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Transcending the triangle of desire: eros and the "fulfillment of love" in Middlemarch and Jane Eyre.

"'We may at least have the comfort of speaking to each other without disguise. Since I must go away--since we must always be divided--you may think of me as one on the brink of the grave.' ... and so they stood, with their hands clasped, like two children, looking out on the storm.... Then they turned their faces towards each other...."

--Middlemarch, 621

"I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even mortal flesh--it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal--as we are."

--Jane Eyre, 216

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."

--John 12:24

IN Love Declared, Denis de Rougemont traces what he considers to be the central topos of the Western literary tradition since the twelfth century, the opposition of passionate desire (eros) to the "fulfillment of love" in marriage. (1) According to this antithetical formulation, the eroticism of the former takes the shape of either of two recurring extreme "myths of love," the "mystical passion" of Tristan or the "impious license" of Don Juan, "the one beyond, the other this side of marriage ..." (11). De Rougemont writes: "our arts have always retreated before [marriage]. ... our literatures, impotent to create the myth of ideal marriage, have lived on its diseases" (161). But two works of Victorian literature, George Eliot's Middlemarch and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, apparently succeed in pushing beyond de Rougemont's proposed mythic opposition of committed love and erotic passion. Both novels considered here conclude with depictions of the impassioned lovers overcoming all obstacles to enter into the happy and fruitful (each with a child) estate of matrimony.

However, in the following exploration of the relationships of Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw in Middlemarch (which will involve consideration of Dorothea's prior marriage to Edward Casaubon), and of Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre (with reference to Jane's response to St. John River's marriage proposal), I have chosen to view the characters through the "structural model" of triangulated positions of desire as presented in Rend Girard's Deceit, Desire, and the Novel. This lens problematizes the relationships, for Girard insists on "the necessity of dying" to self (312) which involves the "[r]epudiation of a human mediator and renunciation of deviated transcendency" (312) in order for lovers to escape the imprisonment of triangular desire. I will provide further elucidation of this statement below. Applying the insights of both Girard and de Rougemont (to whom Girard makes several references) in an analysis of each novelistic pairing, I conclude that de Rougemont's pronouncement is indeed applicable to Middlemarch, despite its "happily ever after" ending, but that Jane Eyre transcends it.

Girard posits his "systematic metaphor," the triangle of desire, as a recurring, universal pattern of the "mystery" of human relations conveyed in the medium of the novel. He asserts that desire is inter-subjective, arising from the influence of a mediator upon the desiring subject, hence the three points of the triangle: subject, mediator, and object (2). "Imitative desire" is aroused in the subject, intentionally or not, by the mediator who possesses, desires, or provides access to the object of desire. Girard further denotes two possible modes of triangular desire depicted in literature: external mediation, in which the mediator is distant and inaccessible to the subject but whose influence is foregrounded in the work; and internal mediation, in which the mediator is within the realm of the subject, thus becoming a rival or obstacle, but whose influence is veiled within the novel to create an illusion of subjective, autonomous desire (9-11). The archetypal example of the first mode is Don Quixote, who blatantly patterns himself after the ideal chivalric knight, as a disciple of courtly love. Regarding the second mode, Girard offers many literary examples such as the vaniteux, the vain subject who clings to the romantic notion of "originality" of desire, but whose actions reveal, "... not the generous impulse of being truly prepared to give itself[,] but rather the tormented recourse of vanity at bay, the centrifugal movement of an ego powerless to desire by itself" (15). In this case, it is clear that "[t]he impulse toward the object is ultimately an impulse toward the mediator [and is] checked by the mediator himself since he desires, or perhaps possesses, the object" (10).

