The Faces of Christianity in Jane Eyre: Mr Rochester

Mr Rochester probably doesn’t need an introduction. He’s the love of Jane Eyre and the master of Thornfield Hall. Out of all the Christian ‘faces’ depicted in the book, I was a bit surprised that at the end, Mr Rochester is my favourite. Mr Brocklehurst is a hypocrite. St John Rivers is a block of ice. I don’t even like Helen Burns very much. If you read my previous posts, you’ll know that I had plenty criticism for all of them. But against Mr Rochester, I have very little to say.

The faith element in Mr Rochester’s character comes through only at the very end of the book. Before this point, Mr Rochester was a proud and indifferent man. Fate was against him and he fought back stubbornly. He was battered inside but he refused to surrender. Then the fatal blow fell: he lost his Jane, he lost his home, he lost his eyes and physical strength. He used to gallop on a fast horse and flirt with elegant women. Now he sits in the darkness with only an old couple as companion. What will he do now? How will he react? It’s important to know what Rochester was like before in order to realise the change in his words and thoughts and thus be truly amazed.

Here’s the most telling monologue. Jane was lost and now found – not only alive and well, she’s independent and wealthy. As he once again held Jane’s hand, disabled and lowly, Rochester said this:

“Jane! you think me, I daresay, an irreligious dog: but my heart swells with gratitude to the beneficent God of this earth just now. He sees not as man sees, but far clearer: judges not as man judges, but far more wisely. I did wrong: I would have sullied my innocent flower—breathed guilt on its purity: the Omnipotent snatched it from me. I, in my stiff-necked rebellion, almost cursed the dispensation: instead of bending to the decree, I defied it. Divine justice pursued its course; disasters came thick on me: I was forced to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. His chastisements are mighty; and one smote me which has humbled me for ever. You know I was proud of my strength: but what is it now, when I must give it over to foreign guidance, as a child does its weakness? Of late, Jane—only—only of late—I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere.” (p435-6)*

I would have never expected to hear these words from the proud Rochester. I’m going to focus on this monologue and pick a few themes out.

“my heart swells with gratitude”

He’s first of all, thankful. Of course he’s thankful that Jane has come back to him, but notice he begins to offer humble prayers before that happens. He now thinks back to all that happened: losing Jane, his home and health, he “began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom” and recognises them as a consequence of divine judgement. But what amazes me is that he can say that God has judged wisely. I’m sure it was painful and despairing at the time but he can now look back and think God’s actions were wise and he’s thankful for them.

“I did wrong”

His way of life was certainly not ‘religious’ before he met Jane and his attempt to marry Jane in deceit is hardly a right thing to do. Looking at his behaviours, people can easily judge him as ‘an irreligious dog’, as he believes Jane thinks him. Maybe he thinks that himself.

Immediately after expressing his gratitude, he admits that he did wrong, especially for trying to marry Jane in deceit and trying to keep her as a mistress. A person needs to be both humble and courageous to be able to say, I did wrong.

When he says, “I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker”, I can almost see him as the tax collector in Luke 18.13**, saying “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“His chastisements are mighty”

He, being a complete master of his own life for the first forty years, with wealth and privilege, recognises he’s small and God’s big, sovereign and powerful.

He calls the disasters “dispensation”, “divine justice”, and “chastisements”. Dispensation means ‘divine providence’. Chastisement means ‘discipline’. I had to check the text a few times to be sure of this: he does not use the word ‘punishment’. God is not Mr Brocklehurst: he does not threaten his children with the horror of hell and punishment with every wrong they commit. But “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. (Hebrews 12.6)” And Rochester understands the heart of God accurately. He see the disasters as just and they are a father’s discipline to his son.

“a purer life henceforth”

So Mr Rochester realises he’s done wrong, he’s been rebellious towards God. He wishes to come back to his Maker in remorse and thankfulness. He starts to pray, “very brief prayers they were, but very sincere,” perhaps a bit childlike. But God is our Father, how else could you come into his presence? A few lines later, we read this scene:

“He put me off his knee, rose, and reverently lifting his hat from his brow, and bending his sightless eyes to the earth, he stood in mute devotion. Only the last words of the worship were audible. ‘I thank my Maker, that, in the midst of judgment, he has remembered mercy. I humbly entreat my Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer life than I have done hitherto!'”

He thanks God for his mercy in bringing Jane back into his life, says sorry for what he’s done and asks God to help him live a new life. That’s the model definition of ‘repentance’: to admit I have gone down the wrong path and ask God’s help to turn around and start anew.

In comparison to Mr Brocklehurst, Helen Burns and St John Rivers, Mr Rochester hasn’t done much ‘good deeds’: he hasn’t sheltered and educated orphans, he hasn’t explicitly said ‘I love God and God loves me’, and he hasn’t vowed to preach to the heathens. He’s like a shy little child, who’s suddenly discovered the joy of knowing his heavenly Father and being at peace with the LORD God. For this reason I do like Mr Rochester very much.

______________________

If you’re interested, here are the other three blog posts in this series on Mr BrocklehurstHelen Burns and St John Rivers.

*All the page numbers are from the Oxford World’s Classic edition.

**I include all the Bible chapter and verse numbers for your reference, so you can check them out if you like.

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