conform to the spiritual and social ideals of Victorian society, however, the hypocrisy she had seen at Lowood, combined with Rochester’s selfishness and her own newly awakened powers as she attained greater self-awareness, enabled her to go against what patriarchal society expected of her. “I broke from St John, who had followed, and would have detained me. It was my time to assume ascendancy. My powers [original italics] were in play and in force” (Brontë, 1994, p.415). Jane learns to find her own voice through a blend of Christian and Pagan ideas in a subversive gothic setting.
Men are the voice of the Father God, yet men are fallible. WhenRochesterproposes to Jane in the garden, he attempts to use social convention and religious authority to back him up (Lamonaca, 2002, p.249, online). However, that falseness, that abuse of power is enough to anger the female voice, who must speak out against such manipulation. The voice of the female, the Mother Goddess, is seen in the lightning that destroys the tree under which the marriage proposal was made. The supernatural mother is striking out against the hypocrisy shown by men corrupting the words of the divine law. The Mother Goddess is not opposed to the Father God; they work together to rear the orphaned Jane. Jane is the link between the pagan and the Christian discourse, the modifier of the two religions. She is neither fully Christian nor fully Pagan, she compromises the two spiritualities to form her own. The female deity never works against the male, but with him, to show the way to a more balanced religion with equality for all. It is not the Father God, especially the loving, merciful God of the New Testament and his son who dictate inequality in society. It is the interpretation of the words of the Bible by men that make it so.
The female voice, expressed in the storm wind, is in itself a warning, for whenRochesterdeclares his intention (for his own self-interest using deceit) “[a] waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut” (Brontë, 1994, p.252). After Jane accepts his deceitful offer, the night begins to show its displeasure at her choice.
But what had befallen the night? The moon was not yet set, and we were all in shadow; I could scarcely see my master’s face, near as I was. And what ailed the chestnut tree? it writhed and groaned; while wind roared in the laurel walk, and came sweeping over us (Brontë, 1994, p.251).
Jane is so beguiled by her new “master”, her future husband, that she listens not to the warnings of herself and of the pagan super natural Mother Goddess. Jane’s voice is not allowed to utter her heart’s entirety, its love for her new master, for to do so would admit such weakness that the partnership would never have been able to achieve the equality that she had so vehemently described before, where spirits were equal before God. Very likely, had the weather not turned foul, they would have shown their love physically for each other in the garden, committing sin. The natural forces at play were not only warnings of deceit, but also of temptation.
“We must go in”, said Mr Rochester. “The weather changes.”
And so, thought I, could I with you. I should have said so, perhaps, but livid, vivid spark leapt out of a cloud at which I was looking, and there was a crash, and a close rattling peal; and I thought only of hiding my dazzled eyes amongst Mr Rochester’s shoulder (Brontë, 1994, p.254).
Jane is not allowed to voice her consent, not allowed to become Milton’s Eve, much as she desires to at that moment. Jane can only see Rochesterthen, shown in her willingness to turn from the storm to hide her eyes in his comforting embrace. The hypocritical and false voice of God through a corrupted man (Rochester) is drowned out by the storm before Jane travels down a road from which there can be no return. Boumelha states “[t]he mothering moon of myth and the mothering earth of nature cannot fulfil the most minimal of needs of the woman as a fully social being, and this fantasised matriarchal world has no power within the world of social organisation that is necessary for survival” (Boumelha, 1990, p.137). I would argue that the matriarchal, supernatural world does have power in the real world, the world of social class and Victorian politics. She warns Jane when that woman’s most Victorian power and symbol of all that is good is in danger – her virtue. In order to survive, not socialise, she needed to keep it intact.
This blending of pagan themes and Christian doctrine is not as strange as it may first appear. Jane’s supernatural parents are never working against each other with respect to their orphaned child, but working together to help her through her trials and tribulations. In the late eighteenth century there was a resurgence of old pagan traditions, blended with Christian doctrine, in the form of Druidry.
