‘I must keep in good health, and not die’: the Conception of the Self in an Unorthodox Victorian Novel
The conception of the self, its interests thus fervently defended in Jane Eyre’s spirited refusals of her two suitors, as indeed they are throughout her story, seems to have more in common with European rather than English romantic traditions. Its tremendous amour de soi struggles towards something approaching the Goethian notion of ‘renunciation’ — Entsagen — which, as Carlyle came to see in his own dealings with the idea, has little to do with orthodox notions of self-denial. ‘God wants only a separation of spirit from flesh to crown us with a full reward’, says Jane Eyre’s pious school friend Helen Burns, but Entsagen does not entertain this kind of dualism Carlyl’s reading of Wilhelm Meister, that major document of the romantic sensibility, appears to have left him initially with the notion that Goethe’s Entsagen did indeed imply a certain degree of asceticism. He argues in Sartor Resartus that ‘Love of happiness is but a kind of hunger at best: a craving because I have not enough of sweet provision in the world’, and makes his Teufelsdroch proclaim in the ‘Everlasting Yea’ after his emergence from despair, ‘Foolish soul! what Act of Legislation was there that thou shouldst be happy …. Close thy Byron, open thy Goethe.’ In other words, avoid self-indulgence and strive to see life steadily and whole.
KeywordsSexual Passion Ascetic Ideal Natural Imagery House Sequence Sweet Provision
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