This essay analyzes the discourses of spirituality represented in Jane Eyre within the context of the Evangelical upheaval in the Britain of Charlotte Brontë's childhood and the mixing of supernatural with Christian elements in the "popular religion" of early-nineteenth-century British rural society. In addition to a dominant Christian spiritualism and a supernatural spiritualism, however, a third discrete discourse is identified in the text-the discourse of spiritual love. The novel stages a contest between these three competing discourses. Christianity is itself conflictually represented, being torn between the repressive, masculine Evangelicalism of Mr. Brocklehurst and the healing communion (among women) represented by Helen Burns and the figure of "sympathy." The supernatural is equally conflicted: it is shown to empower Jane and to be a necessary vehicle for bringing Christian discourse in contact with the discourse of spiritual love, but then it is denied and left, like the madwoman in the attic, as the excluded term. Finally, spiritual love is offered by the text as that which solves these contradictions, revising and merging Christianity and the supernatural to produce a rejuvenated spirituality, one that fosters what is conceived of as the "whole" person, her need for mutual human relationship, her spiritual needs, and her desire.
- Copyright 1995 The Regents of the University of California