In 1781, a carpenter, Henry Hurle, created a new association known as the Ancient Order of Druids (A.O.D.) at the King’s Arms Tavern inPoland Street,London. This new neo-Druidic branch came to enjoy a considerable expansion throughout the world because, on the philosophical level, it established itself in the Judeo-Christian sphere by placing the Bible upon the altar of its closed temples (Carr-Gomm et als, 1996, p.108).
This Druidic order split, and in 1833 inLondonthe United Ancient Order of Druids was founded. A blending of mythologies provided a space for those not content with the Christian or pagan worldview. Romanticism helped this blending of spiritualities by creating a revived interest in mythology. Many Romantic works, especially poetry, were influenced by the supernatural, and may have led Brontë to consider her divine parents to the orphaned Jane as working together for the benefit of their child. This syncretic energy helped Jane to overcome the obstacles and temptations along her spiritual journey. Brontë may have been aware of the growing pagan trends, as well as the influence of the supernatural in gothic literature and Romantic poetry that was still popular at the time.
Evidence of other spiritual discourses can be found in early 19th literature, to which Brontë would have had access. Brontë seems to share some religious ideas with writers such as Keats and Shelley. Both Keats and Shelley were strong admirers of the work of Leigh Hunt, who expressed displeasure and unease with the Christian faith, much as Jane does not fully accept her Evangelical doctrine by incorporating other non-Christian elements into her spiritual worldview. Hutton states:
[Hunt] … wished to formulate an alternative, and surrounded himself with writers and artists who either argued for a reform of the Christian faith or for its rejection…In his search for supplements and alternatives, however, he at times deployed the language of nostalgia for paganism with an unusually radical edge (Hutton, 1999, p.23).
Brontë uses imagery and symbolism such as the concept of Mother Earth and the Moon Goddess to show the inadequacy in the Christian faith when it came to survival. Had her heroine not incorporated other spiritual discourses, she would not have been warned or saved from dangers, much less temptations. This is where Jane Eyre differs from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress – where Bunyan had Christianity save the protagonist from danger and temptation time and again, Brontë veers from that narrative to incorporate a female divine, supernatural force that aids her heroine in her time of need. Keats and Shelley, following on after Hunt, incorporated this female deity into their work. “From his earliest compositions, Keats felt himself to be enchanted by the moon, and identified it with a goddess” (Hutton, 1999, p.33). This female presence, a return of the Goddess can be found in many poetic works, expounding on the virtues of the pagan Druid Revival. Thormahlen states:
[o]ne factor that lends further support to the idea of the Romantics’ religious influence on the Brontës is found in that allegiance to the truth which both Coleridge and Charlotte Brontë expressed in such uncompromising terms … [t]he fact that men like Coleridge, Hare and Maurice disliked clerical controversy and looked for points on which religious people could agree does not mean that they did not feel strongly about the needs and standing of the Established Church. So did Charlotte Brontë … Brontë heroines tend to receive Divine assistance in the open air, far away from God’s own houses. No leading Brontë character experiences a moment of Heaven sent illumination attending church; indeed, all three sisters satirise unsatisfactory services (Thormahlen, 1999, p.68).
Blake utters his disapproval of the patriarchal faith and the suppression of Mother Nature in his work, “Songs of Experience”, where the Earth’s Answer to the call of the bard reflects this unease with the Father God of the Old Testament and instead seeks love as the life force:
Prisoned on wat’ry shore
Starry Jealousy does keep my den;
Cold and hoar,
I hear the father of the ancient men.
Selfish father of men!
Cruel, jealous, selfish fear!
Chained in night
The virgins of youth and morning bear?
Break this heavy chain
That does freeze my bones around!-
That free love with bondage bound (Wu, 1999, p.71)
Many Druidic and Pagan images existed in Romantic writings, which Brontë may have used as inspiration for her moon goddess/female deity counterpoint thusly creating a new religion for her heroine.
