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This post contains spoilers through chapter 26 of Jane Eyre.
The cat is out of the bag. I’m guessing most of us have experienced this story before, either the book or an adaptation. If so, did anything about the Big Reveal strike you differently this time around? If this was your first time finding out about the madwoman in the attic, what were your thoughts?
There is an entire book titled The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar that looks at Victorian literature and its treatment of mad women (or women we are told are crazy) through a feminist lens. I’ve only read chapters from it but I recommend it if you’re interested in the topic.
Anyway, let’s go chapter by chapter and talk about this.
This whole section before their wedding makes me so uncomfortable. There’s been a lot of chatter on Twitter about it (check out the conversation in the #EyreAlong hashtag if you haven’t), and how conscious Rochester is of how he’s manipulating Jane, and whether Jane is aware of it. I’ve read this book before and disliked Rochester’s behavior at several points, but it was a lot more obvious to me this time around a) how much he is gaslighting her b) how much he is objectifying her without noticing and c) how much the author judges him for it, as well as Jane occasionally.
Jane’s immediate problem is Rochester’s determination to cuddle and turn her into some kind of doll. Now that he can be honest about his feelings, he turns into this crazy sentimental boyfriend who wants to talk about how beautiful she is and how great she is Jane is just like, slow down, babe: “I felt he was either deluding himself, or trying to delude me.” I am a normal human being and PS you are a normal human being too and REALLY ANNOYING AS WELL: “you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me” Jane tells him. Finally she resorts to Extreme Saltiness to get him to stop adoring her so fervently and annoyingly: “There, you are less than civil now; and I like a rudeness a great deal better than flattery.” There’s a couple of things to remember about Jane here. Jane really appreciates honesty and straightforwardness, so Rochester getting all poetic is very wrong to her. Jane has low self-esteem, so someone loving her that much is upsetting to her. She can’t relax and be herself because she knows she’s Not That Great and she will let them down. There’s reams and reams to be said about Jane’s self-esteem and where it’s at throughout the book. All of that being said, you could point to the fact that she likes it when he’s rude to her as an example of their unhealthy, unequally-balanced (in terms of social power) relationship.
In my post last week, I was wondering about Rochester’s intentions in telling Jane he was going to marry Blanche. I forgot he explains it explicitly in this chapter as a bid to make Jane jealous. It’s interesting that he leaps to that method after the scene where Jane rescues him from the fire. I’m trying to picture his internal monologue but apparently it goes something like this:
ROCHESTER: OH NO I LOVE JANE SO MUCH. We’ve been hanging out and she just RESCUED ME and I am feeling VERY VULNERABLE and IN LOVE RIGHT NOW.
ROCHESTER: What should I do ? Does she like me back? Can I marry her even though, you know, my secret wife?
ROCHESTER: She’ll never admit she likes me back. 😥
ROCHESTER: JEALOUSY! IT’S THE ONLY WAY. FORTUNATELY I KNOW ALL THOSE HOT GIRLS AT THE LEAS.
ROCHESTER: *rides off*
JANE: Wait, he’s gone? I thought he was going to admit he had feelings for me like a normal honest person and we could get married….
One scene that I really loved was Mrs. Fairfax warning Jane. It’s clear that Mrs. Fairfax, even though she doesn’t know Mrs. Rochester, is really concerned that in this matter Mr. Rochester is Up To No Good and to be fair, Jane has ZERO worldly experience. “Gentlemen in his station are not accustomed to marry their governesses.” She comes across as controlling and annoying to Jane, of course, but it’s clear she’s only speaking up because she’s concerned and feels responsible for Jane. I don’t think Jane has ever had an older, wiser person ever be concerned for her welfare or life choices before, and it’s just…really great. The End.
“I believe she thought I had forgotten my station, and yours, sir.”
“Station! station! –your station is in my heart…”
Back to Rochester exhibiting Concerning Behavior: we’ve seen him call Jane an elf many times previously in this book. In my opinion, it often comes across as an affectionate nickname and teasing, and Jane doesn’t seem to object to it. When she is at Lowood and later at her Gateshead visit, she paints fantastical pictures with folkloric subjects, and she seems well-acquainted with legends, like guytrash and the people under the hill. ALL OF THAT BEING SAID, Rochester seems to be taking the metaphor pretty far at this point. We talked about the Tam Lin reference in the section for last week, and Rochester alludes to a similar story when he tells Adele the story in the carriage: “It was a fairy, and come from Elf-land, it said; and its errand was to make me happy.” I mean, I guess that’s cute? Except that it means Jane’s entire existence is for Rochester’s personal gratification. We can come back to fairy-stories and Jane’s purpose at Thornfield again later, but for now, eek, Rochester, kinda weird, bro.
I keep thinking we’ve reached the end of WEIRD CONVOS in this chapter but then there’s the whole part where Rochester is like “I’ll be your Turkish slave-dealer, baby” and Jane is like “I’ll be over here, stirring up slave-mutinies like a normal Victorian woman” and I just whew boy. This book is great and terrible?!?
Speaking of slavery, we have repeated imagery of Jane and Rochester each enslaving the other, mostly from Rochester because he’s the weird one:
- (to Jane) “You master me-you seem to submit”
- (to Jane) “After all, a single morning’s interruption will not matter much, when I mean shortly to claim you- your thoughts, conversation, and company-for life.”
- (to Jane) “it is your time now, little tyrant, but it will be mine presently…..I’ll just-figuratively speaking-attach you to a chain like this.”
