Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

An orphan child badly treated by rich relatives.  A grim and lonely school for girls where pestilence hangs in the air.  A Gothic mansion that houses a she-demon and a brooding and sardonic man who, underneath his caustic demeanor, hides a heart that waits to be awakened.  Who could resist such a story?

Well, not I, that’s for sure, and I jumped right into Hamlette’s Jane Eyre read-along that began in June 2016.  It was probably my fifth read of this enduring story, and this time it particularly captured my imagination and heart.  A tale of enduring love and a crossing of the class boundaries was particularly compelling in a time when no one seems to be getting along and division is rife between those would could easily be friends given more tolerance and grace for each other.

Richmond, Yorkshire
Edmund John Niemann
source ArtUK

My read along posts follow:

The Governess (1739)
Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
source Wikiart

Chapters I & II
Chapters III & VI
Chapters V – VII
Chapters VIII – X
Chapters XI – XIII
Chapters XIV – XVI
Chapters XVII – XIX
Chapters XX – XXII
Chapters XXIII – XXV
Chapters XXVI – XXVIII
Chapters XXIX – XXXI
Chapters XXXII – XXXIV
Chapters XXXV – XXXVIII

We first meet Jane as an orphaned child, living on the charity of her relatives who heap upon her verbal abuse.  Finally, she is shipped off to a disreputable girls school, Lowood, and though the abuse continues from the head administrator, Mr. Brocklehurst, Jane forms a dear friendship with another girl, Helen, who teaches her quiet perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, while exemplifying a steadfast faith in God.  Upon reaching womanhood and taking a post as a governess at Thornfield, Jane encounters the master, a dark, taciturn, mysterious man, Edward Rochester.  Although her heart is awakened, Jane does not waver from her ideals, knowing with a certain wisdom that behaving with dignity and moral principles is the only way to inner peace and true happiness.

While the beginning of the book, chronicling Jane’s childhood, appears to have little to do with the later plot, it plays an important role in understanding the development of her character and her place in society.  As a reader, we are always reminded of her struggles to be treated with respect and dignity, to be treated as an equal, as a soul created by God instead of as a product of a social hierarchy.

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and drop of living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think wrong!  — I have as much soul as you —- and full as much heart!  And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.  I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet equal — as we are!”

My most treasured memories of Jane Eyre is Brontë’s amazing ability to make the characters so intrinsically human, instead of perfect, implausible characters.  While Rochester’s machinations can be rather shocking, you can understand how a man who has had little chance to develop a good steady character and is used to giving free reign to his passions could end up a slave to them.  His emotions drive him without finer moral values to guide him.  Jane, on the other hand, while falling deeply in love with the man she sees he can become, can clearly recognize the pitfalls of ungoverned behaviour. While her heart cries out for him, she is mature and sensible enough to see where wrong actions would take them.  Instead of increasing their love, they would be left with nothing but emptiness.  She would rather remember the depths of the love that they shared in its purest form than degrade herself by being guided solely by passion.

Once again, thanks to Hamlette for this most excellent and measured read-along that allowed me to soak up the story and to spend time with two of my most favourite characters in the pages of literature!

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XXXV, XXXVI, XXXVII & XXXVIII

Chapter XXXV

St John makes Jane pay for her unpopular decision to reject his marriage offer with a cold aloofness and a determined effort to display his displeasure.  Jane declares he does not act maliciously, but this reader must disagree with her assessment of his actions.  His sisters are at first pleased that he has offered for Jane, then appalled at his lack of emotion with regard to the attachment, and his efforts to take her to India where they are certain she’ll die.  St John attempts once again to change her mind and she is firm, yet after his reading from Revelation one night and his entreaties after, she finds her will bending to his until she hears a voice calling her:  “Jane, Jane, Jane.”  She is as certain of it being the voice of Mr. Rochester, as she is certain of her actions the next day and, brushing off St John, retires to her room to await the morning.

The Proposal (1825)
Thomas Clater
source ArtUK

Chapter XXXVI

St John has left for Cambridge for a fortnight when Jane awakens the next morning but has left her a note almost demanding her reconsideration.  Jane gives it little thought, taking leave of Diana and Mary and setting out in a coach for Thornfield.  She stays at the Rochester Arms, and the next morning walks to the great hall with an impatient anticipation.  However, upon setting eyes on Thornfield she is given a great shock; the house is burned to the ground and with a heavy heart she returns to the inn to ask the cause of the blaze.  It was set one night by a lunatic who was kept in the house.  She escaped from her keeper, Mrs. Poole, who liked to tipple, and Rochester, distraught after the disappearance of the governess he loved and longed to marry, was at Thornfield alone.  He tried to save the lunatic, his wife, but she threw herself from the battlements.  While trying to save the other occupants of the house, the staircase he was on collapsed, and the result was that he is now stone blind.  He lives at Ferndean manor house presently and Jane immediately hires a conveyance to take her there.

Manor House, Ilkley
John F. Greenwood
source ArtUK

Chapter XXXVII

Jane arrives at Ferndean just before dark.  Buried deep in a wood, the building is modest and unpretentious.  As she approaches the desolate spot, she spies a figure on the step and knows at once that it is her own Rochester.  His movements are heartbreaking as he struggles to find his blind way to the grass plot in front.  John, the servant, draws near, offering him his arm, which he ungraciously refuses.  After he re-enters the house, Jane knocks and reveals herself to an astonished Mary, then after requesting accommodation, goes into the sitting room to face Rochester.  Carrying in a tray, she offers him a glass of water while an excited Pilot dances around her. Immediately Rochester senses all is not right; he questions her identity while claiming that he is under a delusion.  While he explores her with his hands, he rambles on like a man in a dream.  Is this really his love come back to him again?  When he finally acknowledges that it is she, he questions her rapidly, finding out that she is rich, who she has been with, and that she has had a marriage proposal.  At first he is irritated and self-deprecating, but finally he rises from his funk and asks for her to be his wife, to which she readily agrees.  Eventually, Rochester speaks of a night of longing for her, where he prayed to God and called her name.  Jane discovers it is the same night that she’d heard his voice but doesn’t reveal the fact, deciding he has already enough burden and does not need that of the supernatural.