One issue that I feel I must raise relates to the Druidic influences of the late 18th and early 19th century. This time period is often coined as The Celtic Twilight, where a renaissance of spiritual values was taking place against Enlightenment rationalism. However, this movement, called the Druid Revival, consisted mainly of men, in fact, most of the orders were entirely male, and excluded women (who previously, and afterwards, were on par with their male counterparts). This was beginning to change in the mid eighteenth century. Hutton states: “In 1832 the lodge at Dartford in Kent opened its own Druid School, for children of both sexes aged seven to thirteen” (Hutton, 2007, p.142.) Hutton further states that “Women had been barred… but in 1853 some at Leigh, in the Manchester cotton-manufacturing area, founded a Noble Order of Female Druids” (Hutton, 2007, p.147). The patriarchal Victorian ideas concerning religion were slowly beginning to change. Brontë may have been aware of these Druidic movements, and applied them to her heroine, for the ideals and theology of the religion were not gender specific; only its practitioners at the time were.
A New Modified Religion
Had Jane not incorporated other spiritual discourses into her personal faith, she most likely would have died, or at the very least, suffered terribly. Evangelical teachings are strict on self-subjugation, to kill desire. Glen states “the evangelical discipline was aimed, above all, at the subjugation of the self: not merely that denial of the flesh which might, in extreme cases, lead to actual death, as at Lowood, but also, and most centrally, the mortification of worldly impulses and desires” (Glen, 2002, p.75). If Jane had relented and married Rivers, she surely would have died, as he did. However, her Christian faith, blended with supernatural warnings saved her from Thornfield’s doom, where she may have perished in the fire, after committing a sin and losing her virtue. This could very well be the reasoning behind the controversial ending of the novel, with the mentioning of Rivers as a last thought. It demonstrates how if Jane had followed in his example, she would have died. This could be likened to a faith that does not adapt, that is too rigid and disallowing for change. Open-mindedness in spirituality may be its only saving grace.
Jane’s role as a spiritual modifier is attributed to the inclusion of nature into her spiritual discourse. Nature, and super nature, is what saves her time and time again. At Thornfield, the image of the Moon Mother tells her daughter to flee. At a similar, crucial moment with Rivers, the moon is present once again. When Jane hears Rochester, she is about to succumb to Rivers, and be claimed by him, as “he pressed his hand firmer on my head, as if he claimed me” (Brontë, 1996, p.414). Jane flees the patriarchal confines of the house to hear the voice better, running out into the garden. Her blended spirituality saves her by, “the work of nature… [s]he was roused, and did – no miracle – but her best” (Brontë, 1996, p. 414). After this incident, it seems Jane will never fall back into either temptation the two men offer her, of earthly passion nor of Christian salvation. The moon is also out when she first catches Rochesterin the garden, casting Rochester’s shadow across the path which Jane must take if she is to make her escape from his first romantic overtures. Jane finds her own voice, her own religion, as she states “I prayed in my own way – a different way to St John’s, but effective in its own fashion” (Brontë, 1996, p.415). Jane has moderated her passion for both a sexual relationship with Rochester, and a spiritual relationship with Rivers through her own merged spiritualities. Brontë’s heroine does not succumb to patriarchy, and demonstrating with the controversial ending the best possible outcome for Jane in Victorian society. Dunn discusses the ending, stating that “[b]y the device of an ending, bourgeois initiative and genteel settlement, sober rationality and Romantic passion, spiritual equality and social distinction, the actively affirmative and the patiently deferential self, can be merged into mythical unity (Dunn et als, 1987, p.498). This may not be the ideal for feminist readers today, but succinctly provides the happy ending in a Victorian age, incorporating the best of all worlds.
The supernatural mother is both comforting and unsettling to Jane. She rests within the arms of Mother Nature while she flees Thornfield, and yet, it was on that moonlit night, on a Monday (or Moonday), nearmidnight, that Jane receivesRochester’s mysterious summons. The Moon Mother is usually present for these episodes, where Jane either finds comfort or faces a new fear. Jane is not always comfortable with the mother figure. When she taps into the maternal, supernatural force, fully realising the potential of the supernatural, it is “too awful and inexplicable to be communicated or discussed” (Brontë, 1996, p.442). The social and cultural norms, with a Father God figure at their head, much like the father in the Victorian family, patterned as it was on Christian faith, would likewise be unsettled by this equally powerful, mysterious supernatural gothic force. Anolik describes it as thus:
Since the image of the mother unsettles Biblical culture whose identity depends on the stabilizing [sic] category of a paternal God, the mother is disgustedly objected from the texts of that culture. Yet given the subversive tendencies of the Gothic, the representations of the abjection of the maternal in the Gothic text can be just as readily be seen as a challenge to the reader to consider the abjection of the mother as a dangerous cultural movement to exile a figure that unsettles cultural categories (Anolik, 2003, p.30, online).
