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Jane Eyre

January 7, 2011

Everyone seems to have read this already, but this was my first time. As a kid I was never into 18th century literature like a lot of other little Mormon girls (i.e. my sister), and then as I got older I felt like I had waited too long and had become too familiar with the story to find it enjoyable. Luckily, reading isn’t always about what’s enjoyable and I felt like correcting this huge gap in my education. And, of course, a lot of 18th century stuff is really really enjoyable. Jane Eyre was one of those don’t-put-it-down-if-you-can-help-it reads for me.

And since everyone knows the plot I want to focus on the religious details in the novel that I found really fascinating. Yes, Jane Eyre is primarily a romance with underpinnings of the importance of independence in a relationship, but underneath it all is a strong religious undertone. And it seemed to me to be a slightly anti-religious undertone. Not that Jane is anti-spirituality, but one of the consequences of being an independent woman is finding your own way within organized religion, too. She’s interested in what is right and moral, she’s even interested in securing her place in Heaven, but she never wants to achieve that through following a certain mode of Christianity. Her salvation is never dependent on rituals and rules she must follow. Instead, she cuts her own path that she then rigidly obeys.

This theme is first introduced in the boarding school segments. Because of their instructor’s unwieldy adherence to Christian rules and rituals, the girls are essentially starved and humiliated. Religion offers a strict guideline that the headmaster cannot deviate from, despite it being, clearly, the wrong approach. Jane never abandons proprietary religious rules completely, but she does examine them from her own perspective and deems whether they are appropriate for her specific situation. I loved this in the scenes with St. John (who is THE WORST! I hate that guy!) when she struggles to hold her own in arguments with such a persuasive guy. Ultimately, she sticks to her guns. Stick to your guns, not to your religion. That’s the most interesting theme of this book, I think.

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