Girard asserts that until the human mediator is repudiated and the "deviated transcendency" renounced (312) there can be no experience of freedom, no "true self" (to borrow from de Rougemont) with which to love another. This term, "deviated transcendency," indicates that the subject must die to his or her metaphysical obsession to be divine (307), the "Promethean pride" (300) to subsume or assume the place of the mediator of desire who is "secretly revered" as a "demigod" 13). As Girard asserts, "[r]epudiation of the mediator implies renunciation of divinity, and this means renouncing pride" (294). De Rougemont describes the process this way:
 To sacrifice oneself for the beloved other person is.... to
 sacrifice oneself as one is to oneself as one is to become by the
 action of spirit. It is to rejoin the immortal form of one's being
 through a transfiguring "death to oneself." (207)


Once this renouncement takes place, the static object of desire in the triangulated relationship is freed to be a subject-object, another "true self" who loves in return.

There are many configurations of triangular desire portrayed in Middlemarch, but I will narrow the focus to relationships formed by Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw. The first instance of such a relationship is that between Dorothea and Casaubon, which depicts Dorothea as the desiring subject, and her object as "something she yearned for by which her life might be filled with action at once rational and ardent" (95). Her desire is described as a "soul-hunger" (51), an aspiration to "the higher inward life" (46), "to make her life greatly effective" (51) for the good of others. In agreement with the view Lydgate holds of Dorothea up until the time that he is the recipient of her help (588), we can recognize the "Quixotic" pattern here. In the place of chivalric tales, the foregrounded mediation of Dorothea's desire is spiritual literature such as Pascal's Pensees and the writings of Jeremy Taylor which she knows "by heart" (34). When it becomes clear that the learned Casaubon wishes to marry her, she feels "almost as if a winged messenger had suddenly stood beside her" (51) to deliver her from her vocation-less state of "too much space" and "vague ideals" (Blake 32). Thus, Casaubon replaces literature as an embodied mediator, one whom she yet perceives to be an "affable archangel" (Eliot 246). Dorothea imagines herself being educated under his sublime tutelage, while assisting him "in his great works," so that in knowing "the truth by the same light as great men have seen it" she would then "know what to do" (51). In turn, this arrangement in which Casaubon is perceived in such a light suits his clearly egoistic desire to be highly regarded--even worshipped (186)--for his intellect and authorship, about which he is obsessed and keenly sensitive.

This triangular arrangement of desire, however, soon proves antithetical to happy marriage, though it need not be fatal. "With all her yearning to know what was afar from her and to be widely benignant," the narrator tells us, "[Dorothea] ha[s] ardour enough for what [is] near" (183) if Casaubon would entrust himself to her. But he communicates nothing of his heart, nor "delights in what she [is]" and feels (385), instead simply "demand[ing] much interest and labour from her" (385). She becomes "a peculiar possession" he jealously holds onto with a "cold grasp" (401). He marries her with the utilitarian idea of making her his "helpmate" in the place of a "hired secretary" (241). He has burdened his research project, "The Key to all Mythologies," with enormous metaphysical weight:
 ... he was resolute in being a man of honour according to the code;
 he would be unimpeachable by any recognised opinion. In conduct
 these ends had been attained; but the difficulty of making his Key
 to all Mythologies unimpeachable weighed like lead upon his mind.
 (243)


The deviated transcendency of aspiration that his work will be "a copy of himself" to live on after he is gone (which exists alongside his hopes for a biological "copy" of himself, 242), is noted by the narrator: "... even his religious faith wavered with his wavering trust in his own authorship, and the consolations of the Christian hope in immortality seemed to lean on the immortality of the still unwritten Key to all Mythologies" (243).

Thus his sensitivities are heightened to a pitch, and he suspects her queries are criticisms, echoing his scholarly rival Carp (243, 346) and his own inner fears of failure:
 In Mr. Casaubon's ear, Dorothea's voice gave loud emphatic
 iteration to those muffled suggestions of consciousness which it
 was possible to explain as mere fancy, the illusion of exaggerated
 sensitiveness: always when such suggestions are unmistakably
 repeated from without, they are resisted as cruel and unjust....
 And this cruel outward accuser was there in the shape of a wife....
 (185-6)


She is at once conflated with the rival Carp and, at the same time, is the mediator of the object he longs to possess. Thus she is what Girard identifies as the rival mediator. It is as if, as Dorothea puts it, she were something he had to contend against (245) for his position as one among "the viros nullo aevo perituros"--one who will not pass away (244). When Casaubon's fears are subdued by Dorothea's meek devotion to him, she is reduced to merely an abstracted object, his means to immortality. Even in death, he hopes to control her from the grave by requesting that she carry on his work precisely according to his instructions and will.

