The Rubric of Eliza Reed

THE most touching scenes in Charlotte Brontë‘s novel Jane Eyre, in my estimation, arise not from Jane’s amorous adventures but from her sufferings in her childhood home of Gateshead Hall. After she has forsaken it for many a year, living as student and teacher in Lowood Institution and then as governess in Mr. Rochester’s Thornfield Hall, she returns in the twenty-first chapter to Gateshead at the wishes of her dying aunt, whom she most nobly forgives. Jane also reunites with her cousins Georgiana and Eliza, and it is to Eliza that I now wish to turn. Jane observes she is

very tall, almost as tall as Miss Ingram—very thin too, with a sallow face and severe mien.  There was something ascetic in her look, which was augmented by the extreme plainness of a straight-skirted, black, stuff dress, a starched linen collar, hair combed away from the temples, and the nun-like ornament of a string of ebony beads and a crucifix.  This I felt sure was Eliza, though I could trace little resemblance to her former self in that elongated and colourless visage.

Her habits change just as much as her appearance, and in just the same fashion:

Eliza still spoke little: she had evidently no time to talk.  I never saw a busier person than she seemed to be; yet it was difficult to say what she did: or rather, to discover any result of her diligence.  She had an alarm to call her up early.  I know not how she occupied herself before breakfast, but after that meal she divided her time into regular portions, and each hour had its allotted task.  Three times a day she studied a little book, which I found, on inspection, was a Common Prayer Book.  I asked her once what was the great attraction of that volume, and she said, “the Rubric.”

This is not a terribly popular passage for Brontë scholars to pick apart, but such literary criticism of it as does exist seems to focus on its characterization of Eliza as a devout yet dreary girl whom Jane cannot understand, though she surely prefers her to the tormenter of her youth.

Eliza Reed studies The Book of Common Prayer three times a day for “the Rubric” only, thus revealing her obsession with the external forms of conduct and her obliviousness to the moral roots of behavior in emotion and value  (Carol Bock, Charlotte Brontë and the Storyteller’s Audience, p. 70).

The Reed cousins are used to present effectively two types of women, extremes of possibilities that Charlotte despises. One is the fashionable beauty who lives only for admiration and marries for convenience, for a man to support her; the other is the spinster by nature who finds in the ritual of High Anglicanism a substitute for life and who ends logically in a convent. The naked distaste with which Eliza is presented is more striking when one remembers that the author, like her heroine, was a clergyman’s daughter; and the satiric method is the more intense for its starkness: Three times a day she studied a little book, which I found, on inspection, was a Common Prayer Book. I asked her once what was the great attraction of that volume, and she said, ‘the Rubric’ (Q. D. Leavis and G. Singh, Collected Essays: Volume 1. The Englishness of the English Novel, p. 184).

These are reasonable observations, and from Jane’s point of view I would say they are probably true. But I suspect the authoress, looking beyond Jane’s own knowledge, may be hinting also at something else. Why does Eliza say “the rubric,” not “the rubrics”? What is so compelling about the particular rubric she is reading, over and over again? Well, perhaps it is this one, printed at the head of “The Order for the Burial of the Dead.” 

Here is to be noted, that the Office ensuing is not to be used for any that die unbaptized, or excommunicate, or have laid violent hands upon themselves.

Now, we must recall that the messenger who bade Jane come to Gateshead to see her aunt had also told her about her cousin – Eliza’s brother – for whom it was now too late for anyone to see. 

“Mr. John died yesterday was a week, at his chambers in London.”

“Mr. John?”


“And how does his mother bear it?”

“Why, you see, Miss Eyre, it is not a common mishap: his life has been very wild: these last three years he gave himself up to strange ways, and his death was shocking.”

“I heard from Bessie he was not doing well.”

“Doing well!  He could not do worse: he ruined his health and his estate amongst the worst men and the worst women.  He got into debt and into jail: his mother helped him out twice, but as soon as he was free he returned to his old companions and habits.  His head was not strong: the knaves he lived amongst fooled him beyond anything I ever heard.  He came down to Gateshead about three weeks ago and wanted missis to give up all to him.  Missis refused: her means have long been much reduced by his extravagance; so he went back again, and the next news was that he was dead.  How he died, God knows!—they say he killed himself.”

So if “they” speak truth, and John was a suicide, then the dreadful prohibition of the Rubric applies to him. He cannot receive a Christian burial in the Church of England. Either the Reed family lied to secure a clergyman to perform the ceremony, or the Office was never read over him. More importantly, the implication of the Rubric seems to be that a suicide, being  guilty of a willful murder and forever unable to repent thereof, would make a mockery of the Burial Service’s hopeful words of eternal life in Christ. If my theory is correct, Eliza is thus reading the Rubric in agony over her lost brother, trying to come to terms with the teachings of her Church that would pronounce him damned. No “obsession with the external forms of conduct,” this, but a pain so internal she dares not voice aloud. 


