Last Jane Eyre post. I promise. But I love this section of text. Jane has discovered that she is the heiress to a sizeable fortune in informs her cousin, St. John, that it is her intention to quit teaching in the one-room schoolhouse where she has been employed for several months.
While St. John does not object to Jane’s decision to quit, he asks her what she intends to do in place of teaching, which she performs at an exceptionally high level.
Jane declares her intention to become what amounts to an unmarried housewife.
And St. John does not approve.
Nor do I.
I have never looked favorably upon the desire to become a housewife. While I think that the ability to stay home with one’s children before they enter school is a wonderful thing (and I wish that I could have done it myself), I agree with this jackass-of-a-man when he tells Jane to “look a little higher than domestic endearments and household joys” and “turn to profit the talents which God has committed to your keeping.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Later on, St. John will ask… no, demand that Jane marry him, and not because he loves her but because she is well suited for missionary work. He requires a wife with such talents as he intends on to bring Christianity to the sub-continent.
His proposal is a joke and he acts like a blind fool, but on the subject of housewifery, I find his words quite compelling.
“You give it up very gleefully,” said he; “I don’t quite understand your light-heartedness, because I cannot tell what employment you propose to yourself as a substitute for the one you are relinquishing. What aim, what purpose, what ambition in life have you now?”
“My first aim will be to clean down (do you comprehend the full force of the expression?)—to clean down Moor House from chamber to cellar; my next to rub it up with bees-wax, oil, and an indefinite number of cloths, till it glitters again; my third, to arrange every chair, table, bed, carpet, with mathematical precision; afterwards I shall go near to ruin you in coals and peat to keep up good fires in every room; and lastly, the two days preceding that on which your sisters are expected will be devoted by Hannah and me to such a beating of eggs, sorting of currants, grating of spices, compounding of Christmas cakes, chopping up of materials for mince-pies, and solemnising of other culinary rites, as words can convey but an inadequate notion of to the uninitiated like you. My purpose, in short, is to have all things in an absolutely perfect state of readiness for Diana and Mary before next Thursday; and my ambition is to give them a beau-ideal of a welcome when they come.”
St. John smiled slightly: still he was dissatisfied.
“It is all very well for the present,” said he; “but seriously, I trust that when the first flush of vivacity is over, you will look a little higher than domestic endearments and household joys.”
“The best things the world has!” I interrupted.
“No, Jane, no: this world is not the scene of fruition; do not attempt to make it so: nor of rest; do not turn slothful.”
“I mean, on the contrary, to be busy.”
“Jane, I excuse you for the present: two months’ grace I allow you for the full enjoyment of your new position, and for pleasing yourself with this late-found charm of relationship; but then, I hope you will begin to look beyond Moor House and Morton, and sisterly society, and the selfish calm and sensual comfort of civilised affluence. I hope your energies will then once more trouble you with their strength.”
I looked at him with surprise. “St. John,” I said, “I think you are almost wicked to talk so. I am disposed to be as content as a queen, and you try to stir me up to restlessness! To what end?”
“To the end of turning to profit the talents which God has committed to your keeping; and of which He will surely one day demand a strict account. Jane, I shall watch you closely and anxiously—I warn you of that. And try to restrain the disproportionate fervour with which you throw yourself into commonplace home pleasures. Don’t cling so tenaciously to ties of the flesh; save your constancy and ardour for an adequate cause; forbear to waste them on trite transient objects. Do you hear, Jane?”