At the moment of this request, we are reminded that Dorothea is also guilty of having made of Casaubon an abstraction for her metaphysical desires: "had she not wished to marry him that she might help in his life's labour?--But she had thought the work was to be something greater, which she could serve in devoutly for its own sake" (388, italics mine). She resigns herself to "complete renunciation, transforming all hard conditions into duty" (184). But her former respect (the basis of her acceptance of Casaubon's proposal to marry) has turned to pity verging on open rebellion, and the "divine" mediator who had at one time been so closely identified with her desire is now a fallen--soon to be dead--idol. Yet, despite his toppling, from a position of "deviant transcendency," to use Girard's term, the triangle is not dissolved. Strangely, Dorothea is nonetheless prepared to sacrifice herself to this toppling idol by deciding, in an almost masochistic submission, to say "yes" to his request to carry on the work. Here, in what appears to be a passionless marriage, is an obscure referencing to the Tristan-Isolde myth in which metaphysical desire, like mystical love, leads to the consummation of the self and the other in passionate obliteration. Recognizing that the myth fails to be realized in this instance, as Casaubon is clearly not a Tristan (in fact, quite the opposite), we can still trace the pattern of Isolde in Dorothea. Further, de Rougemont writes that in the Tristan-Isolde arrangement, the lovers' "unhappiness thus originates in a false reciprocity, which disguises a twin narcissism" (qtd. in Girard 108). Both Dorothea and Casaubon are consumed by self-centered desire masked in the appearance of self-sacrificing devotion, Dorothea to Casaubon, and Casaubon to his scholarship. Girard adds that such a relationship is "not abandonment to the Other but an implacable war waged by two rival vanities" (108). Accordingly, the narrator of Middlemarch had earlier reflected on Dorothea's and Casaubon's expectations of marriage, commenting on the "moral stupidity" of "taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves" (193). As the end of Casaubon's life draws near, the narrator assures the reader that the morbid "fellowship" between this husband and wife is the result, not of "the real yoke of marriage" that is committed love, but of the "husband's nature and [Dorothea's] own compassion, only the ideal" (390).

Contemporaneous with this unfulfilled "ideal," and increasing in its significance proportionate to the ideal's demise, is the relationship of desire between Will Ladislaw and Dorothea, first instigated by the mediator, the artist Naumann. Naumann's admiration for Dorothea's beauty and spirit when he sees her in Rome (chapter 19) awakens Will's interest in her, though on their first meeting Will had dismissed her as insignificant (89-90). As neither Will nor the narrator recognizes that Naumann is the catalyst for the "something [that] had happened to him with regard to [Dorothea]" (178), Will is credited for having created the "dramatic collision" autonomously. This is a case of internalized mediation that Girard labels as "romantic." The "romantic" modifier undoubtedly suits Will, who is described by Mr. Brooke as a Shelley-like artist. He is one in search of "genius," with a "receptivity towards all sublime chances" that the universe might hold for him (92-3). Will's very name is, in one sense of the word, synonymous with desire.

There are a number of overt references in the novel to the construction of Dorothea into Will's courtly Lady of "the higher love-poetry ... forever enthroned in his soul" (381), such as Will's dedication to "the remote worship of a woman throned" (198), Dorothea's reference to her "little kingdom" where she is Will's ruler and law-giver (307), and Rosamond's perception of Dorothea's "conquest" of Will (355-6). Will's surname, Ladislaw, aptly reflects this arrangement of fealty to the Lady's law. Thus, a clearly delineated instantiation of the Tristan-Isolde myth emerges. Standing as a rival-obstacle between the lover and the beloved is the jealous husband, King Mark of the myth, Casaubon of the novel. Casaubon is described in unflattering terms by all who know him, and viewed, not only by Will but others also, as a monster (Minotaur, dragon) to which Dorothea has been sacrificed. We follow along with Will's thoughts:
 She must have made some original romance for herself in this
 marriage. And if Mr. Casaubon had been a dragon who had carried her
 off to his lair ... it would have been an unavoidable feat of
 heroism to release her and fall at her feet. But he was something
 more unmanageable than a dragon: he was a benefactor with
 collective society at his back.... (192)