I don’t know, do you think I’m being unfair to Rochester? Let me know because wow. Of course, there’s also the song he sings about the lady-love swearing to die with her lover, and Jane’s caustic response: “I had no intention of dying with him-he might depend on that.” It’s just a song, on the one hand. On the other…WHY ARE YOU SO WEIRD, ROCHESTER?
“I never can bear being dressed like a doll by Mr. Rochester, or sitting like a second Danae with the golden shower falling daily round me”: this is a reference to a lady named Danae who gets locked up by her dad and then impregnated by Zeus in the form of a sunbeam. I’m assuming Jane isn’t talking about the impregnation part, but rather that she doesn’t want to be a passive locked up lady whose only hope is aid from someone outside. Which, when you think about it, says really disturbing things about poor Bertha, locked up in her room.
“Now, king Ahasuerus”: This is the king that Esther marries in the biblical book of the same name. I think Jane is comparing herself to Esther in that she doesn’t want monetary goods but for Rochester to trust her (good luck with that). There’s definitely an anti-Semitic vibe in her speech here though, which is uncomfortable and weird.
“don’t turn out a downright Eve on my hands!”: Rochester responds by comparing Jane to biblical Eve, who wanted the forbidden fruit that would give her wisdom – he’s implying that truth/knowledge/wisdom isn’t always a good thing to have so that he can justify not telling her about some stuff, like, oh, HIS SECRET WIFE, for example.
Best quote of the chapter:
“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.”
There is so much foreshadowing in this book that it is just rude. In chapter 23 Jane accused Mr. Rochester of being “a married man- or as good as a married man, and wed to one inferior to you-to one with whom you have no sympathy-whom I do not believe you truly love.” She was talking about Blanche Ingram, but her entire speech also applies to Mr. Rochester and Mrs. Bertha Rochester and their relationship. Here in chapter 25, it opens with Jane preparing to become Jane Rochester: “Mrs. Rochester! She did not exist: she would not be born till tomorrow, some time after eight o’clock AM.”
There’s also the extremely disturbing (to me, at least) image of the chestnut-tree that was struck by lightning. Jane stares at it and notices the two pieces of it are just barely holding together: “a ruin, but an entire ruin” and “you are not desolate: each of you has a comrade to sympathize with him in his decay.” Jane and Rochester and their relationship are like the tree. If Jane stays with him and lives with his poor choices, even after learning everything, it would be really unhealthy for both of them, and morally they would be one strong wind away from crumbling completely.
This chapter is the most concentrated example of Rochester’s manipulation of Jane, especially when she questions things he doesn’t want her to know about – or even, like, when she literally SEES HIS SECRET WIFE IN HER ROOM and he still doesn’t tell her the truth. If you aren’t familiar with the term gaslighting, please read up on it, because this is a textbook case. Also please go watch Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman because it is amazing.
I’m pretty frustrating with Jane’s repeated acceptance of Rochester’s super fake lies, but then again, what else is she going to do?
“Shall I tell you of what it remind me?”
“Of the foul German spectre-the Vampyre.” Jane has read Dracula: she knows how to identify a horror movie and whether she’s in one. 😉
Best quote of the chapter:
“I found nothing save Fairfax Rochester’s pride; and that did not scare me, because I am used to the sight of the demon.”
This is possibly the most dramatic chapter in the whole book, and it’s really well done in terms of shock value and the nightmare-ish unfolding of events, but I don’t have a lot to say about it.
Most of the adaptations I have seen differ from the book scene in the attic in that Mrs. Rochester tries to attack Jane, and then is stopped by Mr. Rochester. Here she ignores everyone else and goes right for her captor, which I can understand and respect. But again, she is a homicidal mad person at this point – attacking people and drinking their blood is wrong, Bertha! I’ve also seen several movies that don’t show her sneaking into Jane’s room and ripping the veil, which is one of the most terrifying scenes in the book and I really don’t understand why you wouldn’t include it.
I’d like to know more about Mr. Mason – do his motivations come from love for his sister, concern for the family honor, his promise to Jane’s uncle, or a combination of all three? What do you think? We don’t get a lot about him besides his fear, and Mr. Rochester, at least, has a very low opinion of him. I’d forgotten that Mr. Mason knows Jane’s uncle in Madeira, and that those two sub-plots tie together. Rochester mentioned earlier that Mason could ruin him at any moment, and maybe Jane could too, and Jane insists she would never put him in danger. However, her letter about her marriage to her uncle unintentionally does just that. WHOOPSIES.
“Jane Eyre, who had been an ardent, expectant woman-almost a bride-was a cold, solitary girl again: her life was pale, her prospects were desolate.” Jane realizes how precarious her situation is now. She can either pretend that everything is fine (which would be very out of character and stagnant for the Jane we know), go back to how she was before, or move on.
In a previous post, I wondered about Jane’s dreams about the child, particularly mentioned at the beginning of chapter 21. This chapter seems to provide an answer as to the significance of those dreams, which started around the same time she became aware of her feelings for Rochester: “I looking on my cherished wishes, yesterday so blooming and glowing; they lay stark, chill, livid corpses, that could never revive. I looked at my love: that feeling which was my master’s-which he had created; it shivered in my heart, like a suffering child in a cold cradle; sickness and anguish had seized it; it could not seek Mr. Rochester’s arms-it could not derive warmth from his breast. Oh, never more could it turn to him; for faith was blighted-confidence destroyed! Mr. Rochester was not to me what he had been; for he was not what I had thought him.”
Um. Yikes. DISCUSS.