First Born (1881)
Josephus Laurentius Dyckmans
source ArtUK

Chapter XXXVIII

“Reader, I married him.”

And thus ends this wonderful novel.  The wedding was a quiet one with only the parson and clerk present with the couple.  John and Mary are informed; St John is written to but does not respond until six months later; Diana and Mary approve and wish to visit; Adèle is brought home then sent to school again.  Two years later Rochester partially recovers his sight enough to see his first-born son put into his arms.  Diana and Mary both marry and St John becomes an indefatigable and zealous missionary in India.  The last letter Jane receives indicates that he is dying and she feels compassion for this stern but dedicated man whose passion for Christ is unwavering.

A Wooded Walk (1650)
Jan Lievens
source ArtUK

I simply cannot have the same admiration that Jane has for St John’s Christian zeal. Regardless of his dedication, the lack of understanding and harsh condemnation he shows towards her for her decision must naturally carry into his dealings with others and the representation of his faith is injurious instead of edifying.

I’m still somewhat puzzled as to why Jane did not want to tell Rochester about her premonition.  Given that they later become inseparable and tell each other everything, why would she withhold this information from him?  The supernatural occurrence brought her to him and it’s revelation should be uplifting.  Why such reticence?

I also found the ending to the novel curious.  Why end with an observation on St John? His character was interesting as a contrast, but on its own was rather one-dimensional. Was it an indication that his forceful character still had even a tenuous hold over her?  A commentary to stress the importance of his perseverance for spreading the gospel?  I’m not sure …..

What I am sure of is that this read-along has come to an end, and a thoroughly enjoyable read-along it was!  Thanks to Hamlette for another meander through a classic favourite.  I’m already looking forward to the next one!

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XXXII, XXXIII, XXXIV

Chapter XXXII

Although Jane assiduously performs her tasks as schoolteacher at the poor school, she still dreams (literally) of Rochester and spending her life by his side.  Rosamond Oliver visits the school and Jane observes the emotionally charged exchanges between her and St John, but the latter’s heart is guarded by his determination and ambition.  She is commission to sketch Miss Rosamond, and one evening when St John sees the portrait by accident, Jane takes the initiative to question him with a startlingly frank audacity.  He admits that while he loves Rosamond, he is convinced that she is not the partner for him and that they would make each other unhappy.  She is not set to be a missionary’s wife, and he refuses Jane’s offer to paint him a copy of the lovely girl.  As he moves to draw a blank sheet of paper over the portrait, he tears a tiny section from it and slips it into this glove.  Jane is puzzled by his actions but soon dismisses and forgets them.

A Young Woman in a Blue Dress Sketching (19th C.)
British (English) School
source ArtUK

Chapter XXXIII

In the midst of days of snowstorms, St John visits Jane at her cottage while she reads his gift to her, Marmion, a recently published poem by Walter Scott.  At first, he behaves with an unusual, almost secretive demeanour, but soon Jane learns his errand.  The paper he ripped from her page previously, was a section where she had doodled her real name, Jane Eyre.  From this, he began inquiries and has now not only learned her story, but aspects of it of which Jane herself was not aware.  Jane, however, is only concerned of his inquiries of Thornfield and asks for news of Mr. Rochester.  Nothing is forthcoming though, and St John informs her that now that her uncle is dead, she has inherited all of his property and is now a rich woman.  Jane is suspicious of his means of discovery and when she presses further, finds out that her uncle was also the uncle of St John, Diana and Mary, and that they are all cousins.  With this in mind, she refuses the large fortune and instead intends to split it equally between the four of them.  She states her intention to remain at the school until a new mistress can be found, and soon the inheritance is divided between them.

Arts, Wealth, Pleasure and Philosophy (1800)
Pierre-Paul Prud’hon
source Wikiart

Chapter XXXIV

As the Christmas season comes, Jane closes Morton school and expresses her desire to clean and do some Christmas baking, for which she earns displeasure from St John and an entreaty not to become slothful.  His dour disapproval of anything easy and entertaining begins to show her his faults and unsuitability as a husband.  Diana and Mary arrive and their gay festive spirit further oppresses St John.  News is given that Rosamond is about to be wed and St John congratulates himself over the conquering of his emotions.  He convinces Jane to learn Hindustani, as a help to him as he prepares for his missionary work and proves himself a stern and unyielding taskmaster.  Jane’s will to please him, begins to hold her in thrall to his desires, but she has not forgotten Rochester, yet her letters to Mrs. Fairfax to inquire about his well-being remain unanswered.

To Jane’s surprise, six weeks before his departure, St John asks her to accompany him as his wife and although Jane agrees to go as a sister, he is implacable in his demands. She begins to see his many, many flaws and thus, is able to deal with him easier as he is brought to her level.  St John continues to punish her with his disapproving silence and even when they try to reconcile, nothing but her complete obedience to his wishes and will would satisfy him:

“As I walked by his side homeward, I read well in his iron silence all he felt towards me: the disappointment of an austere and expected submission — the disapprobation of a cool, inflexible judgement, which has detected in another feelings and views in which it has no power to sympathize: in short, as a man, he would have wished to coerce me into obedience: it was only as a sincere Christian he bore so patiently with my perversity, and allowed so long a space for reflection and repentance ……..