So the reader is pulled into the romantic triangle, desiring along with Will and Dorothea for the fulfillment of their clearly deserved happiness together, though it entail psychological unfaithfulness and destruction of the marriage between Dorothea and Casaubon. Such desire, in both the lovers and in the reader, is only heightened as the distance is increased between the lovers. (2)

In light of what is revealed in the latter part of Will's internal reflection, quoted above, we learn that Casaubon is not only a mediator-rival in terms of Dorothea's affection (to which Will reacts by "pinching" at Dorothea's conceptions of her husband); he is also a mediator-benefactor "with collective society at his back" (192). Of such a case, Girard theorizes that the social, economic or political status of the mediator is conferred upon the object of desire (in this case, Dorothea), and as the subject wishes to identify with that status, the object is the means by which he is able to do so. As we learn of Will's history and his extreme sensitivity to his social standing, it becomes clear that the jealousy and "dislike" he feels toward Casaubon are not only in relation to Dorothea, as we are led to believe through the narration; they are also stirred by Will's indebtedness. We must read between the lines:
 ... [he] felt that his dislike was flourishing at the expense of
 his gratitude.... It was a question whether gratitude which refers
 to what is done for one's self ought not to give way to indignation
 at what is done against another. And Casaubon had done a wrong to
 Dorothea in marrying her. (302)


The confusion of gratitude and indignation indicates an instance of what Girard refers to as ressentiment, a veil being thrown over a subject's bitterness toward the unjust economic hierarchy of society that makes of him an outsider beholden to a benefactor. Will's ressentiment fuels his (unsatisfying) work with Brooke towards social reform, as well as his antipathy for Bulstrode. When Bulstrode's offer of money is angrily rejected, "[n]o one but [Will] then knew how everything connected with the sentiment of his own dignity had an immediate bearing for him on his relation to Dorothea and to Mr. Casaubon's treatment of him" (492).

Further suspicions about the nature of Will's desire for Dorothea are raised by scrutiny of the comparison of their relationship to "crystal that you want to see the light through" (307), in which "Will [can] not bear the thought of any flaw appearing" (380). Can such a fragile thing as crystal survive the rough and tumble of married family life? Does Will truly see Dorothea, rather than just see through her, the living, breathing human, if she is as he thinks of her--"an angel" (191)? The narrator's allusion to the apparent likeness of Will and Dorothea's relation to that between "Dante and Beatrice or Petrarch and Laura" (303) is called into question when we consider what de Rougemont writes concerning the conflation of the Tristan and Don Juan love-myths in Andre Gide's Les Cahiers d'Andre Walter:
 The beloved is ideal: she is "Beatrice," the eternal fiancee, "a
 chosen Lady, immaterially pure." She is, in fact, the Soul, and a
 soul conceived as "adversary" of the flesh. But the virtue of this
 word soul "is exhausted by repeating it: one must say angel." She
 is therefore the Angel, but at the same time the angel's [soul's]
 "goal," "the angel's flight" to her lover. She is never a distinct,
 independent self, loved in her reality, but a disguised projection,
 the female double of [the male protagonist's] self. (176)


A similar psychological assessment might be made of Will. In his desire to overcome his "flesh"--the embodied circumstances and limitations of his life--he needs to imagine himself as gaining and maintaining worth in Dorothea's (the Angel's) eyes. His "delight that he [can] dwell and be cherished in her thought as in a pure home, without suspicion and without stint" (Eliot 325), and his violent agitation at losing "face" in the incident with Rosamond seem to make of Dorothea a mirror for wishing (will-ing) in--a narcissistic, rather than purgative, impulse more akin to one of Girard's vaniteux than to Dante as subject-lover.