The Father’s house, the representation of wealth and status being the home, is burned down by a female force that adheres not to the law of the Father that will not be repressed. Seen in this light, Jane has not been socialised by the happy marriage ending, as the patriarchal house of the father has fallen. Jane is no longer a servant or a dependant of any kind. She is a power and a force still to be reckoned with, a power of love which she brings to Rochester, and which is also his salvation. Bertha can be seen to be a representation of the other Mother Nature, when her fury and passion is unleashed, a return of the repressed. The Classical female deities were often dual in nature, such as the Greek goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the goddess of war. The maternal mother can be vengeful and destructive, much like the God of the Old Testament. The moon goddess can be destructive as well as loving, as when Jane experiences Bertha’s (a lunatic) first attack onRochester, which happened on a night of the full moon (Brontë, 1996, p.205). Though Jane incorporates the female into her spiritual discourse through her experiences, she is still frightened of it.
Jane’s female rolemodels have been Christian mostly, such as Helen Burns or Miss Temple. We have seen how Mother Nature provides Jane with another view to her spiritual doctrine. Bertha Mason also represents a female rolemodel for Jane, repressed by patriarchy that is supported by Christian doctrine which turns it monstrous. This repression of the female leads to a destruction of everything around it. Where Christian virtue has Jane keeping to strict modes of conduct with her earthly master,Rochester, Bertha can be seen as Jane’s double, and also the female voice of all women, including Mother Nature, whose passion is held unchecked by religious doctrine. Gilbert and Gubar explain it thus:-
Bertha has functioned as Jane’s dark double throughout the governess’s [sic] stay at Thornfield. Specifically, every one of Bertha’s appearances – or, more accurately, her manifestations – has been associated with an experience or repression of anger on Jane’s part (Gilbert et al, 2000, p.360).
These expressions of anger and repression stem from a patriarchy which invests authority in men, where women have no voice, and no true understanding of God save from what can be learned from their husbands, which as exampled in the text, are completely fallible. With regard to the Mother Goddess, Bertha is indeed a lunatic, a being affected by the moon, by a female deity figure whose voice must be heard. Jane modifies the female force, after experiencing it in both forms of Helen and Bertha. Helen’s passivity and Bertha’s aggression are moderated by Jane; she finds the middle way through both extremes. Thornfield is burned to the ground, the old ancestral halls of patriarchy now ash, andRochestermoves to Ferndean, deep within the heart of a wood, enclosed by a semi circle of trees much like a Druid grove. Out of the ashes a new life may now be born. Helen and Bertha are now dead, where Jane has survived by compromising between the two extremes. The ruination of the ancestral Thornfield creates a level ground on which Jane and Rochester can build a life together as equals.
Just as Jane learns from her two supernatural parents, so too does she learn from Rochester and Rivers, moderating the two in her own character. The two men are as dissimilar to each other as her supernatural parents, and yet they share many things in common, not in the least an attraction, or longing, for Jane, either as a mate or as a partner. Rochesterseeks a mate, Rivers a partner. One desires her physical form over the spiritual, the other the opposite. Benvenuto likensRochesterto the representation of nature, and Rivers to grace (Benvenuto, 1972, p.629, online). Indeed, I would agree that Rochester is a representation of this physical life, of happiness in the present, and that Rivers represents the Christian ideal of happiness in the next life.
Jane is the modifier of the two worlds, the daughter of Mother Nature and the Christian Father. As such, she is attracted to both men, much in the same way that they are attracted to her. Yet Jane bridges the gap between the two men, between the two worlds and the two worldviews. Jane longs for both men, and for both spiritualities. Indeed, the word spirit rises continuously in the text, relating not only to ghosts, but mainly to nature spirits, the soul and Christianity. Franklin states
Jane herself is referred to variously as troubled spirit, ministrant spirit, and brave spirit … [d]uring her physical, social and symbolic passage through the wilderness after the flight fromRochester, Jane undergoes what might be described as a conversion experience, which culminates in the realization [sic]: The Source of Life was also the Saviour of Spirits (Franklin, 1995, p.456).