…. He was deeply displeased by what had occurred that day; cordiality would not warm, nor tears move him.  No happy reconciliation was to be had with him — no cheering smile or generous word: but still the Christian was patient and placid; and when I asked him if he forgave me, he answered that he was not in the habit of cherishing the remembrance of vexation; that he had nothing to forgive, not having been offended.
 


And with that answer he left me.  I would much rather he had knocked me down.”


The Christmas Tree
John Henry Twachtman
source Wikiart

Jane reveals more and more of her character.  I’ve discovered that what she says about herself is much more important than her outward actions.

She acts with firm resolution in drawing people out of themselves, a unique trait for a woman of her time.

“For me, I felt at home in this sort of discourse.  I could never rest in communication with strong, discreet, and refined minds, whether male or female, till I had passed the outworks of conventional reserve, and crossed the threshold of confidence, and won a place by their heart’s very hearth-stone.”

Her “gift” is instrumental in helping the person to know himself better and this quality of hers is invaluable to those around her.

The character of St John is well-crafted.  I had always thought that his Christianity was the catalyst for his dour character and stringent and unyielding expectations, but Jane often alludes to these characteristics as being outside of his faith and, in fact, it’s his faith that holds them in check.  It’s not because of his faith that he is this way, rather he uses his faith simply as a vehicle to act out his convictions.  Very interesting.

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XXIX, XXX, XXXI


Chapter XXIX

While three days and nights pass, Jane continues in a stupor, confined to a bed in the Rivers’ household.  We learn of her impressions of the family, the sisters being warm and inviting, but their brother St John, displays a different character.  His reserve, quick judgements, distrust and attention to outward appearance are readily obvious.  When feeling a little better, Jane makes her way to the kitchen, where she meets Hannah.  All Hannah’s prejudices against Jane are aired and cleared, encouraged by Jane’s firm resolution and straightforward honesty.  They become fast friends.  At tea with St John and his sisters, he attempts to learn more about Jane, while she examines him.  His features are described as very handsome and harmonious, but underneath she senses a negative energy about him.

“….. (he) scarcely impressed one with the idea of a gentle, a yielding, an impressible, or even of a placid nature.  Quiescent as he now sat, there was something about his nostril, his mouth, his brow, which, to my perceptions, indicated elements within either restless, or hard, or eager …….

Had he been a statue instead of a man, he could not have been easier…..”

Jane gives an alias of Elliot, tells them about Lowood school but refuses to reveal anything about Thornfield Hall or the happenings there.  St. John relents in his questioning, promising to find her employment.
The Kitchenmaid (1712)
Guiseppe Maria Crespi
source Wikiart
Chapter XXX
Jane begins to develop an intimacy with Diana and Mary, but with St John any deeper connection seems impossible and she has many observations why this is so, including his frequent absences from home, his reserved nature, his lack of interaction with nature, his uncommunicativeness and his lack of peace.

“But besides his frequent absences, there was another barrier to friendship with him: he seemed of a reserved, an abstracted, and even of a brooding nature.  Zealous in his ministerial labours, blameless in life and habits, he yet did not appear to enjoy that mental serenity, that inward content, which should be the reward of every sincere Christian and practical philanthropist ……”

Yet while Jane criticizes her benefactor, she also sees parallels in their situations:

“….I was sure St John Rivers — pure-lived, conscientious, zealous as he was — had not yet found that peace of God which passeth all understanding: he had no more found it, I thought, than had I, with my concealed and racking regrets for my broken idol and lost Elysium — regrets to which I have latterly avoided referring, but which possessed me and tyrannized over me ruthlessly.”

Finally she is offered employment by St John as a schoolteacher at a girls’ school he established for the poor in the village of Morton.  As the sisters must make their own way in the world since their father’s death and are soon to leave for B—-, Jane accepts.  The death of the Rivers’ uncle for a moment gives them new hope for their prospects but his mean spirit leaves them little in his will and they all leave for their respective posts.  Jane’s new life begins.
A Dame’s School (1845)
Thomas George Webster
source ArtUK
Chapter XXXI
Jane’s new home is a little cottage in Morton, set aside for the schoolteacher.  As she takes up her new task, she thinks of her old life and begins to come to terms with her decision to leave Thornfield, realizing that if she had succumbed to her sentiments and passions, her inner soul would have been damaged, and for a short time of bliss, she would have paid with a lifetime of regret. 

St John visits one day and while revealing his past struggles and his plans for his future, a girl appears, causing him to blanch.  She is more beautiful than description, and while she attempts to establish an intimacy with St John, he is rather implacable and refuses her invitation to see her father.  It is the heiress. Rosamund Oliver of Vale Hall, but St John seems impervious to her charms.  Jane is intrigued by the exchange.
The Cottage Door (1825)
William Collins
source Wikiart
Initially I wasn’t really looking forward to this part of the book, but I’m finding it compelling this time.  I’m quite loving the contrast between St John and Rochester, and appearance and character.  Rochester’s looks are not outwardly pleasing and his behaviour is not always what would be considered socially pleasing, yet Jane senses that there is a hidden part of his nature that is constant and earnest and has great depth, only it has been corrupted by his life circumstances.  With St John, however, although he is pleasing to look at, and his behaviour is outwardly acceptable, there is a hardness and lack of empathy to him, that does not bode well for any sort of formed intimacy or deep relationship. 

I also like how Jane, while seeing faults in others, also sees them in herself.  While she recognizes that St John has not found peace in his faith or life, she knows that she struggles in this area too and why. 