For Dante, love of Beatrice results in the beatific vision of the circular "knot" of the Trinity (Dante 301-03) that raises all of humanity to a level of dignity and belovedness "everywhere to everyone" (Williams 24); whereas for Will, certain people (Casaubon, Bulstrode, even Rosamond) are treated with disdain because of the obstacles they present to his pursuit of Dorothea's approval. In Dante's heart, failure to please Beatrice produces inward contrition; whereas in Will's, vindictive energy is projected outward onto Casaubon, Bulstrode, Rosamond, or the whole society of Middlemarch. Charles Williams, in The Figure of Beatrice, writes, "But to Love in the centre all parts are equal; it does not matter whether the lover is successful or not, happy or not. To be so--'but you are not so'--one must will charity and humility" (24). To arrive at the place where Dante is able to "will charity and humility," he must pass through a "death to self" as depicted in The Divine Comedy. Dorothea is shown to undergo such a relinquishment, a "dark night of the soul" (Eliot 604-05) from which she rises again with a "yearn[ing] towards the perfect Right" (606) and an understanding that "she [is] part of that involuntary, palpitating life" all around her (606); we have no sense or indication that Will experiences the same sort of death and resurrection.

It is in this final point that the most troubling ambiguity resides. If reciprocal love can indeed occur, as Girard suggests, only when the triangular desire has been dismantled by a renunciation of the human mediator and the re-aligning of metaphysical longing, so that "[e]very level of ... existence is inverted.... Deception gives way to truth, anguish to remembrance, agitation to repose, hatred to love, humiliation to humility, mediated desire to autonomy, deviated transcendency to vertical [Divine] transcendency" (Girard 294), has such occurred in Will's heart? He comes to the "brink" of leaving Middlemarch, he comes to the "brink of the grave." Does he ever really die--or does Dorothea rescue him, as is her habitual impulse, so that once again he has "not been able to do what I meant" (Eliot 621)?

Further, Dorothea's confession to Rosamond, wrought with emotion, holds within it an ominous pronouncement upon marriage:
 Marriage is so unlike everything else. There is something even
 awful in the nearness it brings. Even if we loved some one else
 better than--than those we were married to, it would be no
 use.... I mean, marriage drinks up all our power of giving or
 getting any blessedness in that sort of love. I know it may be very
 dear--but it murders our marriage--and then the marriage stays
 with us like a murder--and everything else is gone.... (612)


This observation extends beyond Dorothea's known experience with Casaubon to encompass "that sort of love" that she herself feels for Will--the "some one else" who is "loved better"--but projects onto Rosamond. One is thus left to wonder what would become of Dorothea and Will's marriage should they be reduced to such an "awful ... nearness." What if the erotic illusions of the "remote" Lady and faithful knight in the courtly love romance they have constructed for themselves is ever shattered, as it has been for Rosamond and Lydgate? We must recall that Will is described as a creature of "susceptible temperament--without any neutral region of indifference in his nature, ready to turn everything that befell him into the collisions of a passionate drama" (615). De Rougemont confirms the tenuous nature of a relationship based solely on such passion, observing that "[p]assion is that form of love which refuses the immediate, avoids dealing with what is near, and if necessary invents distance in order to realize and exalt itself more completely" (41). Though Laurence Lerner defends Eliot's portrayal of Will against other critics (Lewis, James, Leavis), he readily admits that Eliot "does sentimentalise the love between [Will] and Dorothea" and asserts that "[t]he scene in which they finally come together.... does not end things: it ... is more or less made to [replace] a human relationship by an idealised ending" (242). Attestations to their "love stronger than any impulses which could have marred it" (640) aside, one cannot help but linger, quizzically, over the reference in the final chapter to the "pity" that many felt over "so substantive and rare a creature ... [being] absorbed into the life of another" (638, italics mine).

