The Yellow Wallpaper and Jane Eyre

I was going to write a post or two on “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and discuss it in comparison with Jane Eyre. But honestly, all of the comparisons I could make seem a bit too easy.

“The Yellow Wall-Paper” is an American short story, and in some ways the characters and plot are very different from Jane Eyre. But on the other hand, whenever I read it, I can’t help thinking about Mr. Rochester and Bertha Antoinette, or even Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre. The gas-lighting and manipulation, whether it’s intentional or simply because the husband thinks he knows best, is terrifying.

If you haven’t read this incredible short story, please do so! You can do so here at Project Gutenberg.

Here’s a brief write-up on female “hysteria” and insanity in the 19th century.

Have any of you read this story? What do you think of it? Does it make you reflect on Jane Eyre differently in any way? If so, how?



Jane Eyre: Chapters 35-38

This post contains spoilers for pretty much everything in Jane Eyre.


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Join in the #EyreAlong conversation on Twitter.

Coming up in April: a readalong for Silas Marner by George Eliot.

I have read Jane Eyre, mon ami, and shall be glad to know what you admire in it. All self-sacrifice is good-but one would like it to be in a somewhat nobler cause than that of a diabolical law which chains a man soul and body to a putrefying carcase. However the book is interesting-only I wish the characters would talk a little less like the heroes and heroines of police reports.

-from a letter to Charles Bray from George Eliot

Do you agree or disagree with George Eliot’s opinions on Jane Eyre? She uses very strong words! Do you think Jane’s Christian moral code is, indeed, a “diabolical law”? Is Bertha anything better than a “putrefying carcase”? DISCUSS. Like I said, we’re reading a George Eliot book next for our readalong in April, so it will be interesting to compare these two authors’ styles and priorities.

Chapter 35

“To me, he was in reality become no longer flesh, but marble; his eye was a cold, bright blue gem; his tongue, a speaking instrument-nothing more.”

St. John continues to enrage and terrify me. St. John calls Jane “violent, unfeminine, and untrue,” because not only has she rejected his proposal but she compares marrying him to killing her. This is a classic move: by accusing her of being unjust toward him, he manages to completely invalidate her feelings of hurt and validate his self-righteously cold treatment of her. Furthermore, he accuses Jane of breaking her promise to him of marrying him and going to India. This is nothing less than a lie and attempted entrapment – she did nothing of the sort. Fortunately, despite her wish for St. John to approve of her, she tells him as much: “I am not under the slightest obligation to go to India.” 

Even Diana, who clearly loves her brother and wants him to stay, is pleased and surprised that Jane turned him down: “unfortunately, I have noticed, whatever he exacts, you force yourself to perform. I am astonished you found courage to refuse his hand.” I think, if Jane had been in love with St. John, she wouldn’t have been as obsessed with his approval. She wants St. John as a brother, and because of that she holds him in respect and authority. In contrast, Jane was in love with Rochester and while she wanted him to think well of her, she never bent over backwards to earn his approval – she simply behaved as her own self and principles required her to do.

Of course, as Jane admits, part of St. John’s power over her is his gentleness and quietness: “I could resist St. John’s wrath: I grew pliant as a reed under his kindness.” Again, to contrast with Rochester, Jane found it easy to disagree with him or disobey him when he was passionately demanding something. When St. John resorts to demands, Jane can see his errors; but when he gives her kindness (which is very rare to her) she is much more likely to give in.

Gross, St. John.

Anyway, she resists St. John thanks to magical ghostly voices, and we proceed to the next chapter.

Chapter 36

“The wondrous shock of feeling had come like the earthquake which shook the foundations of Paul and Silas’s prison; it had opened the doors of the soul’s cell, and loosed its bands-it had wakened it out of its sleep, whence it sprang trembling, listening, aghast…”

Jane acts calm but she really has no chill, does she?  I’m glad she doesn’t just wander off into the moor again, as it seems like she does in ever filmed adaptation; instead, she waits for St. John to leave, and then informs Mary and Diana of what is going on. Like good friends, they are supportive but also make sure she’s not going to fall into a bog or something. Although, I would have a lot more questions about Jane’s “friend” that she’s going to go see, considering she almost died of starvation on my doorstep and said she had no friends.

Back at Thornfield’s blackened ruins:

Jane: I leave Thornfield for five minutes, and what happens? EVERYTHING IS SET ON FIRE? ROCHESTER IS BLIND AND CRIPPLED? THE INNKEEPER HATES ME?