Since Tom’s comments in my last post about seeing Jane as an unreliable narrator, I have been trying to, but failing miserably.  She simply seems too insightful and too willing to criticize herself for her own failings to be unreliable, or at least from the view of a conscious authorial unreliability.  I’ll keep trying though.

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XXVI, XXVII & XXVIII


Chapter XXVI

Jane’s wedding day arrives but there is not much joy in the beginning and the bridegroom appears rather grim.

“I wonder what other bridegroom ever looked as he did — so bent up to a purpose, so grimly resolute: or who, under such steadfast brows ever revealed such flaming and flashing eyes.”

Rochester nearly drags her to the church, where the priest begins the ceremony but, lo, a man arrives claiming an impediment to the union.  It is the solicitor of Mr. Mason, accompanied by said fellow, who claims that Rochester has a wife yet living.  At the declaration, Rochester at first challenges the claim, then appears to accept the accusation.  He leads them all to a room in Thornfield where a wild woman resides and tells the story of being tricked into marriage with her while her family hid her mental disorder.  Jane discovers that her uncle had learned of her impending marriage and Mr. Mason happened to be there at the time, setting out soon after to prevent it.  She retreats to her room and proceeds to examine her predicament with a heartbreaking earnestness.  She sends a prayer to God in her desolation.

The Wedding Morning
John Henry Frederick Bacon
source ArtUK

Chapter XXVII

After agonizing over the morning, Jane finally leaves her room to find Rochester in a chair outside waiting for her.  He carries her downstairs, gives her food and wine to revive her and then begins to tell of his plans for their future life.  When Jane appears to resist, he realizes that he has not explained how he arrived at his predicament and tells her the story of his marriage —- how he was tricked by his father, older brother and Bertha Mason’s family into making her his bride.  Blinded by her looks, he agreed to the union, only to find her insane and after four years had to lock her up.  Returning to England, she became the inmate of Thornfield and he regrets that he did not appeal to Jane’s magnanimity and tell her the truth earlier.  He seems to think that they will still be married but Jane disavows him of that notion right away, even though her heart is in conflict while it is being torn asunder.  In spite of, first his anger, and then his tormented pain, Jane resists his entreaties.  That night, she leaves, walking for miles alone and then finally gets a ride in a coach to the farthest town she is able.

“Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt!  May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine.  May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonized as in that hour left my lips; for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love.”

Lover’s Walk, Dolgelly (1867)
Thomas Stuart Smith
source ArtUK

Chapter XXVIII

The coach takes Jane as far as Whitcross which is really only a marker in the road.  She begins to wander, coming to a town where at first she is too reticent to beg, then as hunger begins to gnaw at her, she asks for food, all while she still aches for Rochester.

“My rest might have been blissful enough, only a sad heart broke it.  It plained of its gaping wounds, its inward bleeding, its riven chords.  It trembled for Mr. Rochester and his doom; it bemoaned him with bitter pity; it demanded him with ceaseless longing; and, impotent as a bird with both winds broken, it still quivered its shattered pinions in vain attempts to seek him.”

Inquiring about work, no one seems to help her and she resigns herself to a fate of death from hunger and cold.  Yet at the last moment she is drawn to a little cottage where she sees a servant and two young women inside.  Attracted by their calm, pleasant demeanours, she knocks on the door but to her despair, the servant Hannah, refuses her admittance.  She is only saved by a young man, St. John, who returns and takes her inside, feeding her and giving her a bed for the night.

Cottage
Charles Mahoney
source ArtUK

Ah, here is the ripping, the tearing away of Jane and Rochester.  Brontë does an excellent job in conveying Jane’s anguish but in a way that is very in tune with her character.  Her quiet suffering is almost more effective than any outward display.  For a rather practical man, Rochester is in the grip of delusion, which communicates the love he has for her.  He still believes that she will agree to marry him, and one wonders how much he really knows Jane.  Yet his actions display a rather passionate desperation which made me pity him and feel impatience with him all at the same time.  Hopefully Jane’s actions will model a deeper love to him and eventually he’ll respect her decisions. I must say this is one of my favourite parts in the book, despite the sadness and drama.

Her wandering aimlessly around the countryside is certainly not riveting, but it does illustrate the lack of compassion people seem to have for each other.  The fact that she’s a young homeless girl does not seem to touch anyone’s heartstrings.  I wonder if this is an accurate portrayal of human attitudes or simply a device to move the story along.

The weakest part of the book is in this section.  What a coincidence that her uncle just happened to live on this particular Caribbean island, and what a coincidence that he just happens to run into Mr. Mason, who just happens to have the marriage revealed to him so he can stop it and THEN even more manipulation of the uncle by making him so sick that Jane cannot go to him, nor he to her.  Not the best plot crafting by Brontë.

I didn’t know until my fourth or fifth reading of this book that St. John is pronounced, “Sin-jun”.  Do any of my British blog followers, or anyone else for that matter, know the reasoning behind this creative British pronunciation?

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XXIII, XXIV & XXV

Chapter XXIII

Midsummer arrives with a radiance that is breathtaking.  Jane is out walking and spies Rochester, but in spite to trying to avoid his notice, he spots her and asks her to accompany him.  The conversation begins with his alluding to her departure from Thornfield, which she takes to mean that he is referring to his impending marriage. With a playful cruelty, he teases her, until he reveals that she is his only love and therefore, his only bride.  At first, she shows disbelief, but finally is swept away by his emotion.  Yet there are hints of foreboding:

“…. And if I had loved him less I should have thought his accent and look of exultation savage; but, sitting by him, roused from the nightmare of parting —- called to the paradise of union —- I thought only of the bliss given to me to drink in so abundant a flow ……”

And although the summer skies had been kissed by the rays of the sun, suddenly a torrential rain begins to fall, hurrying them both inside where Mrs. Fairfax observes them and looks upon their new-found intimacy with a jaundiced eye.

