lthough Brontë does not quote a single word of St. John Rivers' sermon, Jane's physical and emotional reactions dramatize the rigor of his comments. Jane does acknowledge St. John's 'stern allusions to Calvinistic doctrines — election, predestination, reprobation," and yet what best illustrates both St. John's character and her own is Jane's understanding and response to the sermon. Note that Jane's reactions undergo a progression from "calm" to climax even though St. John's "restrained zeal" itself "was calm to the end." Although St. John would undoubtedly wish Jane to be "enlightened by his discourse," Jane "experienced an expressible sadness" at her recognition of St. John's inability to access the same redemption he preaches. In other words, St. John himself is unable to adhere to the "doctrines" of religion because of his "troubling impulses of insatiate yearnings and disquieting aspirations." Religious severity and moral self-consciousness stand opposed to passion. How might such a binary opposition perate in Pickwick Papers, in which such "tracts" receive scarce mention? Compare to the following quasi-religious description of the "Brick Lane Branch of the United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association." The red-nosed Mr. Stiggins, having listened to Anthony Humm's well-received accounts of several reformed alcoholics — having also likely emptied his "flat bottle as holds about a pint and a half" of "pine-apple rum" (502) — displays a hypocrisy not unlike St. John's:
"Will you address the meeting, brother?" said Mr. Humm, with a smile of invitation.
"No Sir," rejoined Mr. Stiggins; "No Sir. I will not, Sir."
The meeting looked at each other with raised eye-lids, and a murmur of astonishment ran through the room.
"It's my opinion, Sir," said Mr. Stiggins, unbuttoning his coat, and speaking very loudly; "it's my opinion, Sir, that this meeting is drunk, Sir. Brother Tadger, Sir," said Mr. Stiggins, suddenly increasing in ferocity, and turning sharp round on the little man in the drab shorts, "you are drunk, Sir." With this, Mr. Stiggins, entertaining a praiseworthy desire to promote the sobriety of the meeting, and to exclude therefrom all improper characters, hit brother Tadger on the summit of the nose with such unerring aim, that the drab shorts disappeared like a flash of lightning. Brother Tadger had been knocked, head first, down the ladder. (Pickwick Papers, 508 Ch. 33)
Dickens, unlike Brontë, derives humor from the explicitness of Stiggins actions. First, Dickens "temperance association" itself parodies the moral seriousness and sententiousness of the church. In fact Stiggins is no more ridiculous than Humm and his celebration of reformed drunks. If Brontë problematizes the thematic contrast between passion and religion to ultimately privilege passion, then Dickens seems to lampoon the folly of both. Stiggin's passion shares in the ridiculousness of the quasi-religious setting itself.
Nineteen-century religion in England seems to have been characterized by such binary oppositions. Already doubted by the athiestic Utilitarian movement away from religion in general, the nineteenth-century Anglican Church (Church of England) was itself confronting a difficult negotiation of high-church Catholicism and low-church Evangelicalism. According to Glenn Everett and George Landow, the high church "Tractarian movement began about 1833 and ended in 1845 with John Henry Newman's conversion to Roman Catholicism." St. John's sermon seems mostly Evangelical in that he refers to and implies "that human beings are corrupt and need Christ to save them — thus the emphasis upon puritanical morality and rigidity. Also characteristic of the Evangelical movement was missionary work, which Brontë suggests by St. John's entreaties that Jane go with him to India to demonstrate God's word.
Last modified 1996