Feb. 28, 2010, at 10:22pm
Katie’s recent post about intimacy without love (better read it before this one) reminds me of a passage in Jane Eyre, which beautifully illustrates her point. St. John, a zealous clergyman who also happens to be Jane Eyre’s cousin, has just asked her to be his wife and to accompany him to India to do missionary work. He frankly admits that he is not in love with her; he wants her by his side mainly because of the important role she can play in his missionary activities.
‘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 labour, not for 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.’
Remarkably, Jane actually considers the proposal. After some serious soul searching she decides that, though it would be very hard on her and almost certainly lead to her premature death, she could go to India with St. John and serve him well (‘He will never love me; but he shall approve me’). But she cannot go as his wife. It would be wrong. About that she is both certain and adamant.
‘Consent, then, to his demand is possible: but for one item - one dreadful item. It is - that he asks me to be his wife, and has no more of a husband’s heart for me than that frowning giant of a rock… He prizes me as a soldier would a good weapon, and that is all. Unmarried to him, this would never grieve me; but can I let him complete his calculations - coolly put into practice his plans - go through the wedding ceremony? Can I receive from him the bridal ring, endure all the forms of love (which I doubt not he would scrupulously observe) and know that the spirit was quite absent? Can I bear the consciousness that every endearment he bestows is a sacrifice made on principle? No: such a martyrdom would be monstrous. I will never undergo it. As his sister, I might accompany him - not as his wife: I will tell him so.’
When Jane thinks of the proposed marriage as a “monstrous” martyrdom, she expresses the same truth as Vivian Gornick: that “to live without intimacy in the most intimate of circumstances is to sustain permanent damage to the spirit.” It is not a noble self-giving but a lamentable self-squandering.