Garden in Summer (1924)
Theo van Rysselberghe
source Wikiart

Chapter XXIV

Jane awakens to sunny skies once more and searches for her errant bridegroom, guided by a rather grave Mrs. Fairfax.  Here, their relationship begins a dance of power, as Rochester’s commanding temperament jumps to the forefront as he reveals his plans for their marriage, however Jane pushes back with a quiet persistence but also an almost jaunty playfulness.  He admits that he “feigned courtship of Miss Ingram to render you as madly in love with me as I was with you; and I knew jealousy would be the best ally I could call in for furtherance of that end.”  Jane admonishes his conduct strongly but softens at his pleas.

“I turned my lips to the hand that lay on my shoulder.  I loved him very much —- more than I could trust myself to say —- more than words had power to express.”

As he prepares to take her to Millcote for her wedding trousseau, Jane converses with Mrs. Fairfax who gives mysterious warnings about Rochester’s intentions and counsels caution.  More light battles are waged between them as Rochester attempts to get his way and Jane attempts to reign in and tame his impetuosity and imperiousness.  Jane appears to triumph, but a rather somber and shocking confession by her ends the chapter.

“Yet after all my task was not an easy one; often I would rather have pleased than teased him.  My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world; almost my hope of heaven.  He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun.  I could not, in those days, see God for His creature: of whom I had made an idol.”

Village Street
T. Campbell
source ArtUK

Wow, what a powerful last paragraph!  It’s delightful to see the interplay between Jane and Rochester, and see her beginning to shape his character for the better, yet those last words indicate that there is something more powerful at work there.  I don’t remember this dilemma from my last reading, and I’ll be interested to see how Jane reconciles her love of Rochester and her love of God in the coming chapters.

It’s strange how this courtship scene, while resonating with deep passionate love between the two characters, can also arouse waves of profound foreboding.

Oh, and one word about Rochester’s cruel teasing of Jane, as it is often an action that colours the reader’s opinion of him:  he does admit that “his principles have gone awry from lack of attention.”  His confession indicates two things: 1) he recognizes his bad behaviour and 2) he is willing to change.  So hopefully this honest declaration will mitigate some of the animosity a reader might feel towards him.

Man With a Horse and a Greyhound (1819)
John Nost Satorius
source ArtUK

Chapter XXV

Oh my!  More and more dark dreams and visions invade the happy pair’s thoughts.  One night whilst Rochester is away from home, Jane has dreams, first of carrying a burden of a small child, having Rochester in front of her on a road yet not being able to stop him nor have him hear her cries; next that Thornfield Hall was a ruin, she still carried the child yet saw him riding on horseback away from the destruction; and lastly that a ghastly savage vision of a big woman with curly hair came into her room and rent her veil.  When she relates her experiences to Rochester, one can see he is horrified at the latter and Jane believes that it, unlike the others, was not a dream.  She does not sleep that night but prepares to face her wedding day with an unsettled and anguished spirit.

The Veil (1898)
William-Adolphe Bouguereau
source Wikiart

This part is where I lose some of my respect for Rochester.  He lies when he should have told the truth.  Up until now, I could understand him pushing his secret out of his mind, to try to find happiness from a situation that must be a torment to him.  So far he has prevaricated, but now, when faced with a blatant action by his wife, that not only threatens his wedding, but perhaps Jane’s life, the fact that he does not finally confess places him in a very unfavourable light.  I only hope that he can explain himself in the proceeding chapters.

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XX, XXI & XXII

Chapter XX

Jane hears a blood-curdling wail in the middle of the night and then frantic calls for Rochester’s assistance.  He comes to assure his guests, and Jane retreats back into her room, dresses and waits.  Somehow, she simply knows that she’ll be needed.  Sure enough, Rochester fetches her to a room where Mr. Mason is lying in bed obviously injured, his blood-soaked linens nearby and a bandage covering his arm and shoulder. Rochester’s request is for Jane to remain with the wounded man while he leaves to fetch a surgeon, and when Mr. Mason is finally patched up, he is dispatched ……. no, not killed but sent quickly away in a carriage at the break of dawn.  Rochester asks Jane to walk with him and then asks her obscure yet leading questions with regard to a mistake he may have made, and her judgement on it.  He then teases her about his impending marriage and departs.

The Scream (1910)
Edvard Munch
source Wikiart

Here begins Rochester’s provoking teasing of Jane about his marriage.  Many dislike his actions, and I can sympathize.  We know that he is falling in love with Jane and has little interest in Blanche Ingram, but Jane is convinced of their impending nuptials.  His needling of her is based on an immature urge to draw out her feelings for him through jealousy and one cannot respect him for it.  However, I see it as one flaw amongst a number of them in Rochester’s character, again making him very human.  One hopes Jane can amend such behaviour, or at least accept him flaws and all, for which one of us is wholly faultless?

Chapter XXI

“Presentiments are strange things! and so are sympathies; and so are signs; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity had not yet found the key.  I never laughed at presentimetns in my life, because I have had strange ones of my own.  Sympathies, I believe, exist (for instance, between far-distant long-absent, wholly estranged relatives asserting, notwithstanding their alienation, the unity of the source to which each traces his origin) whose workings baffle mortal comprehension.  And signs, for aught we know, may be but the sympathies of Nature with man.”