The Beginning of the Communion Service

ONE should not conclude from the title of this segment that “the beginning of the Communion Service,” as distinct from “the rest of the Communion Service,” has always been a defined portion of the English coronation ceremony. For while the Mass was split in two by the Anointing and Crowning in the ninth-century First Recension, and the Prayer-Book Communion Service has likewise been split in two since since the introduction of the Sixth Recension in 1689, the Eucharistic Liturgy at Coronations in the seven hundred intervening years was celebrated without interruption at the end of the solemnity, after the Coronation proper had concluded. Nevertheless, for ease of comparison, when I come to those intervening years I will only deal with the text of the  Mass up to the Creed  the point where its ancestors and descendants are divided. And as this point is held to mark the transition of the Mass of the Catachumens to the Mass of the Faithful Liturgy of the Word to Liturgy of the Eucharist, in today’s lingo I trust none shall accuse me of arbitrarily dissecting the mediæval rite.

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The First Oblation

LEST the Sovereign be puffed up with pride upon hearing the triumphant sounds of the Recognition, the Coronation Service had long provided for the Sovereign to perform an act of humility and submission immediately afterwards. This act — called the “First Oblation” to distinguish it from the Second Oblation, which occurs at the Offertory in the Communion Service — sadly fell into disuse with the coronation of Edward VII, and has yet to be restored.

The First Oblation begins in the Liber Regalis as follows:

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The Recognition

THE great majority of words one hears in the Coronation Service are subject to stark restrictions concerning both who shall utter the words and who shall be the subjects of the words: Archbishop and Choir are nearly always the ones uttering, while God and Sovereign are nearly always the subjects. When reading the bare words of the script, one can therefore be inclined to forget the deeply communal nature of the occasion. One must bear in mind that Westminster Abbey is the site of the coronation not only because it is old and beautiful, but also because it is large enough to house the multitudes of lords, ladies, prelates, and commoners come to see their Sovereign crowned. This host is largely a silent witness, but it does have some lines of its own. Near the end of the service, certain Bishops and Peers will kneel before their liege and make homage with kisses and oaths of fealty. And at the beginning of the service, immediately after the Entrance Anthem and the Sovereign’s brief private devotion, there is another sort of homage – wherein all the guests, of whatever rank or station, show their allegiance with one united cry.

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Crossing the Tiber

IN a textbook world, a Protestant contemplating leaving his church for Romish regions would make his choice by examining the doctrines of the two communions and entering whichever communion he found most faithful to the teachings of Christ. But very frequently, other factors will intrude on the process. For one thing, the potential convert will have to weigh how his conversion will be perceived by his fellows. Romish apologists delight in telling tales of heroic Protestants who realize the folly of their creed and sacrifice jobs, family ties, and social standing to save their souls in the Barque of Peter. There is another obstacle, however, about which Rome is understandably less eager to speak. For it is one of the facts of life that Anglicans have better taste than Romanists, at least when it comes to English composition. An Anglican crossing the Tiber loses not only his denomination but also the literary treasures of the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

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I was Glad

FOR the next installment in my coronation series, I thought it might be a good idea to begin at the beginning. The 122nd psalm has covered “The Entrance into the Church” in every English coronation since 1625, from Charles I to Her Present Majesty.  I shall mostly be discussing the text of the psalm as it appeared in the orders of service, of course, so on the left-hand column we have it in the Coverdale translation. But lest any snobs of Biblical Criticism be lurking nearby to rescue us from the inaccurate translations of our forefathers, I reproduce on the right this splendid little hymn of the Hebrews as found in the venerable New Revised Standard Version.

 Laetatus sum

I was glad when they said unto me : We will go into the house of the Lord.

Our feet shall stand in thy gates : O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is built as a city : that is at unity in itself.

For thither the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord : to testify unto Israel, to give thanks unto the Name of the Lord.

For there is the seat of judgement : even the seat of the house of David.

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem : they shall prosper that love thee.

Peace be within thy walls : and plenteousness within thy palaces.

For my brethren and companions’ sakes : I will wish thee prosperity.

Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God : I will seek to do thee good.

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

I was glad when they said to me,  “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together.

To it the tribes go up,  the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:  “May they prosper who love you.

Peace be within your walls,  and security within your towers.”

For the sake of my relatives and friends  I will say, “Peace be within you.”

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,  I will seek your good.

Westminster Abbey may not be the Tabernacle or Temple for which the psalm was written, where the Glory of YHWH abode in a thick cloud betwixt the Cherubim. But it is assuredly a “house of the Lord” in the larger sense. On the great Day of Coronation, thrones of judgement are set up therein, and the English church prays for the peace of the English realm. No fitter text could be prescribed for the occasion.

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A Curious Prophecy of Victorian Bigotry

GIVEN all the kerfuffle in the news lately about religious intolerance (especially as touching a certain nameless sexual orientation in a certain nameless Midwestern state), I thought it might be instructive to examine some pertinent writings from an eminent clergyman Across the Pond. Their style is a tad old-fashioned, since their author is John Keble (1792-1866), father of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England. But their message would not at all be out of place in the editorials and pulpits (though probably not the YouTube comments sections) of the Culture Wars battleground of 2015.

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