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"ALL PASSION SPENT": A REVALUATION OF JANE EYRE M. H. SCARGILL FROM the day of its first appearance Jane Eyre has been credited with adding something new to the tradition of the English novel, though ·just what this is, and whether it is desirable, continues to puzzle the critics. To some the new quality is the voice of a w~man who speaks with perfect frankness about herself; to others it is "passion," though the nature of this "passion" is left undefined.1 To all, fane Eyre is remarkable for its inte~sity, and this intensity is usually taken as sufficient to counteract what critics regard as a sensational and poorly constructed plot.2 The cause of this intensity remains uncertain. Some have suggested that it is Jove;3 some even go so far as to suggest that it is the memory of a real love which Charlotte Bronte herself had experienced, that is that the novel is some kind of autobiography4 and, if we take this view to its logical conclusion, not a novel at all. If we trace the development of the English novel up to the middle of the nineteenth century, we see that it had concerned itself mainly with the external and had tried to secure belief by a faithful representation of that external through probability of events and convincing characters. The art, if it be an art, of imposing belief (instead of securing it) in those things which arc not the product or facsimile of external life, had been confined to the poets and to those dramatists who are also poets. No one can call King Lear probable: no one can deny that it imposes upon us the necessity of belief by its intensity, expressed in language and in imagery that is far from normal. With .the publication of ] ane Eyre) the English novel, which had already absorbed elements from the essay, the "character/' and the drama, turned away from the external towards the expression of an l"The Brontes had fire and passion ... but were limited in range to the exceptional, the eccentric, the outrageous...." Gerald Bullet in George Eliot (London, 1947), 161. 2"Clumsiness .and glaring .improbabilities in the plot, blunders and absurdities in the picturing of a society to which Charlotte Bronte was a complete stranger, were as nothing beside the fierce sincerity with which she depicted life as it had imprinted itself upon her quivering sensibilities, from childhood to womanhood ." E. A. Baker, The History of the Novel (London, 19:37), VIII, 36. &"It is in the depiction of the growth of love ... that Jane Eyre· is perhaps most notably different from earlier English fiction." B. McCullough, Representative English Novelists (New York, 1946), 183. 4"With all its faults, its narrowness of range, its occasional extravagances, Jane Eyre will long be remembered ... among the most vivid masterpieces in the rare order of literary 'confessions.'" F. Harrison, Studies in Early Victorian Literature ('London, 1906), 162. 120 - - -- -- ---- - ---- · - - - "ALL PASSION SPENT" 121 experience exclusively personal. This experience is not necessarily factual, but it is none the less real, and it is important, as much poetry is impor.tant, for the intensity of its feeling and the adequacy of its expression. It is intensity of feeling which has attracted readers to 1ane Eyre; ·it is the origin and nature of this feeling and its means of expression, adequate or -inadequate, that have puzzled them. To many readers passion is synonymous with love, and to these it is as a love story that 1ane EJJre appeals, a love story told with great frankness by a woman who, as Cross would put it, is "a realist of the feelings." 5 To others passion is an admirable but indescribable feeling, whi~h appeals simply because it is a feeling-by no means a foolish value to attract one to a book and infinitely superior to that which leads to admiration of 1ane Eyre as a kind of real "confession." Intensity of feeling ]ane Eyre has, but it is not centred exclusively upon love; in fact, in the total impact of fane Eyre religious ecstasy plays a part as important as love for a person. The greatness of a work of...


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