From the equivocal state of Dorothea and Will's marriage, we turn now to Jane Eyre and an examination of the relationship between Jane and Rochester. But first, I wish to point out the clear parallel between the triangular desire of St. John for Jane and that of Casaubon for Dorothea in terms of the desiring male subject's metaphysical ambition and the female object's potential for self-immolation after the Tristan-Isolde myth pattern. As Jane explains to Rochester, St. John wished to marry her for purely utilitarian purposes, for her "few useful mental points" (Bronte 378) which would help him attain his missionary goal. He says to her, "You shall be mine: I claim you--not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign's service" (343). In this linguistically ambiguous declaration there are hints of a deviated transcendency, a subject (St. John) who longs for a conflation of the self who claims her as "mine" with the Divine for whose "pleasure" she is claimed. Jane the narrator tells us at the conclusion of the novel that St. John "enter[s] on the path he had marked for himself" and that "[h]is 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" (385). St. John's devotion to his Sovereign is dubious, for it is not clear whose glory is the focus of his ambition. On the other hand, his name suggests a Don Quixote-like pattern in which the great apostolic figure, the biblical St. John (evoked by the final quotation from Revelation) can be seen as an external mediator of desire for martyrdom, rather than for chivalric heroism. The two myths (Don Quixote and Tristan) merge, as he willfully makes Jane the object of his desire to fulfill his high calling, as well as the obstacle who distances him from the Lady he passionately loves, Rosamond. Jane recognizes that for herself "such a martyrdom would be monstrous" (345) and in fact contrary to what she "ought" to do before God since they did not "love each other as man and wife should" (345).

Jane's prior exodus from Thornfield serves as the catalyst for the development of her own ability to repudiate the human mediator and "deviated transcendency," in relation to St. John. This "death to self" enables her to break free from an imprisoning triangular desire of a different kind. For if St. John stands in the mode of Tristan, according to de Rougemont's two proposed "myths of love," then the Byronic Rochester is an exemplar of Don Juan. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar allude to Rochester's "dissolute namesake" (the rakish Earl of Rochester, another Don Juan-type), saying that he "appear[s] to offer a life of pleasure, a path of roses (albeit with concealed thorns), and a marriage of passion" (365) to Jane. De Rougemont insists on the impossibility of Don Juan's capacity for marital fidelity (103), and Jane is fully aware of this being the case. In response to Rochester's confessional narrative about Bertha and his subsequent mistresses, she reflects:
 ... if I were so far to forget myself and all the teaching that had
 ever been instilled into me as ... to become the successor of these
 poor girls, he would one day regard me with the same feeling which
 now in his mind desecrated their memory. (266)


Jane is without illusion concerning the dangers of intemperate desire.

The Don Juan within Rochester is not congenial to a happy and fulfilled marriage. His triangular desire involves, as his stated object, "a good and intelligent woman whom I could love" (264) and thus secure deliverance from "a nature ... most gross, impure, depraved" (261). As he recounts his life's story to Jane, his internal mediator is revealed as societal and multiple. The young and beautiful Bertha was chosen as a marriage partner for him by his "avaricious grasping" father, and as "[a]ll the men in her circle seemed to admire her and envy me," his desire for her is "piqued" by the "idiotic rivalries of society" (260). The disaster of the marriage left him keenly aware that
 [i]n the eyes of the world I was doubtless covered with grimy
 dishonour: but I resolved to be clean in my own sight--and to the
 last I repudiated the contamination of her crimes, and wrenched
 myself from connection with her mental defects. Still, society
 associated my name and person with hers! (262)


His longed-for "re-transformation" (113) from a dissolute "Will-o-the-wisp" (264, italics mine) into a stable, "better self" (269), to be realized in the arrangement he proposes to Jane, is foiled by the fact that the controlling mediator of this desire remains societal (his new circle in England). Girard writes that "[p]ride creates Don Juan and it is pride which sooner or later makes us a slave to someone else. The real Don Juan is not autonomous; on the contrary, he is incapable of doing without Others" (51). Rochester is entangled by need for civil approval, and he thinks that the obstacle to his transformation is Other, when it is in fact inseparable from himself; for the mad wife hidden away represents to him his own "gross nature."