The famous speech that Jane delivers to Rochester can refer not only to the supernatural spirits that walk the earth from beyond the grave, but also as a Christian concept of the soul as spirit as well as a pagan, elemental view of spirits in nature. “It is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal – as we are” (Brontë, 1996, p.456). Rochester seeks happiness in this life, while the next life holds promise for Rivers. Both worldviews have much to teach Jane, and in her learning, Jane rejects both, because they are absolutes. After rejecting both, Jane completes her role as modifier. Rivers is unmovable, as Jane notices when he turns from the moon, the representation of another spiritual discourse, of the female and compassion. Rivers had been thinking about Jane by the light of the moon, the feminine symbol of spirituality for Jane, her supernatural mother. “I hope we are still friends’, was the unmoved reply; while he still watched the rising of the moon which he had been contemplating as I approached” (Brontë, 1996, p.407). Yet in the face of Jane’s refusal, and his continued persistence in trying to change her mind and impose his own worldview, he “now quite turned from the moon and faced me” (Brontë, 1996, p.407). This turning away shows Jane that there is no swaying the man, that he rejects the feminine nature. In fact the moon is mentioned in almost half of the chapters of the novel. Nockolds explores this further, stating that “we can recognize [sic] up to seven full moons… [that] generally mark episodes of particular emotional intensity” (Nockolds, 2004, p.157, online). Half the novel incorporates a female voice in the form of the lunar mother making an appearance.
Rochester, in contrast toSt John, is able to incorporate other spiritual doctrines into his life. After the ruin of the house of patriarchy, his mind is open to more than earthly pleasures now. He repented, and came to know both God and the feminine spirit. It is no coincidence thatRochesterpleaded to God on Monday, Moonday.
I was in my own room and sitting by the window, which was open; it soothed me to feel the balmy night-air; though I could see no stars and only by a vague luminous haze knew the presence of the moon … Oh how I longed for thee both with soul and flesh! I asked of God, at once in anguish and humility, if I had not been long enough desolate, afflicted, tormented and troubled, and might not soon taste bliss and peace once more (Brontë, 1996, p.442).
Rochesterblends the supernatural spiritual discourse as Jane does, and sees not only the spiritual feminine, but welcomes it through the open window (though it is only through a haze due to his temporary blindness). He thanks the masculine deity as well, blending spiritual discourses much as Jane did. “I thank my Maker that, in the midst of judgement, He has remembered mercy. I humbly entreat my Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer life than I have done hitherto” (Brontë, 1996, p.442). Just who he is referring to when he mentions his Redeemer, God or Jane, is left poignantly open. By blending grace and nature, Rochester proves that he is the perfect companion for Jane.
Jane’s fire would have been quelled by Rivers; Thornfield’s fire savesRochester, for he burns in this life, not in the hereafter. Fire is the great leveller with regard to Thornfield and patriarchy. Jane indeed learns much from both men, and finds the middle ground of the two spiritual discourses in a gothic setting which allows for the supernatural to create her own religion. Jane’s role as modifier is made clear, when she receives Rivers’ last letter. “The last letter I received from him drew from my eyes human tears and yet filled my heart with divine joy” (Brontë, 1996, p.445). Helen and Bertha, other extremes, are also now dead. Brontë warns the reader through Jane what can result from a single-minded worldview. It is only through compromise and moderation of worldviews that one can find the happily ever after.