Robert, a servant at Gatehead and Bessie’s husband, arrives to announce the death of the dissipated John Reed and his mother’s subsequent collapse.  Jane is wanted by her, although no one appears to know why.  Jane requests a week’s leave, which Rochester gives most reluctantly.  Upon arriving at Gateshead, Jane meets the two Reed sisters Georgianna and Eliza, along with a flood of memories.  Mrs. Reed, bedridden, appears to regret her treatment of Jane, giving her a long-past letter sent by her uncle, yet Mrs. Reed’s pride refuses to allow her to truly admit the error of her ways, and therefore she is unable to accept the forgiveness which Jane so freely gives her.  Stubborn and implacable in life, so she is as she is overcome by death.

The Linley Sisters (1772)
Thomas Gainsborough
source Wikiart

The two extremes of the Reed sisters are used to advantage in the story.  The dour, conservative, ultra-religious Eliza contrasted to the flighty, vapid, self-centred Georgianna perhaps is an illustration of how a lack of moral guidance and wanton self-will works on different personalities, rendering an extreme distortion of each, instead of each being tempered by principled and generous behaviour.

Chapter XXII

After a month’s absence, Jane returns to a rather disgruntled Rochester.  He is waiting as she approaches Thornfield and admonishes her for the length of her stay, while also sending out “feelers” as to how much she missed him.  Again, his upcoming marriage is alluded to, but Rochester presents it with a rather vague and enigmatic manner.  In fact, his actions become mystifying as well, as he no longer visits the Ingrams, yet gives Jane even more consideration.

“Never had he called me more frequently to his presence; never been kinder to me when there —- and, alas!  never had I loved him so well.”

Haymaking (1895)
Camille Pissarro
source Wikiart

I love the complex, yet beautifully balanced relationship between Jane and Rochester.  On one hand, she is in his power:

“…. the knowledge that I was nothing to him: but there was ever in Mr. Rochester … such a wealth of power of communicating happiness, that to taste but of the crumbs he scattered to stray and stranger birds like me was to feast genially ……”

Yet even though those words appear to minimize her sense of self and place her under his spell, she never loses her self-worth, her sense of right, or her grasp on happiness, either inside or outside his influence.  Both speak of her ability to love deeply, yet with a strength of character that is quite astounding.  I just love it!

“Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness.  I am strangely glad to get back to you; and wherever you are is my home —- my only home.”

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XVII, XVIII & XIX


Chapter XVII

Jane feels Rochester’s absence keenly and disappointment bubbles up at the speculation he could be gone indefinitely.  But she gathers her senses and fights her emotions, bringing them under practical reign, and by the time they receive a letter from Mr. Rochester a fortnight later announcing his intent to return with a large party, she is composed.

As Rochester brings a houseful of guests, the reader is introduced to Blanche Ingram, a confident beauty who is attached to Mr. Rochester, as he appears attached to her.  Her disdain for everything and everyone below her social standing is apparent, and her haughty rancour leaves Jane with a poor impression of her character.  After hearing her imprecations against governesses, Jane attempts to escape to her room. Rochester waylays her, but none of his influence can induce her to return.

The Drawing Room at Townsend House (1885)
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
source Wikiart

In this chapter, Jane acknowledges that she is drawn to Rochester against her very will.

“{His features} were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me: they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me, — that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his.  I had not intended to love him: the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the gems of love there detected; and now, at first renewed view of him, they spontaneously revived, green and strong!  He made me love him without looking at me ……”

It’s as if their souls have spoken to each other independently of their actions or their wills, and the bond they have is out of both of their control.
Young Woman at Piano (1878)
Julius Leblanc Stewart
source Wikiart
Chapter XVIII

Mr. Rochester is the life of the house party —- literally —- and everything becomes alive in his presence.  We witness a game of charades between the guests, which appears to be designed to allow us to further sketch Blanche Ingram’s character.  Jane is unimpressed:

“….. But I was not jealous; or very rarely; —- the nature of the pain I suffered could not be explained by that word.  Miss Ingram was a mark beneath jealousy: she was too inferior to excite the feeling.  Pardon the seeming paradox; I mean what I say.  she was very showy, but she was not genuine; she had a fine person, many brilliant attainments; but her mind was poor, her heart barren by nature, nothing bloomed spointaneously on that soil; not unforced natural fruit delighted by its freshness.  She was not good; she was not original …… she never offered, nor had, an opinion of her own.  She advocated a high tone of sentiment; but she did not know the sensations of sympathy and pity, tenderness and truth were not in her.  Too often she betrayed this ……”

Jane is distressed by the fact that Rochester seems to recognize these faults also, but still appears to keep to the matrimonial course with very little sentiment, an indication he is marrying for social reasons but not love.

As Rochester is gone to Millcote on business with a late evening return indicated, at dusk a visitor arrives, a Mr. Mason from Kingstown, Jamaica, to see the master of the house.  As he waits, a footman informs the guests of another visitor, an old gypsy woman who wishes to read their fortunes.  Miss Ingram goes first and later appears sour to what she has heard.  The other guests are amazed at the gypsy woman’s perception with their fortunes.  Then Jane herself is summoned.

Gypsy Woman (1886)
Mykola Yaroshenko
source Wikiart

All the characterizations of the house guests, their behaviour and motivations are communicated through Jane’s eyes, although she does exhibit acute perception and appears to be a good judge of character.  She does admit that Mr. Rochester’s faults are becoming dimmer to her and blending more into his character as a whole.  I wonder if that is a good thing: does her “blindness” lead her to reject reality, or is it simply an accepting of him as a flawed person?  One wonders ……

Chapter XIX

Jane is suspicious, reluctant to be lead by the old gypsy woman’s suppositions, even though her guesses appear quite accurate. When the gypsy reveals herself, she is Mr. Rochester in disguise.  Jane appears not especially surprised by this new charade, but has to support her master, as he reels in shock when learning of the arrival of Mr. Mason.  She does his bidding, fetching the unexpected visitor, and hears Rochester, in what seems to be good spirits, as she prepares for sleep.