Taking a psychological cue from Gilbert and Gubar, who associate Bertha with Jane's inner rage, what I am suggesting is that Bertha be seen rather as a site for the projection of Rochester's unstable anima, one that has been suppressed and yet controlling him since he was a young man (she is, after all, in the upper floor of his house, a common psychoanalytic symbol for the unconscious, and she matches him in stature and appearance). The shame associated with Bertha is the internalized societal mediator, manifested as a desire to seek someone antithetical to her engrossing corpulence as a replacement anima. Rochester's pet names for Jane, "elf," "sprite," and "fairy" are indicative of the dualistic opposition between the two women; his explicit contrast of the two when they face each other in the attic underscores his desire to escape the one (bodily desire) by union with the other (spiritual desire). He says to Jane, "You are my sympathy--my better self--my good angel" (Bronte 269), while Bertha is rejected as "a hideous demon" (269). De Rougemont's address to the prototypical male lover is germane:
 Is what we believe we love in her herself or the image of our
 Angel? Is what we think we see in her--and what we may deify at
 her expense--our projected anima? All the psychoanalysts have
 told us so: error about the person of the beloved is the source of
 the worse [sic] conflicts, a violence done to her soul, to her
 body, or to her spirit--or even to her total Self, unrecognized,
 unrespected in its autonomy. (223)


So we must wonder, with all his reference to her "delicate and aerial" (220) presence, does Rochester love the actual Jane, body and soul? Jane herself must remind him, "I am not an angel ... and will not be one till I die: I will be myself" (221). Further, if Jane represents his spiritual desire and Bertha his bodily desire, can Rochester integrate and accept his own subject self, body and soul? Does he not see himself, in the words of de Rougemont, as "a 'vile' body and a soul aspiring to be an angel--not the true self in its autonomy" (209)? He appears to be caught between two warring (or are they simply mirror reflections of the other?) myths of Don Juan and Tristan. As long as Jane, as "angel," is only the metaphysical object of his desire and a means to replace Bertha, Jane is trapped in his "deviated transcendency."

Ironically, Jane must rebuff Rochester's lavish material showering of clothes and jewels upon her, saying: "And then you won't know me, sir; and I shall not be your Jane Eyre any longer...." (221). A close look at the preceding events leading up to Jane's nightmarish visit from Bertha reveal an intensifying psychological struggle between Jane and Rochester, in which he is reverting to the Don Juan-like behaviors of his past and treating her as his mistress. His comparison of her to "the grand Turk's whole seraglio" (229) may well account for the temptation St. John is to present for Jane later. Her retort to Rochester's "Eastern allusion," wherein she threatens to "go out as a missionary" to break from his "despot"-ism (230), is a prolepsis of that later struggle.

But what concerns us here is the psychological "peril" to Jane's selfhood (233) occurring in the month of Rochester's courtship of her. The dream and the intense "red-room"-like experience that follows this courtship reveals that it is the "Bertha" within Rochester's split self that wishes to possess Jane rather than to marry her as an equal. The description of Rochester's reaction to Jane's quiet resolution to leave draws a telling visual and behavioral parallel between him and his hidden shame, Bertha:
 'Jane! Will you hear reason? ... because, if you won't, I'll try
 violence.' His voice was hoarse, his look that of a man who is just
 about to burst an insufferable bond and plunge headlong into wild
 license. I saw that in another moment, and with one impetus of
 frenzy more, I should be able to do nothing with him. The present
 --the passing second of time--was all I had in which to control
 and restrain him.... (258)


Meanwhile, Jane's triangular desire is entwined with Rochester's, for her object has been revealed earlier in her life, when she expressed to Helen Burns, "if others don't love me, I would rather die than live--I cannot bear to be solitary and hated" (58). Added to this desire for love is the craving for "liberty" (72) and "incident, life, fire, feeling" (93). Rochester is her mediator, as he is "akin" to her, but lives unconfined, as a "more privileged fellow creature" (93). Thus, upon her engagement to him, she confesses to the reader that he was becoming "my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven" (234), the promise of "an existence more expansive and stirring than my own" (239). He is her "idol," a deviated transcendency that "eclipses" God. Jane's freedom from the triangular desire requires that she pass through the "deep waters" of a spiritual death (253), relinquishing and fleeing the master of Thornfield, only to experience a resurrection from "mother" earth into the awareness and "presence" of God (276).