By exploring the gothic, Evangelical and Pagan discourses that can be found in the text, a new spiritual discourse evolves that combines the elements of all three which aid the heroine throughout her struggles. Through the use of gothic conventions which allow for the supernatural as well the subversion of patriarchy, Jane has a relationship not only with the Christian Father God, but also the Pagan Mother Goddess. She follows the morals and law dictated by one, and the warnings and solace given by the other respectively, to progress along her spiritual journey. Jane has come to terms with the Evangelical paradox of placing God before man, as she discovers her idolatry and makes amends, learning from the experience so that it may never happen again. Brontë have been influenced by contemporary pagan trends occurring in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century literature and publicity. The incorporation of pagan influences results in a female voice to counterbalance the male voice throughout the text in a religious and spiritual context. This pagan element does not oppose the Christian discourse, however. Much as Druidry in the Victorian era in many sects incorporated Christianity, so too does Jane blend spiritual discourses to form her own. Jane learns, in the Evangelical way of experience and self interpretation, that to be moderate is the best path on her spiritual bildungsroman. Influenced by characters such as Helen Burns and Bertha, Rochester and Rivers, Jane has found a moderation in all that help her on her journey. This blended spiritual discourse aids the heroine to overcome all obstacles, to which she may have succumbed had she followed a single religious discourse, whether it is Pagan or Christian. Examples of the single minded discourse reflected by other various characters in the text reinforce the argument that a blended spiritual discourse is the way forward to achieving both happiness in this life and the next. Jane is a survivor, not a social climber. Where others have died or suffered ruin, Jane has triumphed by following her own spiritual path to offer a new worldview that is more suitable to her character.
Word Count: 9,992
This dissertation was written because I felt that the spiritual readings in Jane Eyre lacked an understanding of other religious discourses. While there have been many feminist and Christian readings of the text, there were very few that dealt with the pagan element that is to be found which complements the Christian worldview. Being a Pagan and a Druid myself, I saw correlations in the text to modern day Druidry, which is based upon what is known from the Celtic Renaissance which occurred in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, combined with archaeological evidence and an experiential tradition of nature. In fact, the domain of archaeology was founded by a Druid, William Stukely, who studiedStonehenge (OBOD, Bardic Grade, Gwers Four, 2001, p.69). Here was an opportunity to incorporate information gained from my Druidic studies with my university degree.
There was a wealth of information on the text itself, both in the university library and on online academic resources such as JSTOR and EBSCO. There was difficulty in obtaining any texts that dealt with religion, however, from the University Campus Suffolk library. They had just undergone a re-ordering of their books, and new arrangements were being made in the library itself. Books that the system said were on the shelf were not, and so I turned to the library staff for help. They too were puzzled as to where the texts had gone, until someone realised that the books must have been sent to the Interfaith Resource centre, a couple of buildings over. Why the Interfaith Centre needed books on Victorian religion still mystifies me, yet I was able to track down at least a few of the texts dealing with Christianity in the Victorian era. When I queried why these texts should be in the new Interfaith Centre, the library staff informed me to raise a complaint myself, as they could not (or would not) talk to the Interfaith staff about it (and vice versa). At that point I simply threw up my hands in disgust and decided to concentrate on my dissertation.
However, both the library and the Interfaith Centre lacked knowledge of Pagan spiritual discourses, and so I turned to sources from the era in which Jane Eyre was written to find examples that would defend my position regarding pagan influences. Poetry from Blake, Keats and Coleridge offered some clues. Yet I still lacked the information regarding a pagan historical account of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Being a member of The Druid Network, an online organisation which aims “to be a source of information and inspiration about the modern Druid tradition, Druidic practice and the history of Druidry” (TDN, online, homepage opening statement) I was able to ask around for information relating to that period in history. I was lent books by two members on the history of modern paganism and a history of the Druids of the British Isles; sources from Professor Ronald Hutton (also a Druid) which have been invaluable (see Bibliography). From there I was able to find information on 18th and 19th century Druidry and pagan practices. There were a few essays on JSTOR that nearly delved into Paganism, however, they still shied away, leaving a gap in academic research of the text. The most significant essay was Benvenuto’s “The Child of Nature, the Child of Grace, and the Unresolved Conflict of Jane Eyre”, which dealt with the two aspects of Jane’s character, yet never realising the pagan similarities and connotations. Benvenuto comes close to my point by stating that Jane is both a child of nature and a child of grace, yet the child of nature is not equated to a growing interest and a renaissance in paganism at the time of the novel’s writing. The lack of academic writings on paganism was a real challenge for me. There are lots of pages on the internet about Paganism, however, their sources and referencing are almost non-existent. To find Hutton’s academic work as a real boon to this work, and I do not think it could have been done without it. Professor Hutton continues his research into paganism, and I look forward to his next books. I also look forward to researching Paganism and Druidry in particular, on my own after I have completed this degree. I have written a few articles on Druidry for TDN already, and with this new knowledge behind me, anticipate more articles to come. The research skills that I have gained from this degree will be invaluable to my further writing.
