Jane Eyre has opened up the possibilities for comparisons to many literary works, and I just can’t help but to introduce the possibility of one more ( sorry if it’s overkill at this point, it’s just so tempting!). In the last few chapters I felt that there were illusions not only to the popular Beauty and the Beast but to biblical stories as well, so let’s jump right in.
“His form was of the same strong and stalwart contour as ever: his port was still erect, his hair was still raven-black… But in his countenance I saw a change: that looked desperate and brooding- that remind me of some wronged and fettered wild beast or bird… The caged eagle, whose gold-ringed eyes cruelty has extinguished, might look as looked that sightless Samson” ( 367). From the first time Jane describes Mr. Rochester, we know that he isn’t attractive and that she doesn’t find him as such: when she encounters him on the road before she knows who he is, “the frown, the roughness of the traveler” (97) sets her at ease, and then when he asks her a few pages later (112) if she thinks he’s handsome, she bluntly responds with a no. Thus, the character of the beast living in this mansion ( we are told through Jane’s observations that there are many rooms left vacant but all perfectly clean due to the upkeep of Mrs. Fairfax) arises, with Jane as the beauty, as Belle, not because she is beautiful but because she is so small and delicate.
Mr. Rochester as the beast and Jane as the beauty come into full effect in the excerpt that I’ve highlighted for us. It is here that Mr. Rochester is as ugly as he ever was and where Jane is reminded of her slightness when her host describes the person with whom Mr. Rochester fell in love as “She was a little small thing, they say, almost like a child ” (363). Here she is like Belle returning to the beast after she has left him only to discover that he has been wounded and is dying from heartbreak. Jane’s first sighting of Thornfield Hall after a year speaks not only of a physical fire having ravaged it, but also reflects the mental state of its master and how he had given up all of his vitality even before the fire took away his eyesight. When Jane returns to Mr. Rochester, he is at the peak of his “beast” like countenance, but this is when Jane is able to give in to her love for him and marry him ( of course it’s also because Bertha is dead and Jane has her own money, but let’s not focus on the semantics for a minute here) much like how Belle admits her love for the the beast after he has reached his wits end. Alas, once she does so, the beast turns into a prince. For Jane her reality isn’t as instantaneous as this, but the experience for the reader is. Within a few pages we’re told that after two years of marriage, Mr. Rochester’s sight improved in one eye: his bestiality has lessened.
“Sightless Samson” is also mentioned in that verse. A biblical narrative that I’m sure most, if not all, of your are familiar with, surrounds Samson and Delilah who defeated him. Samson had grown out his hair ( he was a “Nazir”, someone who doesn’t cut his hair out of a symbolic gesture of disowning physical pleasures and committing oneself to God) and was known for his strength ( he rips a lion in half at one point). Delilah, his temptress, finds out that without his hair his strength would wilt, and so she cuts his hair because she is obviously playing for the enemy’s team. Jane compares Mr. Rochester to this “caged eagle” without his eyesight, equating his vision to that of Samson’s hair. It is here that I want to open up the floor to you guys because I couldn’t figure this out: why was Mr. Rochester’s vision so important to be compared to that of Samson’s hair? That’s a pretty drastic claim to make. What do you guys propose is the significance behind this? **
I think it’s also interesting how Jane is obviously not comparing herself to Delilah, but yet how the reader can’t help but to feel the similarities that Jane indeed intimates to. Yes, she didn’t set the fire to the house as Bertha did, an act that would undoubtedly make her the Delilah of the story, but it was because of her running away that Mr. Rochester entered into a depression. One could argue that if Jane would have stayed at Thornfield, none of those events would have transpired. Jane was the Delilah to the mental deterioration of Mr. Rochester; Bertha was the Delilah to the physical.
“If Saul could have had you for his David, the evil spirit would have been exorcised without the aid of the harp” ( 373). Another biblical narrative is from the book of Samuel and describes how David playing the harp was the only thing that could heal David. Again, Jane is described as the figure who comes in to save the day. Again she is the Belle to the beast.
Bringing all of these into their actual placement in the novel, it makes me like Jane less ( yes, I said it). She, as the writer and narrator, ends the book with all of these example that portray her as the savior and that portray the long path that the unhappy orphan has traveled since she started the novel. Of course, as a reader who has been invested in her growth since the start and waiting for her to be saved at last, I’m happy that she’s at the end of her trials and tribulations. But at the same time, I wish that she didn’t have to end the book on this ‘high and mighty’ tone; it was too happily ever after for me, but even more than that: it was as if she was preaching. The last words of the book are about St John, not even about the supposed fairy tale happiness, making me picture Jane as characterizing herself and deliberately painting herself as a do-gooder. I ended the book on a troubled note, overwhelmed with all of these blatant “look at how good of a person I am” details, rather than being able to enjoy that she was finally able to marry her true love. How did everyone else feel about the tone on which Jane chooses to end her story on?
** St John seems to fit the technical “Nazir” description more than Mr. Rochester, which is again why I’m confused by this biblical allusion. St John believes that love comes after your religious obligation, whereas Mr. Rochester is much the opposite and believes in his right to true love despite having a wife already.