Jane Eyre: Chapters 35-38

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

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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.

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Jane Eyre: Chapters 27-29

This post includes spoilers through chapter 29 of Jane Eyre.

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Chapter 27:

“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 acttalking, 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 strengthand 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.”

Chapter 28:

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!

Chapter 29:

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.”