Gilbert and Gubar’s Madwoman in the Attic was another invaluable source. In the essay, “A Dialogue of the Self and Soul: Plain Jane’s Progress” they nearly reach a similar point to mine, yet do not see a correlation between the text and Paganism. They conclude that the ending with Ferndean is a new life, almost a new religion, where Jane and Rochester are equal, and where nature will nurture and care for them; a new Eden. Boumelha’s argument of socialisation in her essay, “Ginger Nuts” proved to me to be more of a problem, as it could be argued that Jane’s actions were indeed to help her rise up in social status. I had previously written an essay defending Boumhela’s argument that Jane’s progress was socialisation, not rebellion, and yet after rereading it with a pagan eye saw an argument that could be raised against this reading. However, the point that I made in the dissertation was to argue that it was not socialisation, but survival in a patriarchal world. Socialisation implies that there is a choice, that Jane wanted to move up in the world. While she may have had some issues with the lower classes, it cannot be said that Jane married for money in the end. She had her own wealth, she did not have to marry Rochester, yet she did anyway, for love. The inherited wealth allows this argument merit, for otherwise the happy marriage ending could definitely be seen as socialisation. Where Boumelha argues that Jane is rewarded by Divine Providence every time she does a good deed in a Christian sense, including the monetary reward at the end, I feel that this allows Jane to be an equal with Rochester, financially, spiritually and emotionally. The argument that I feel I would like to have made clearer is that Jane no longer is a servant, and will never have to work as one again. She is now on a level playing field with Rochester, his equal in all respects.
An exploration of the gothic genre with reference to Christianity was essential for the work, as the theory of the return of the repressed is in relation to dominant Western culture, a Christian culture. The Evangelical tradition requires one to repress their desires, and so by studying the gothic genre, I was able to uncover the use of gothic motifs to subvert this repression, to say what could not be said, to symbolise deeper cultural issues. The original idea for my dissertation was to look at the gothic in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, yet, after some thought, I decided upon religion and Jane Eyre as, after rereading it with an eye to pagan references, I felt it offered more scope with which to implement my ideas. I felt that the pagan influences, combined with the gothic genre and Christian discourse in the text would be a much more suitable (and more enjoyable) project to work on. Sadly, that meant that a lot of the summer’s research was for naught, yet a few gems remained that I could use for my new dissertation idea (and other texts dealing with the gothic could be passed onto a fellow classmate, who was doing an exploration of the gothic in Jane Eyre).
I feel that my findings may bring a new light to the text, to show that paganism was enjoying a renaissance itself during a time where a Christian worldview dominated, and which, especially for women, was not sufficient to meet their spiritual needs. The absence of a female deity figure in Christianity led to a longing for a maternal entity, a nurturing Mother, a Mother in her Nature and a Mother Nature. The female was equated to the natural world in a response to the rational, analytical, male Enlightenment “discoveries”. Whilst the Enlightenment asked the right questions regarding theology (and Christianity), it still did not offer up any answers save that there was no God, an answer which for a lot of people was not sufficient. One may not believe in an omniscient God living in Heaven, a god no one could see, however, nature was (and still is) all around us, a force that is visible and contactable. Anthropomorphised as a woman, this force counteracts a male deity figure in a questioning world. This is demonstrated in the text with the Moon Mother/Mother Nature figure that helps Jane time and again. Jane’s spiritual search includes both a female and a male religious theology. A more moderate and compassionate worldview was created for Jane, which benefited her all throughout the text.
