“Shall I?” I said briefly; and I looked at his features, beautiful in their harmony, but strangely formidable in their still severity; at his brow, commanding, but not open; at his eyes, bright and deep and searching, but never soft; at his tall imposing figure; and fancied myself in idea his wife. Oh! it would never do! As his curate, his comrade, all would be right: I would cross oceans with him in that capacity; toil under Eastern suns, in Asian deserts with him in that office; admire and emulate his courage and devotion and vigour: accommodate quietly to his masterhood; smile undisturbed at his ineradicable ambition…I should suffer often, no doubt, attached to him only in this capacity: my body would be under a rather stringent yoke, but my heart and mind would be free. I should still have my unblighted self to turn to: my natural unenslaved feelings with which to communicate in moments of loneliness. There would be recesses in my mind which would be only mine, to which he never came; and sentiments growing there, fresh and sheltered, which his austerity could never blight, nor his measured warrior-march trample down: but as his wife – at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked – forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital – this would be unendurable.
– Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre, Chapter 34. We get a glimpse into Jane’s inner conflict over St. John’s proposal that she should join him as his wife on his missionary trip to India. The proposal briefly tempts her. It would be a rare opportunity to perform good deeds for other people, while fulfilling her own personal needs. Looking at his beautiful, commanding features, she fancies herself “in idea” his wife. But then she realizes the reality of the kind of prison she would live in under St. John’s masculine dominance. She speaks of his “warrior-march” and his “austerity” and the “stringent yoke” she would be tied to under his “masterhood.” Using metaphorical imagery, she decides that the “fire” of her nature and its “imprisoned flame” would not endure being his wife.