Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre has often been classified as both a story of woman in love and a story of a woman’s fight to express her own personality in love. These two conceptions of the novel’s purpose are correct. However, while Jane Eyre is both of these things, as M.H. Scargill points out in his reevaluation of the book, it is also something more. In addition to its simple theme of being in love, it is also a record of the eternal conflict between flesh and spirit, and one that is not solved until all passion is spent (121).
Therefore, not only did Brontë add the new quality of “the voice of a woman who speaks with perfect frankness about herself,” but Jane Eyre is also remarkable for its sheer intensity and profound symbolism, seen through the book’s varied cast of characters, including Mr. Rochester (temptation), Bertha Mason (love madness), and St. John Rivers (asceticism).
Jane undergoes a momentous struggle to pass through the first kind of love that is consumed by violent, physical anguish and then comes out unscathed and transcends into the calmer, nobler love that the reader finds her and Rochester in at the end, with “all passion spent” (124).
While many critics have criticized Jane Eyre for its lack of probability (a common feature favoured by the English novel during the time), Scargill decamps from their school of thought. In his opinion, Jane Eyre has enlarged our idea of fiction by making it poetry, while at the same time solving the Victorian dilemma of how to love accordingly.
Are you just as troubled by love and its inspiring of unbridled passion as the Victorians were? Perhaps, reading more of Scargill’s article “‘All Passion Spent’: A Revaluation of Jane Eyre” will quiet your fears and inspire you to act as Jane does, in addition to seeing the true brilliance behind Brontë’s novel as a whole.
Scargill’s article was published in the University of Toronto Quarterly in 1950.