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Free Barron's Booknotes-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER 35

St. John delays his departure for a week. He hopes to get Jane to change her mind, but his coldness and air of repressed hostility only make Jane more determined to refuse him. St. John's attitude is that by refusing to marry him, Jane has not only rejected him personally but refused to do God's will. When St. John repeats his proposal of marriage, Jane recognizes, in a flash of insight, that not only does St. John not love her-he subconsciously wants to make her suffer, as he has suffered in giving up everything to follow what he believes is God's will. "You almost hate me," Jane tells him accusingly. "If I were to marry you, you would kill me. You are killing me now."

St. John still does not give up, and Jane repeats her offer to go to India as his assistant.

Although St. John doesn't even pretend to be in love with Jane, he is insulted by her answer. Turning "lividly pale," he remarks that he isn't interested in having a "female curate" (assistant minister). He wants a wife. However, he offers to arrange for Jane to go out to India with a married couple.

Jane says no. She only considered going to India in the first place out of a "sisterly" desire to help St. John, and she reminds him that she feels no duty to go with strangers, especially since she feels sure she wouldn't live long in that tropical climate. St. John can't believe that this is the real reason. He accuses her of still harboring a "lawless and unconsecrated" love for Mr. Rochester. Jane admits that this is so.


Nowadays, St. John's goal of converting India to the Church of England would be somewhat controversial. (Many people still think of missionary work as a noble calling; others feel there's something condescending about it-that it means you don't think other cultures are as good as your own.) You won't find this debate in Jane Eyre, but the novel does pose a more general question: Which is more important, changing the world or concentrating on personal relationships? In this section of the story, Jane seems to be torn between the two goals. But notice that as soon as St. John is out of the picture she has no interest in missionary work at all. Some readers point out that her decisions at critical points like this show that Jane Eyre, for all the talk about her passionate nature, is a very conventional heroine who can't imagine happiness except in the role of a traditional wife. Others defend Jane for insisting on finding a way of life that is right for her. There's no right solution to this debate, but your opinion one way or the other will influence your judgment of Jane.

Diana Rivers approves of Jane's decision, reminding Jane that St. John would be sure to work her as hard as he works himself and saying that Jane is much too good a person to be "grilled alive in Calcutta."

However, that same evening, as St. John leads Jane, Diana and Mary in family prayers, Jane almost changes her mind. Although he's cold and almost repellent in his personal dealing with her, St. John is an inspiring speaker on the subject of religion. Listening to him pray, Jane is impressed by his sincerity and his zealous desire to do God's work. "I was tempted to cease struggling with him," Jane tells us, "to rush down the torrent of his will into the gulf of his existence, and there lose my own."

By this time Diana and Mary have gone to bed, leaving Jane and St. John alone. Jane tells St. John that she could decide now to marry him, but only if she can be sure that it's truly God's will. "Show me, show me the path!" she cries out to heaven.

In her over-excited state, Jane thinks she hears a voice in the distance. It is not God's voice, however, but that of Rochester calling her name in anguish. "Where are you?" Jane calls out. But the only answer is the sound of her own voice echoing off the hills.

Suddenly, Jane feels strong again. Very much in control, she sends St. John home and retires to her room to pray alone-not under St. John's influence this time, but on her own.

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