Both by nature and principle, he was superior to the mean gratification of vengeance

Irelia20150604

Senior Member
Chinese
The quotation comes from Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre (Chap. 35) | Genius

Quotation: He deferred his departure a whole week, and during that time he made me feel what severe punishment a good yet stern, a conscientious yet implacable man can inflict on one who has offended him. Without one overt act of hostility, one upbraiding word, he contrived to impress me momently with the conviction that I was put beyond the pale of his favor.

Not that St. John harbored a spirit of unchristian vindictiveness—not that he would have injured a hair of my head, if it had been fully in his power to do so. Both by nature and principle, he was superior to the mean gratification of vengeance: he had forgiven me for saying I scorned him and his love, but he had not forgotten the words; and as long as he and I lived he never would forget them.
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Hi everyone! I don’t quite understand the bold part. I try to make it clear as below. Is it correct?

Mean =. 2. Ignoble; base: a mean motive. mean

The sentence => He adhered to the essential characteristics and principles of Christianity, so he would not lower himself to the base gratification of vengeance.
 
  • Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hello Irelia,

    There are two things stopping him from meanly gratifying a desire for vengeance: his nature (he's a good man) and his principles (he has moral objections to acting in such a way).
     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    "Both by nature and principle" means both "the man" and "the Christian" aspects of St. John don't wish for revenge on Jane for her refusal to marry him.

    St. John "was superior to the mean gratification of vengeance" - his being superior to it, means he felt like getting vengeance was beneath him, as a superior and righteous person. Being wrong should be its own punishment for those poor souls who had erred.

    The "mean gratification of vengeance" means the emotionally satisfying but morally wrong infliction of harm in retaliation to harm one has received.

    (cross posted with Thomas Tompion - edited to add: I don't believe the interpretation where Thomas wrote "a good man" is quite right; the other passages make it clear that all St. John's goodness is in his moral code, not his nature. It means simply that it isn't his nature to be vengeful, which is due to his feeling like everyone who has crossed him is therefore beneath him and not worthy of a reciprocation in kind)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hi Truffula,

    We are told in the passage that it is in his nature to be above vindictiveness. I don't think this is far from what many people would call the reaction of a 'good' man. And it is saying something other than that his goodness lies in his moral code, a consideration more associated with the second point (his principles), it seems to me. His nature is surely his spontaneous human reaction; his moral code on the other hand is a set of principles which govern his life, and which he applies intellectually to different circumstances.

    Charlotte is explicitly making separate points.:)
     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Taken in isolation, probably, Thomas; taken in the context of this particular scene of Jane Eyre, definitely not.

    The fact that his nature makes him feel superior to getting revenge for being refused in his marriage proposal makes him perhaps better than a person who would be inclined to actual revenge, sure; but that his nature feels it as an affront at all - rather than a valid option for Jane to take - keeps his nature from being actually good.

    Seriously: a man who, when told a woman doesn't want to marry him (but will continue to assist with his very difficult missionary work), is offended and warns her she'll probably go to hell for her selfishness, a man who would be inclined to force her into agreement but restrains himself because of his moral code, is not good-natured and does not have the nature of a good man. St John has a cold, judgmental, inflexible nature (as mentioned in another thread I commented on today).
     
    Last edited:

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    So it's this cold, judgmental, inflexible nature which disinclines him from the mean gratification of vengeance.

    In my world and, I think, in Charlotte's, good men can do base things. Such moral complexity makes novels interesting.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Both by nature and principle, he was superior to the mean gratification of vengeance:

    St John has two separate parts to his character. There was the man himself and there was his guiding principle, which was fundamental Christinaity. These two aspects independently created a belief in him that it would be reprehensible and vulgar to take any gratification that vengeance might bring.

    It is important to realise that Jane can understand and does not thoroughly condemn St John's behaviour and, indeed, she makes excuses for his behaviour. In Jane's day, the St John type of religious character was not uncommon. (They were known as "Hell Fire and Damnation" preachers.) It is also highly likely that St John was, to an extent, modeled on Jane's father who was also a preacher and somewhat severe.

    St John's completely unemotional determination and unbending demands of himself and others are to be compared to Jane's own stubbornness that has some romanticism in it and to Mr Rochester's character that is a clearer mixture of emotion that has led him to disaster (marrying his wife) yet has a very natural masculine feel to it.
     
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