Jane Eyre

by: Charlotte Brontë

St. John Rivers

He was young—perhaps from twenty-eight to thirty—tall, slender; his face riveted the eye; it was like a Greek face, very pure in outline; quite a straight, classic nose; quite an Athenian mouth and chin…He might well be a little shocked at the irregularity of my lineaments, his own being so harmonious. His eyes were large and blue, with brown lashes; his high forehead, colorless as ivory, was partially streaked over by careless locks of fair hair.

Jane’s description of St. John’s physical features hints at the “pure” and “straight” character of his personality. St. John has rescued Jane from his doorstep, taking her in when she was in a desperate state. Her detailed analysis of his facial appearance noticeably contrasts with the physical description of the dark and brooding Mr. Rochester.

This is a gentle delineation, is it not, reader? Yet he whom it describes scarcely impressed one with the idea of a gentle, a yielding, an impressible, or even of a placid nature. Quiescent as he now sat, there was something about his nostril, his mouth, his brow, which, to my perceptions, indicated elements within either restless, or hard, or eager.

Jane is describing St. John with a focus more on his personality than appearance. She identifies that while St. John has some gentle physical features, she quickly recognizes the restlessness and hardness in his nature. Even though Jane recently met St. John, she sees that he has an unyielding, cold side to him.

But besides his frequent absences, there was another barrier to friendship with him; he seemed of a reserved, an abstracted, and even a brooding nature. Zealous in his ministerial labors, blameless in his life and habits, he yet did not appear to enjoy that mental serenity, that inward content, which should be the reward of every sincere Christian and practical philanthropist.

In Chapter 30, Jane gains a deeper understanding of St. John’s personality. Her description of the “barrier to friendship” with St. John contrasts with her account of her relationship with St. John’s two sisters Diana and Mary. While the sisters are warm and welcoming, Jane explains how St. John is difficult to befriend because he is so reserved and never enjoys any pleasure in life.

“A year ago, I was myself intensely miserable, because I thought I had made a mistake in entering the ministry; its uniform duties wearied me to death. I burned for the more active life of the world—for the more exciting toils of a literary career—for the destiny of an artist, author, orator; anything rather than that of a priest…After a season of darkness and struggling, light broke and relief fell; my cramped existence all at once spread out to a plain without bounds—my powers heard a call from Heaven to rise…God had an errand for me;[”]

St. John is explaining to Jane why he decided to become a missionary. He describes how at first, he was miserable with his path because he longed for a more exciting life than that of a priest. He continues to explain that after some struggling, he came to accept his role as a missionary, saying that he heard God calling him, revealing his strong sense of religious duty.

“While something in me,” he went on, “is acutely sensible to her charms, something else is as deeply impressed with her defects; they are such that she could sympathize in nothing I aspired to; cooperate in nothing I undertook. Rosamond a sufferer, a laborer, a female apostle? Rosamond a missionary’s wife? No!”

In Chapter 32, St. John responds to Jane’s suggestion that he marry Rosamond Oliver. St. John states that while he likes Rosamond, he recognizes that their relationship would fail because she would not fit as a missionary’s wife. This explanation reveals not only St. John’s practical side, but also his complete devotion to his missionary work. St. John does not look for love in a wife, but rather someone who could benefit his work.

St. John was a good man; but I began to feel he had spoken truth of himself when he said he was hard and cold. The humanities and amenities of life had no attraction for him…he would never rest, nor approve of others resting round him…I comprehended, all at once, that he would hardly make a good husband; that it would be a trying thing to be his wife.

Jane is reflecting on and confirming her earlier speculation that St. John’s character is hard and cold. She views St. John as a good man, but he is a man who never enjoys life, rests, or approves of others feeling content. Jane’s reflection comes after St. John disapprovingly ignores Jane’s improvements at Moor House. Jane comments on St. John’s dismissal of her accomplishments with a wry observation that he is not good husband material, adding to the novel’s theme of what makes a good marriage.

I found him a very patient, very forbearing, and yet an exacting master; he expected me to do a great deal, and when I fulfilled his expectations he, in his own way, fully testified his approbation. By degrees, he acquired a certain influence over me that took away my liberty of mind…I did not love my servitude; I wished, many a time, he had continued to neglect me.

Jane comes into wealth and begins life at Moor House with her cousins, St. John, Diana, and Mary. Here, Jane describes St. John after he demands that she become his student and learn Hindostanee. Jane reveals that St. John is patient but also demanding. She shows self-awareness that St. John controls her with high expectations and praise.

“God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal but mental endowments they have given you; you are formed for labor, not love. A missionary’s wife you must—shall be. You shall be mine; I claim you—not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service.”

In this statement to Jane, St. John shows himself as cold and demanding. By “claiming” Jane and insisting that she be a missionary’s wife, he completely disregards Jane’s feelings or opinion and reduces her to a sort of object or tool rather than a human being. He goes as far as to say Jane is meant for only work, not love. While St. John’s intentions are not mean-spirited, his neglect of Jane’s feelings is shocking and narrow-minded. He cannot think beyond his own missionary service, a trait not lost on Jane.

“Refuse to be my wife, and you limit yourself forever to a track of selfish ease and barren obscurity.”

St. John delivers a cold and tyrannical statement to Jane after she continues to decline his proposal to be his missionary wife. In this line, he almost threatens Jane, showing no flexibility or sympathy towards her. Ironically, Jane will refute his prediction of ease and obscurity. By choosing to devote herself to Mr. Rochester, Jane chooses an active, fruitful life on a global stage.”

As to St. John Rivers…He entered on the path he had marked for himself; he pursues it still. A more resolute, indefatigable pioneer never wrought amid rocks and dangers. …His is the ambition of the high master-spirit, which aims to fill a place in the first rank of those who are redeemed from the earth—who stand without fault before the throne of God…No fear of death will darken St. John’s last hour.

In the final pages of the novel, Jane ruminates on the lives of the people most important to her. Here, Jane shares St. John’s path. As expected, St. John’s faith and missionary work consume his life, but despite his demanding character, he stands “without fault” before God. St. John is happy because he took the path best suited for him just as Jane did by reuniting with Mr. Rochester.