Likewise, Rochester must fall "Nebuchadnezzar"-like (371) to the earth. Then, "acknowledg[ment of] the hand of God in [his] doom" followed by "remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to [his] Maker" (380) prepares him for love. Girard writes:
 Repudiation of the mediator implies renunciation of [his or her]
 divinity, and this means renouncing pride.... The hero triumphs in
 defeat; he triumphs because he is at the end of his resources; for
 the first time he has to look his despair and his nothingness in
 the face. But this look which he has dreaded, which is the death of
 pride, is his salvation. (295)


Such renunciation is also the salvation of the love between Jane and Rochester. To "repudiate the human mediator" and acknowledge the Divine source of love frees the subject from its tyrannical self, and allows the object of desire to be a subject, as well. Jane and Rochester both "pass through the grave" and come to stand, "at God's feet, equal" (Bronte 216). At the conclusion of the novel, they are united in matrimony, a rite that is traditionally symbolized in the circle of a ring that shows that "[a]ll true love is a reciprocal relation" (de Rougemont 160). Love is a spiraling outward from the centre of the love of God, through the love of the "true self," to the love between "two subject-objects" and out into the "human community" (161). Jane and Rochester "are happy: and the more so because those [they] most love are happy likewise" (385).

Contrary to all surface appearances, it is not so with Middlemarch, for when that novel is read through Girard's lens of "deceit and desire," questions are raised as to the happy "fulfillment" of Will and Dorothea's passionate marriage. An ambiguity can clearly be detected in the finale, in which the narrator defines Dorothea as formed in the midst of "an imperfect social state, in which great feelings will often take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion" (Eliot 640, italics mine). Jane Eyre, on the other hand, accomplishes what de Rougemont has insisted does not occur in the literature of the Western world. Charlotte Bronte has depicted not merely "a feminist myth," so called by Helene Moglen, but a myth of purged passions--eros and agape united in the passionate "marriage of true minds at Ferndean" (Gilbert, Gubar 371). Such is an ancient myth, more originary than that of Don Quixote, Don Juan, or even Tristan-Isolde, one that derives, as Girard and de Rougemont both affirm, from the Love that conquers in and over death.

Works Cited

Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy: Paradiso. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. NY: Bantam, 1986.

Blake, Kathleen. Love and the Woman Question in Victorian Literature: The Art of Self-Postponement. Sussex: Harvester, 1983.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 3rd ed. Ed. Richard J. Dunn. NY: Norton, 2001.

De Rougemont, Denis. Love Declared: Essays on the Myths of Love. NY: Random, 1963.

Eliot, George. Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life. Ed. Gregory Maertz. Peterborough: Broadview, 2004.

Girard, Rene. Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary, Structure. Trans. Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1965.

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984.

Lerner, Laurence. "Dorothea and the Theresa-Complex," George Eliot: Middlemarch. Ed. Patrick Swinden. London: Macmillan, 1988. 225-47.

Moglen, Helen. Charlotte Bronte: The Self Conceived. NY: Norton, 1976.

Williams, Charles. The Figure of Beatrice: A Study in Dante. 1961. NY: Octagon, 1989.

Notes

(1) Swiss philosopher and literary critic, Denis De Rougemont (1906-1985), is the author of the classic study, Love in the Western World (L'Amour et l'Occident, 1939), an inquiry into the origins of the eros-centred romance myth and its influence upon human culture and personhood in the West, which has been consulted by a range of critics from C. S. Lewis to Slovoj Zizek. Love Declared: Essays on the Myths of Love (Comme toi-meme, 1961) is an extension of De Rougemont's inquiry, applied particularly to literary characters and authors.

(2) The narrator uses such terms as "remote worship" (198), "many other barriers between" (380), "the chasm," and "forever divided" (402) to describe their positions.
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Author:Bubel, Katherine
Publication:Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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