This dissertation is the result of a year’s work and has uncovered for me many aspects of the text that previous readings did not provide, as well as providing me with more academic research into my own spirituality. After looking into the historicity of modern paganism, it has led me to question my own faith. Much of modern day paganism stems from two figures from the 1950’s – Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols. Gardner was a Witch, or Wiccan, Nichols a Druid. Gardner, unlike Nichols, claimed learning from an ancestral source, stating that it was the “Old Religion”. Until recent times, this has not been disproven, however, Hutton thoroughly explores Gardner’s life, and establishes that much of what he claimed to be true was, in fact, made up. Gardner’s publicised works have had a huge impact on Paganism today, and yet many people are not aware that the main source of modern Paganism was, in fact, a charlatan in many respects. It has led me to question everything that relates to Gardner, who really is the author behind much of the symbolism and even the ideas behind the pagan calendar. The combined works of Gardner and Nichols essentially created modern paganism. As more and more academic writings on paganism are being published, what was previously considered truth or fact is not only being questioned, but being blown apart. This is both fascinating and difficult on a personal level, yet for me establishes the fact that modern paganism, and Druidry in particular, is an evolving tradition. It has begun a new journey for me in Druidry, an academic as well as a spiritual and experiential one, which I believe will provide a well rounded base for my own spirituality.
This dissertation has made me much more aware of the various readings of Jane Eyre, and also allowing me to look into the historicity of the text as well when researching the religious influences, both pagan and Christian. The English degree has really allowed me to view a text with critical and theoretical approaches, such as an historical approach, a feminist approach, even an autobiographical approach (which to me is a very interesting approach to Jane Eyre). I feel that it has really enhanced my literary and communication skills, allowing me to form an argument and defend it as clearly (and hopefully eloquently) as possible. This should enable me to further my career as a freelance writer. Writing this dissertation has also been a true test of independent work, of seeking out resources, using time management effectively, and setting goals and standards for myself. My research skills have improved greatly over the last three years, especially regarding the validity of internet resources. It has enabled me to use independent thought and judgement, and to really focus upon my writing as never before. Reading and re-reading Jane Eyre has also made me aware of how a text can reflect social and cultural changes in a certain time. The module “The Victorian Age”, where I first studied the text, was crucial in helping me understand it further, not only as a text, but as a reflection of the time. Bringing history into the text, with the module being split between two categories, literature and history, made all the difference. It also, for me, made the texts studied a lot more interesting. I understand that the module is no longer running in this fashion, which I think is a real shame. Reading a lot of secondary material allowed me the opportunity to hone my skills in evaluating critical readings of a text, sometimes providing me with new ideas to further develop, other times supporting my analysis. It has allowed me to reflect upon my own work and methods, and most importantly, to be critical of my work in order to improve it.
Word Count: 2,161
Such as Shelley’s Frankenstein and the loss of the mother, the evolution of science and industrialisation – see Baldick’s In Frankenstein’s Shadow for a more in depth analysis
Again, see Baldick’s In Frankenstein’s Shadow for an in depth discussion on the return of the repressed.
 Druidry, and paganism in general, contain within their spiritual discourse deities that are both male and female. Celtic Reconstructionists would worship and honour female Irish deities such as Brigit , Danu and Morrigan, Welsh Reconstructionists Rhiannon and Cerridwen. The phases of the moon were celebrated by Druids, the moon seen as a lunar deity, as well as following a solar calendar in which their festivals were celebrated. For more details on Druidry, see Ronald Hutton’s The Druids and The Triumph of the Moon in the bibliography. Luna was a pagan moon goddess often referred to, in conjunction with Pan. “Throughout that century [between 1840 and 1940] they [Pan and Luna] had been joint sovereigns” (Hutton, 1999, p.50). The argument that I make is that Brontë uses a Christian God instead of a Pagan Pan to complement her moon/mother Goddess image.
For an interesting lecture on Gnosticism which shows the two spiritual discourses of Christianity and Paganism as sharing similar ideas, see the Druid Podcast entitled “Death and Rebirth in the Gnostic Tradition” by Tim Freke, found at www.druidcast.libsyn.com
The bard is often associated with Druidry and being one of the levels of druidic training known as Bard, Ovate and Druid in Classical Druidry.