Chopin Performing in the Guest-Hall of Anton Radziville
in Berlin in 1829 (1887)
Henryk Siemiradzki
source Wikiart

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XIV, XV & XVI

Chapter XIV

At first Jane sees little of Rochester, except in passing, but learns not to be offended at his cool acknowledgements, as she is clever enough to realize these funks are independent of her.  One day, he summons her and Adèle, and while the child opens her cadeaux with Mrs. Fairfax, Rochester and Jane begin a deep conversation.  Rochester claims that he was once as good as Jane, but circumstance and fate worked together to corrupt his nature.  Since fate has denied him goodness, he will do what he can to seize any happiness available to him.  Concerned, Jane counsels repentance but her employer is only willing to concede that he might reform.  Surprisingly, he shows tremendous insight  into Jane’s character, and when Jane feels the hour late, Rochester wishes to continue the conversation.  It is an important and illuminating first extended meeting between the two, where they connect on more than just a superficial basis.

The Conversation Piece
Henry Tonks
source ArtUK

Jane and Rochester’s conversation is absolutely fascinating.  They both speak of entirely unconventional subjects —- in fact, very intimate subjects —- and while both sense the oddity of their conversation, each is comfortable with it.  In fact, Rochester admits that he has given up acting conventional with her.  Jane, for her part, does not let Rochester get away with avoiding facing his demons, and many times challenges him or puts him in his place with a quiet grace that is very effective.

“I don’t think, sir, you have a right to command me merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”

Chapter XV

One afternoon, Rochester meets Jane and Adèle on the grounds and confides in her his boyish infatuation with a French opera-singer, Celine Varens, Adèle’s mother, when he was a young man.  Finding her with her lover, he turned her out, put a bullet in the arm of her lover, and assumed responsibility for Adèle, when Celine abandoned her.  She had told Rochester that the child was his but he could see no resemblance.  This story of passionate love, jealousy and betrayal should have shocked Jane, but she listens with quiet composure, and afterwards feels an increased affection for her charge. Rochester begins to meet her more cordially and Jane is gratified at his trust in her.  As her knowledge of him broadens, so does her opinion of his character:

“And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes?  No, reader.  Gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best like to see ….. Yet I had not forgotten his faults — indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me ….. But I believe that his moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of morality (I say former, for now he seemed corrected of them) had their source in some cruel cross of fate. I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged.  I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled ….”

One night, Jane wakes to a familiar demonic laugh and finds Mr. Rochester’s bed in flames.  In desperation, she flings a pitcher and bowl of water over him, and when she relates her story to him, he makes her wait until he returns.  As he shows a deep gratitude for the service she performed for him, Jane is slightly uncomfortable with their closeness.  When she returns to her room, sleep evades her for the rest of the night.

So, here is where I think the sketching of Mr. Rochester’s character becomes important for an understanding of him.  Many readers dislike his dark, fitful and coarse personality, but it’s necessary to understand its source.  In these last two chapters, we are told that Rochester would have been as pure as Jane, if circumstances had not worked against him.  How he chose to meet those circumstances have perhaps moulded a rougher character, but the goodness of his character is merely buried under these traits.  Jane is one person who cares enough to search for the pearls in amongst the swine.

A Walk (1901)
Victor Borisov-Musatov
source Wikiart

Chapter XVI

Jane discovers that Rochester’s explanation of the fire to the staff is curious: he fell asleep with a lighted candle which caught his curtains on fire.  Jane wonders at his reticence and questions Grace Poole about the laugh, whereupon the servant answers as if she is cautioning her curiosity.  Jane expects to see Rochester that evening, but learns that he is gone and perhaps not soon to return.  He is visiting some ladies on the other side of Millcote, in particular, a Miss Blanche Ingram.  Jane gathers all the lady’s particulars from Mrs. Fairfax and then reproaches herself with a vehemence for dreaming of preference and flattery from her employer, things that can never be.  She is merely “… a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain,” and can have no hope where he is concerned.  She finally forces her feelings to submit to sense, and is calm.

Avenue of Trees in a Small Town (1866)
Alfred Sisley
source Wikiart

Why, can anyone tell me, did Rochester leave so quickly and then decide to visit a possible female admirer?  Is he, too, disconcerted by the connection that he feels to Jane and wishes to sever it, or at the very least, test it?  Strangely, he doesn’t seem like a man to be so disturbed by his feelings.  Or does he have plans to return with Miss Ingram to test Jane’s feelings for him?  I suppose the latter is more likely.

I thought it unusual for Jane to choose to sketch her own portrait, then that of Blanche Ingram and compare the two to control her feelings of partiality for Mr. Rochester.  She is comparing outward appearance only, whereas Jane is intelligent enough to know that should not be of importance where love and respect are concerned.  As composed as she claims she is at the end of the chapter, she does not appear to be thinking clearly.

We also learn in this chapter that Mr. Rochester is nearing 40 years old.