I really love the scene with the innkeeper in this chapter because it’s one of the few, and possibly only, outside perspectives we get on Jane and Rochester. Hilariously, he’s a huge fan of Rochester (I mean, for good reasons, it sounds like Rochester was a good landowner/master/etc), and extremely critical of Jane, whom he has never met.  The innkeeper knows that Rochester “set store on her past everything” and grew “quite savage on his disappointment” and ends with the wish that “Miss Eyre had been sunk in the sea before she came to Thornfield Hall.” He doesn’t seem to object morally to any of it, though; not Mr. Rochester’s secret wife, or a possible marriage to someone beneath him socially. He seems to only care about Rochester’s health and happiness, so potentially, he would have been fine with Jane and her marriage to Rochester if it had turned out well.

Chapter 37

Mr. Rochester now lives at Ferndean manor. “Dean” can be traced to an Old English word denu or dænu, which means “valley,” so between that and “fern,” we’ve got a house name that is distinctly opposite to his previous residence, Thornfield. Etymologically interesting, in my opinion!

“Is it Jane? What is it? This is her shape-this is her size-“

“And this is her voice,” I added. “She is all here. Her heart, too.”

Spoilers: Jane and Rochester get together. Are we happy about this? Sad? Disappointed? DISCUSS. Jane is certainly happy.

We get a lot of Bible references in this chapter. Mr. Rochester is compared to Samson (for the third time in the book, I believe). Jane also compares him to Nebuchadnezzar, who God cursed with madness and then wandered in the wilderness for a while before being restored to his wits and kingdom (Daniel 4). Rochester makes comparisons of his own, telling Jane, “If Saul could have had you for his David, the evil spirit would have been exorcised without the aid of the harp.” You can read this story in 1 Samuel 16:14-23. In Jane’s narration, when she’s reflecting on the disembodied voice that provoked her to seek Rochester out, she says “I kept these things then, and pondered them in my heart.” This is a reference to Mary the mother of Jesus in Luke 2, after the shepherds visit her son and explain that God told them to seek Him out. Is this a sacrilegious comparison? DISCUSS, haha.

Mr. Rochester gets very jealous of St. John, based on Jane’s description (as she intends! Saucy!). He compares St. John to Apollo, god of music and overall handsomeness, and himself to Vulcan, or Hephaestus, the ugly and crippled god of craftsmen. Vulcan, though, is also married to Venus/Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, which Jane humbly doesn’t point out.

“You are altogether a human being, Jane? You are certain of that?” 

“I conscientiously believe so, Mr. Rochester.”

I don’t want to glorify manipulation here, but I love how Jane handles Rochester in this chapter. I mean, she’s doing it for his own good, right? She’s trying to get him on his feet again, physically and psychologically; she wants him to care about living again and not obsess over his past sins and wrongs. She does this in her typical Jane fashion of poking the beast with a stick until it snaps, and then mollifying it with food.

Rochester has been having his own tribulations of the soul while Jane was gone. He admits, “You know I was proud of my strength: but what is it now, when I must give it over to foreign guidance, as a child does its weakness? Of late, Jane, only-only of late-I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere.”

Chapter 38

The reactions of the servants, John and Mary, to Jane and Rochester’s engagement is a perfect scene, and a lovely anecdote in this final chapter.

In this chapter, everything is wrapped up tidily. We get endings for Jane and Rochester (obviously), Adele, Diana, Mary, and St. John. Were you unhappy with any of their endings? Were there other characters you would have liked to hear about? DISCUSS. Personally, I am ecstatic that Jane remains friends with Diana and Mary (and their eventual husbands).

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the only line from an English novel more lavishly overused and adapted than the opening sentence to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice must be Charlotte Brontë’s triumphant climax to Jane Eyre: “Reader, I married him.”

Claire Fallon at the Huffington Post

I strongly recommend reading Fallon’s article here. Agree or disagree with her argument, it’s a helpful discussion of famous line from Jane Eyre and its use and effect over the years.

And that’s a wrap for Jane Eyre! I’ve really enjoyed reading this book with you all. I hope you had fun! I will be doing a related post on “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in a couple of weeks, so feel free to read that story and discuss it as it relates to themes in Jane Eyre.

I hope to see you at future readalongs. As mentioned at the top, Silas Marner starts in April.