Thoughts on Jane Eyre

September 14, 2013

I watched the 2011 version of the movie Jane Eyre yesterday. I’ve read the book twice. The movie is necessarily more visually evocative than the book, and it has much less dialogue, but I think the director did a good job of leaving in enough of the original dialogue to get across Jane’s unflinchingly honest manner. Thankfully the screenwriter did not insult the viewer by abridging the dialogue into that of a 21st century romance. Therefore, the movie helped me see the same themes as the book in a more compact form. These are my thoughts on that theme:

A passion, in itself, is not wrong. God must have given it to us to do something with.

Jane Eyre is a good picture of passion gone right. Of course, it’s refined and edited to make art, but still, the basic idea isn’t wrong.

There is a lot of religious hypocrisy, religious legalism and religious dryness in Jane Eyre, and Charlotte Brontë sets all that over against a passion (Jane’s) that doesn’t quite know what it is yet, but is above all honest, truthful and has integrity. As for those who conquer their feelings just for the sake of doing so, like St. John, who would want to marry as a matter of religious business? One might enjoy doing business (religious or otherwise) with one’s husband as one aspect of life together, but it wouldn’t be the reason for the marriage in the first place.

Yet, though passionate, Jane is principled. She has strong feelings, yet she doesn’t give in to temptation, or even invite it (well, maybe she occasionally gives a slight appearance of doing so in the movie). She knows what she feels, yet she holds back for the thing those feelings were meant for.

That is, of course, marriage, but more than that, it’s a reflection of Christ’s love. Charlotte Brontë never says this, but when you contrast Jane’s passion with the religious hypocrisy in the book, the idea stands. Christ went through hell for us. It’s right passion, even though I doubt we ever really understand it in this life. Marriage, as intended by God, is some kind of reflection of it.

(You don’t get this in Wuthering Heights, by the way. That’s more a picture of idolatry, with all its miseries.)

Much of life on earth doesn’t live up to the art of Jane Eyre, of course. But Jane’s intensity, in itself and rightly used, is good. In fact, embodied in a well-written novel (and a well-made movie), it gets across a certain point about our souls’ deep need for communion better than a more theological sort of book might.

Anyway, that was just my thought this evening and I wanted to share it with someone.



July 24, 2013

“But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,” said Frodo.

Sam looked at him unhappily. “It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin–to the bitter end.  And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself.  But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word.  We are your friends, Frodo.”

The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

Wise words

July 15, 2013

“I told Bilbo that such rings were better left unused; but he resented it, and soon got angry. There was little else that I could do. I could not take it from him without doing greater harm; and I had no right to do so anyway. I could only watch and wait.”

–Gandalf, from The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Exclusion and Embrace

June 3, 2013

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.”

–Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace

Thinking about this quote, which I have seen many times, in regards to a situation close to my heart.

“The effort now sometimes made to lead a civilized life on reason alone, rejecting the emotions, the attempt of the monarchic head to rule the plebeian belly without the aid of the aristocracy in the thorax, would have seemed to Plato a rash venture; like what motorists call ‘driving on your brakes.’ It is hard on the brakes and leads to skids.  On the psychological level the individual triad depends on the doctrine of the triple soul.”

C.S. Lewis, “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages,” from Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature

I don’t think that as many people nowadays make an express decision to live by the values of the Enlightenment or by strict materialism.  But the practical tendency to live by trusting in academics, finances, and other numbers as though they could override our relationships or our emotions sometimes has the same effect.  We become effective Stoics, until we start our long skid.  In some ways the unscientific medievals were wiser than we are.

On forgiveness

April 4, 2013

“A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses [for our sins] comes from not really believing in [forgiveness], from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favor. But that is not forgiveness at all. Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.

When it comes to a question of our forgiving other people…forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. (This doesn’t mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart – every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.) The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think.One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine per cent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one per cent of guilt that is left over. To excuse, what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – How can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.” We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.”

–“On Forgiveness,” from The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis

“…I began to trace this idea darkly through all the enormous thoughts of our theology. The idea was that which I had outlined touching the optimist and the pessimist; that we want not an amalgam or compromise, but both things at the top of their energy; love and wrath both burning. Here I shall only trace it in relation to ethics. But I need not remind the reader that the idea of this combination is indeed central in orthodox theology. For orthodox theology has specially insisted that Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God.”

–G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This reminds me of the oft-used quote at Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC:

“You are more sinful than you could dare imagine and more accepted than you could ever dare hope.”