Jane Eyre ~ Chapters XI, XII & XIII



Chapter XI

Brontë begins this chapter by likening the novel to a play and encourages the reader to not only read the story, but “see” it in their mind’s eye, as if it is being acted out on stage. It is a chilly October day as she waits for someone to meet her, feeling small and forgotten.  But soon a conveyance arrives and she is taken the six miles to Thornfield at a frustratingly slow pace.  Taken inside, she makes the acquaintance of Mrs. Fairfax and clears up her mistaken assumption that her pupil is Mrs. Fairfax’s daughter, instead learning the lady is only a servant, and Miss Adèle Varens is the ward of the owner of Thornfield, Mr. Edward Rochester.  As Jane wakes the following morning with risen spirits, the reader finally gets a description of Thornfield, not overly grand, but picturesque in its location.  Jane meets her student, Adèle, finding her pleasing, yet undisciplined towards work.  As to Thornfield’s owner, Mr. Rochester, she is told that he is frequently absent and is “peculiar”, but is unable to discover his peculiarities.  And near the end of the chapter while she is being given a tour of the house, Jane hears a loud laugh that chills her to the bone.  Mrs. Fairfax claims it is the laugh of a servant, Grace Pool, but those who have read Jane Eyre before know better, don’t we?

A Manor House in Autumn
John Atkinson Grimshaw
source Wikiart

Brontë emphasizes Jane’s isolation, as she is now like a ship “cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port of which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted.”  

Strangely we get no description of Thornfield upon Jane’s first site of it, only the mention of gates, a house, and the front door opened by a maidservant.

After chill, and cold, and mist and generally a gloomy description of Jane’s setting throughout the book so far, I wonder if the scene of her waking at Thornfield is a sign of improved circumstance:

“…… The chamber looked such a bright little place to me as the sun shone in between the gay blue chintz window curtains, showing papered walls and a carpeted floor, so unlike the bare planks and stained plaster of Lowood that my spirits rose at the view.  Externals have a great effect on the young: I thought that a fairer era of life was beginning for me, one that was to have its flowers and pleasures, as well as its thorns and toils.”


Chapter XII

Jane takes quickly to her new situation and while she appears content with her work, it is apparent that she longs for experience outside of her comfortable life:

“Anybody may blame me who likes when I add further that now and then, when I took a walk by myself in the grounds, when I went down to the gates and looked through them along the road, or when, while Adèle played with her nurse, and Mrs. Fairfax made jellies in the storeroom, I climbed the three staircases, raised the trap-door of the attic, and having reached the leads, looked out afar over sequestered field and hill, and long dim sky-line —- that then I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen: that then I desired more of practical experience than I possessed, more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach …….. Who blames me?  Many, no doubt; and I shall be called discontented.  I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes …….  It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.  Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot.  Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efrorts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.  It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

And thus, remembering the thrill at Grace Pool’s first laugh, she becomes interested in the servant, as her behaviour is something out of the ordinary.

Three months passes and out of a chilly January afternoon walk, Jane encounters the foreboding sight of a dark rider on a tall horse which, after passing her by, slips on the ice on the causeway, causing a fall.  Summoned by the rider’s huge dog, Jane offers her assistance, only to find that her new acquaintance is rough, ill-humoured, cross and demanding.  Jane employs her usual quiet tact, get him seated again and on his way. While the encounter could not be considered pleasant, there was something exciting in the meeting and Jane is reluctant to return to Thornfield and its stagnant predictability. Eventually she enters, only to discover that the man she’d asssisted was in fact Mr. Rochester, her employer.

The First Meeting of Jane Eyre & Mr. Rochester (1914)
Thomas Davidson
source ArtUK

There is such a resonance of Jane’s searching for a meaning to life outside of social expectations, that is almost a physical desire within her.  One wonders if her attractions to Mr. Rochester will come, not because of his traits, but more because those traits also strain against those standards.   While in many ways, they are very different, Jane’s ready discernment recognizes a kindred spirit.

Chapter XIII

Jane and Adèle are summoned to tea with Mr. Rochester.  Let’s pause a moment and examine his description:

“…… I traced the general points of middle height, and considerable breadth of chest.  He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle age; perhaps thirty-five (from Chapter XII) ……. I knew my traveller with his broad and jetty eyebrows; his square forehead, made squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair.  I recognised his decisive nose, more remarkable for character than beauty; his full nostrils, denoting, I thought, choler, his grim mouth, chin, and jaw — yes, all three were very grim, and no mistake. His shape, now divested of cloak, I perceived harmonised in squareness with his physiognomy: I suppose it was a good figure in the athletic sense of the term — broad chested and thin-flanked, though neither tall nor graceful.”

And so through their tea-time conversation, Rochester learns that Jane is not a creature of convention, her conversation being at once meek yet pointed, quiet, yet stimulating, and her character respectable and admirable.  He inquires as to her history, examines her sketches, of which the reader is given a detailed description and questions her mood at their composition.  Abruptly he ends their tête-a-tête, and Jane finds out through Mrs. Fairfax that Rochester had an older brother now dead, Rowland Rochester, who conspired with their father to make Rochester’s life difficult in that the younger brother was never supported in a living.  It is wondered if this is the reason that Rochester is rarely at Thornfield.

Cloud over the calm sea (1877)
Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart

I wondered at the extensive description of Jane’s watercolour sketches.  There is always something disquieting in them, such as a shipwreck, a corpse, twilight, dishevelled hair, a cold iceberg, a giant head and black drapery.  And always there is a suggestion of a woman, whether it be a bracelet, a fair arm, a woman’s bust, a bloodless brow, a ring …….  A woman and doom …. hmmm ……..

In the last chapter, while we saw Jane engaging easily with Rochester because of his unconventionality, in this chapter we experience the reverse.  He is becoming fascinated with her because of her sincerity, conviction, insight and her willingness to be herself in spite of conventionality.  The story is becoming even more interesting!