This post includes spoilers through chapter 29 of Jane Eyre.
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“If you were mad, do you think I should hate you?”
“I do indeed, sir.”
“Then you are mistaken, and you know nothing about me, and nothing about the sort of love of which I am capable. Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would still be dear. Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken, it would be my treasure still.”
Rochester continues at some length on this one point. Based on what we’ve seen of Rochester’s character, what we know of his relationship with Bertha, and what we’ve seen of his relationship with Jane, do you believe him? Why or why not? DISCUSS.
Personally, I’m not sure what Rochester would do if Jane’s mind was broken, but it’s clear that he is convinced of the truth of his words. That’s the tricky part of his character, both for us as readers and for poor Jane trying to argue with him: he is absolutely convinced that he knows the truth of a matter, and that he knows how to act and that his action will be the right one. For example, when he’s telling Jane the whole history of him and Bertha, he says, “I reasoned thus, Jane: and now listen; for it was true Wisdom that consoled me in that hour, and showed me the right path to follow.” He’s referring to the decision to go back to England, and keep his a wife a secret from everyone, so that he can live however he wants and doesn’t have to be responsible for his own wife in the eyes of other people.
Rochester’s progression of arguments in this discussion, in regards to convincing Jane, is scary. He notes almost immediately that Jane is pretty set in her views from the beginning: “you are thinking how to act– talking, you consider, is of no use.” He observes the “sphynx-like expression is forming in your countenance” and isn’t sure how she is going to respond or react to any of the information he is giving her. He implies that if he could win her over by physical force, he would do so: “I long to exert a fraction of Samson’s strength” and laments that he can’t: “Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it-the savage, beautiful creature!” Does he get a gold “You Tried” star for realizing that Jane’s mind and soul belong to her, no matter what? I’m not sure.
On Jane’s side, she is clearly just trying to survive the conversation so that she can leave him later, either with or without his consent. Most of her thoughts and speech aren’t even trying to convince him that she is right, just trying to placate him or at least not to rile him. “I saw that in another moment and with one impetus of frenzy more, I should be able to do nothing with him.” Then Jane tries the proven method of crying, which works even though Rochester is aware of what she is doing (“If I storm, you have the art of weeping.”). But at that point, what ELSE can she do? He’s clearly convinced that he is right and won’t take no for an answer.
The biggest face-palm moment for me was the bit about the mistresses. So Rochester tells Jane about all of his ex-girlfriends, and then ends the explanation with this gem:“Hiring a mistress is the next worst thing to buying a slave: both are often by nature, and always by position, inferior: and to live familiarly with inferiors is degrading.”
Jane says nothing, but she, not being an idiot, realizes that “he would one day regard me with the same feelings which now in his mind desecrated their memory.”
This entire conversation between Rochester and Jane is frankly terrifying. Jane knows she can’t give in on any point, if she wants to keep her self-respect and principles, but she also can’t infuriate or alienate him so much that he either physically restrains her or cuts himself off from her emotionally/psychologically. I’d love to do a close read of this whole section but we have OTHER THINGS TO TALK ABOUT TODAY.
Before we move on to the next chapter, there were a couple of bits in here that reminded me of other works (most likely unintentional):
- “My fixed desire was to seek and find a good and intelligent woman.” reminded me of John Donne’s Song, and its list of impossible missions, including finding “a woman true, and fair.”
- Jane’s claim that “You will forget me before I forget you.” reminded me of Anne Elliott in Persuasion by Jane Austen, when she claims: “All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!”
Best quote of the chapter (from Jane): “I care for myself.”
Runner-up: “Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation.”
I’m a sucker for “lone figure at a crossroads” imagery.
Jane goes through a lot of angst in this chapter, some of it for herself because she is IN THE WILDS OF ENGLAND with nothing and no one to help, but most of it is for Rochester, who is probably not having the best time either. However, her faith is admirable – “Mr. Rochester was safe: he was God’s and by God would he be guarded.” That doesn’t mean that a) all her problems are solved or b) she feels calm all the time. She still has struggles and doubts; faith not a magic potion.
When she is rejected at the house by the servant Hannah, Jane is finally about to give up: “I can but die, and I believe in God.”
I still can’t decide what Hogwarts house St. John belongs to, but his response, “All men must die,” shows maybe he should belong to a Game of Thrones house instead?
Where did we see the ignis fatuus earlier in this book? I think Rochester alluded to them. Anyway, Jane sees the light at Marsh End and thinks it is a will o’ the wisp, but decides to go toward it as at this point she has no other choice of place to go.
Diana and Mary studying German together is my favorite. What cool kids. Also I learned a new word: “fustian,” which means “pompous or pretentious speech or writing.” I mean, it’s one of those words that creates itself when you use it, but still!
Or, the return of physiognomy! Since Jane is so ill she can’t talk, everyone gets to gather around and stare at her face and decide what her personality is like based on the size of her forehead, flesh, etc etc. Jane is judged to be “agreeable,” “sensible,” and not indicating “vulgarity or degradation.” Hooray!
Jane’s conversation with Hannah is fascinating. She plays the same sort of game that she did with Rochester- don’t say much, but when you do, make it barbed; otherwise, stay quiet and stare a lot so that they talk a lot and get defensive. Jane reminds Hannah that “if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime.” But Hannah has some good points – they live out in the middle of nowhere and she’s alone in the house with two young women.
The Rivers kids are the best supporting characters we’ve met in a while. I like Diana’s bossiness and kindness. St. John is a mysterious guy! He’s very analytical and thoughtful towards Jane, as if he’s trying to figure her out. It’s clear that he’s helping her more out of Christian duty and charity rather than because he likes her or out of kindness, like his sisters do. He’s not interested in helping her if she’s not going to be sensible; he wants to make sure she will make good use of his help rather than take advantage of him.
All three of the Rivers seem to read and study a lot; as Hannah says, “There was nothing like them in these parts, nor ever had been; they had liked learning, all three, almost from the time they could speak.”
All three of them allow Jane to keep her secrets, although the curiosity is probably killing them. What Jane does say makes her situation sound very dramatic and mysterious – which it is, but she could have gone the safer route and made something specific up. That wouldn’t be very like her, though.
We take a look at how much the Rivers parallel or contrast with the Reeds in future chapters.
Best quote of the chapter:
“My sisters, you see, have a pleasure in keeping you,” said Mr. St. John, “as they would have a pleasure in keeping and cherishing a half-frozen bird some wintry wind might have driven through their casement. I feel more inclination to put you in the way of keeping yourself: and shall endeavour to do so: but observe, my sphere is narrow.”