Let me begin by giving away the "plot" of William Carus Wilson's Youthful Memoirs:
(Almost) everyone dies.
No, it's not Game of Thrones. Youthful Memoirs, first published in volume form in the 1820s, collects a number of exemplary narratives that had earlier been published in Wilson's evangelical periodical, The Children's Friend. Despite the usual summaries of this volume, many of the narratives in question are not, in fact, about young children, and not all of them are staged at deathbeds. "Young Seaman," for example, is about a conversion experience during a storm, while "Little George" uses a small child's secret generosity to exemplify true Christian charity. Although some of the subjects are genteel, many of the narratives are about working-class children and servants, whose resignation to their lots is supposed to model how to think about divine providence. For modern readers, the least plausible is the story of little Richard Treweeke, who, at age 3 1/2, has apparently grasped enough theology to understand that Jesus died for his sins, and seems to take positive pleasure in meditating on his impending doom. Like hagiographical narratives, the memoirs soon take on a repetitive quality: sinners may be infinitely diversified, but all elect Christians, of whatever age, are at one in their godliness. And, of course, youthful entertainment is not the goal here, but youthful meditation, conversion, and prayer. ("O pray for the Holy Spirit to change your hearts, and lead you to Christ," the collection concludes .)
The longest narrative belongs to "Sarah." Sarah suffers from an unexplained mental disability which renders her much less tractable than the other children in this text. At one point, she and her guardian, Mrs. H., have the following exchange:
I asked her, "Do you ever wish to be with Christ?" She returned the same answer with increased seriousness. I proceeded, "Do you know, my love, what must take place before we go to Christ?" Again pausing as if to think--she answered, "we must die, I believe, before we can go to heaven." I told her she had judged rightly; but that only those who truly loved Christ, would go to him when they died. After a short silence, she said, "we shall soon die." "Why, my dear child, do you think so?" "I don't know, but I think so, and I shall like to go to Jesus Christ in heaven." "Why so, dear Sarah?"--"Because when I go to heaven, I shall always be happy, and I shall glorify God there. I think heaven is a very happy place..."1
Now, if you're a Victorianist, or just a fan of Victorian fiction in general, the rhythms of that passage ought to sound vaguely familiar:
"No sight so sad as that of a naughty child," he began, "especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death?"
"They go to hell," was my ready and orthodox answer.
"And what is hell? Can you tell me that?"
"A pit full of fire."
"And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?"
"What must you do to avoid it?"
I deliberated a moment; my answer, when it did come, was objectionable: "I must keep in good health, and not die."
"How can you keep in good health? Children younger than you die daily. I buried a little child of five years old only a day or two since,--a good little child, whose soul is now in heaven. It is to be feared the same could not be said of you were you to be called hence."
Not being in a condition to remove his doubt, I only cast my eyes down on the two large feet planted on the rug, and sighed, wishing myself far enough away.
"I hope that sigh is from the heart, and that you repent of ever having been the occasion of discomfort to your excellent benefactress."
"Benefactress! benefactress!" said I inwardly: "they all call Mrs. Reed my benefactress; if so, a benefactress is a disagreeable thing."
"Do you say your prayers night and morning?" continued my interrogator.
"Do you read your Bible?"
"With pleasure? Are you fond of it?"
"I like Revelations, and the book of Daniel, and Genesis and Samuel, and a little bit of Exodus, and some parts of Kings and Chronicles, and Job and Jonah."
"And the Psalms? I hope you like them?"
"No? oh, shocking! I have a little boy, younger than you, who knows six Psalms by heart: and when you ask him which he would rather have, a gingerbread-nut to eat or a verse of a Psalm to learn, he says: 'Oh! the verse of a Psalm! angels sing Psalms;' says he, 'I wish to be a little angel here below;' he then gets two nuts in recompense for his infant piety."
"Psalms are not interesting," I remarked.
"That proves you have a wicked heart; and you must pray to God to change it: to give you a new and clean one: to take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Jane Eyre, ch. 4)
In both cases, the converted adult interrogates a child whose spiritual health is questionable, the better to diagnose her "condition" and prescribe a disciplinary remedy. Sarah's narrative dramatizes the conversation proceeding "correctly": the adult conceals the catechetical nature of the dialogue, drawing the child's attention to the soteriological implications of her own innocent responses. Sarah's guardian is affectionate ("my dear," "my love"), and her questioning does not provoke any resistance at this point. (Notably, Sarah will have moments later on in which she does push back sharply; the narrator concludes that this was a "short advantage permitted to Satan"  before Sarah's triumph and death.) Moreover, the child already understands death in terms of comedy, as the soul's reunion with Christ in an eternally "happy" communion. Brocklehurst's interrogation, by contrast, parodies Youthful Memoirs' celebration of a firm but nurturing adult-child spiritual relationship. Jane obstinately refuses to stay on script, uses her silences to resist Brocklehurst's interpretation of her answers, and, above all, prioritizes life over death. The monologic quality of the catechism, in which both the questions and answers are predetermined, gets short shrift from Bronte; in effect, despite Jane's overt and covert rejection of Brocklehurst's terms, Brocklehurst continues to steamroll through his own set script, highlighting how little the child's subjectivity actually counts for in Carus Wilson's collection. And Jane's refusal to embrace death parodies not only Sarah, but also the religious child prodigies like Richard Treweeke, for whom death comes to constitute its own peculiar joy. (Jane, of course, will never be in favor of martyrdom when other options are available.) At this point in her career, the literal-minded Jane remains firmly of the body.
1 W. Carus Wilson, ed., Youthful Memoirs (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, n.d.), 64-65.