This was one of the most heartbreaking sections of a novel I have ever read. Maybe it was hormones, maybe it was stress, or maybe it was simply the fact that Charlotte Brontë was an incredible writer…but I was a wreck while reading parts of this week’s chapters, and it has taken me many days and revisions to write this post due to the whirlwind of emotions involved. So, let’s go and relive it all, shall we? [Spoilers ahead for chapters 22-29 of Jane Eyre]
This section jumped into the deep stuff right away, beginning with one excessively emotional proposal, which I loved, even though Mr. Rochester appeared rather cryptic. I really appreciated Jane’s outburst at Mr. Rochester as I feel it resembled her previous outburst towards Mrs. Reed [“You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so” (Chapter 4) // “Do you think I am an automaton?–a machine without feelings…?” (Chapter 23)]. However, Mr. Rochester, unlike Mrs. Reed, recognizes Jane as an equal, and I loved when he said, “And your will shall decide your destiny,” (Chapter 23): This is one of his redeemable qualities, the fact that he has constantly viewed Jane as an equal. In this proposal scene, he puts all of the power and the decision in her hands. Since their first “fireside chat” he has encouraged her to speak her mind freely, and in Chapter 23 he asks her to share her heart freely as well, without the constraints of class or convention.
Last week I touched on a similarity in themes between Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre (first impressions; not everything is as it appears to be). I couldn’t elaborate at that time, in order to avoid spoilers, but now I can safely finish discussing my thoughts. In Jane Austen’s novel, the story is told from a third person point of view. While we mainly see things from Elizabeth’s perspective, there are quite a few instances where we get to hear Mr. Darcy’s thoughts, and this is why we are not completely shocked and confused by his romantic confessions to Elizabeth. We understand everything that is going on between both characters. In Jane Eyre, however, the story is narrated from the future by Miss Jane herself, and therefore we find ourselves confused by Mr. Rochester in more than one way. Also, there are several exchanges between Jane and Mr. Rochester that are only dialogue; no description of the characters’ tones, deliveries, or appearances are given, which makes it harder for readers to tell when they are being serious or playful.
This is the type of novel that I believe only improves upon rereads (so I am looking forward to rereading it someday!), because it is upon rereads when we are able to fill in the gaps and understand why Mr. Rochester speaks and behaves the way he does. To the first-time reader, Mr. Rochester seems cruel, cold, and even manipulative (Jane herself questions why Mr. Rochester flaunted fake affections towards Miss Ingram when they both knew he didn’t love her–side note: I love how Jane selflessly feels sympathy for Blanche’s feelings! Jane, why are you so good-hearted?). After all, Mr. Rochester did attempt to take a wife while secretly hiding his current, mentally ill wife in his attic; that does not make him appear less manipulative. However, I feel that after we read his confession, his strange demeanor and speeches start to make sense. I believe that Mr. Rochester is not bad, but tortured, because he has spent a great many years of his life in an internal battle between what is right and what is not: more specifically, what is right by conventional standards versus moralistic standards and sometimes versus Godly standards. Convention says he should marry Blanche Ingram; his morals view Jane Eyre as his equal, despite their differences in class and wealth; God says that bigotry is a sin. Mr. Rochester has spent the past fifteen years of his life battling all of these issues, trying to find a balance that brings him peace and pleasure. However, the doomed outcome to this philosophy was foreshadowed back in Chapter 14, when Jane warns Mr. Rochester that seeking pleasure out of life will cause him to “degenerate still more.” Yes, this is definitely a reread type of novel.
Going off that reflection, one of my favorite parts about this particular section was how firm and unwavering Jane was in her moral convictions:
“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be” (Chapter 27).”
This is why Jane is such a wonderful role model for young girls and women! I know I am not alone in wishing I had read this novel back in high school…
So, to conclude: do I think Mr. Rochester is justified in his deceitful actions? No, absolutely not. But I can understand what Jane means when she says this:
“Reader, I forgave him at the moment and on the spot. There was such deep remorse in his eye, such true pity in his tone, such manly energy in his manner; and besides, there was such unchanged love in his whole look and mien–I forgave him all” (Chapter 27).
Jane does know Mr. Rochester better than anyone else, better even than us readers. And since I have already finished the book (don’t worry–no spoilers!), I can attest to the fact that there is still more for us to discover about both Jane and her tortured lover.
Hopefully I can explain my opinions more clearly in my next (and last!!) Jane Eyre post. This post was unusually difficult for me to write coherently, so I apologize for my scattered thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment below with any questions, clarifications, or your own commentary on understanding Mr. Rochester!