Several hundred pages of Jane Eyre deal mostly with the
nature of Jane and Rochester's relationship. The following
discussion provides a context for you to consider
the dynamics which fuel Jane's love for Rochester. Keep my suggestions
in mind as you read the novel and decide which theory or theories apply.
You may think none applies and develop your own theories. Certainly
I want you to do your
own thinking on this topic. I have only one requirement: you must be able to explain your interpretation
and to support it with evidence
from the text.
At this point in the novel, we don't have enough information to
speculate about Jane's appeal for Rochester. We will deal with that
Jane and Mr. Rochester
Jane is initially intrigued by Mr. Rochester. The morning after his
arrival, she asks Mrs. Fairfax for more information about him.
She becomes increasingly attracted to him, even though he is often
brusque with her and, some readers believe, abusive. Rochester's
attentions transform Jane, "So happy, so gratified did I become with this
new interest added to life, that I ceased to pine after kindred; my thin
crescent-destiny seemed to enlarge; the blanks of existence were filled
up; my bodily health improved; I gathered flesh and strength" (p. 149).
She is finally so in
love with him that he displaces God and becomes "an idol" for her (p.
279). Why is Jane so attracted to Rochester? Consider the following
- He brings a sense of life and of excitement to the stagnant
life she feels she is living at isolated Thornfield. Think of her
restless walking on the roof, her looking out at the horizon and
yearning for a direct involvement in life, and her reluctance to
return to Thornfield after her walk.
In helping him with his
horse, she has a sense of usefulness; she is actively involved in
a life outside her own--however briefly. (Her helping him is a
pattern in their relationship. As you read the novel, watch for
the ways in which she helps him, even to saving his life.)
He brings her his experience
of the world, which she does not know because of her youth and her
sheltered life and which she wants to know about. She says, "he liked
to open to a mind unacquainted with the world, glimpses of its scenes and
ways...and I had a keen delight in receiving the new ideas he offered,
in imagining the new pictures he portrayed, or followed him in thought
through the new regions he disclosed" (p. 149). In addition, he tells her
of a male sexual world forbidden to a young lady.
- His interest in her is intellectually stimulating and
implicitly flattering. He is her superior in age, in social
status and power, in his position as her employer, and in his
experience of the world, yet he engages in conversation with her as
though she were an equal. Jane perceives immediately that Rochester
is not treating her as a paid subordinate, "you did forget it, and
that you care whether or not a dependent is comfortable in his
dependency" (p. 137). She sees his telling her about his mistresses as
a recognition of her superior qualities, "The confidence he had thought
fit to repose in me seemed a tribute to my discretion: I regarded and accepted it as such" (p. 148).
Jane has been treated
as an inferior and been in an inferior position her entire life; in
this position she cannot express her feelings, desires,
thoughts. Her outbursts are rebellion against being devalued and
inhibited; a sense of the injustice of being treated in this way
consumes her at times. She struggles against Mrs. Reed to assert
her self-worth and to protest being treated unfairly. At Lowood she
achieves success and recognition by conforming to the rules of the
school and by adopting the values of Miss Temple and Helen Burns.
Even so, her position as a student and as a teacher is still inferior . She is not free to express her own
After Miss Temple leaves, Jane ardently desires to find a life which is free and varied. But her desire for
self-expression and freedom and her desire for more life experience are blocked by social and economic
I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered
a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I
abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change,
stimulus; that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space:
"Then, " I cried, half desperate, "grant me at least a new
servitude!" (p. 86).
To be of interest to
Mr. Rochester, to be treated as an equal rather than as a
subordinate would fill very deep needs in Jane. Both as a child and as an adult, Jane needs to
maintain her status as a lady, to remain independent, and to assert
- Jane and Rochester are engaged in a power struggle. Their
conversations show that struggle. For example, he tries to force
her to reveal herself and her feelings for him; she refuses to
reveal herself. As his employee, she cannot acknowledge feelings for him. As a lady, she cannot
acknowledge feelings for him first; in fact, a lady is not
expected to have romantic feelings for any particular man until he
is accepted as a suitor and fiance.
In his efforts to force
Jane to reveal herself, Rochester becomes increasingly
abusive/cruel and causes Jane great pain. Romantic readers might
say that Jane submits to his "abuse" because she loves him. Other
readers might say that Jane, as an abused child, accepts abuse
because it is so familiar and, in that sense, comfortable. She
does not recognize--or perhaps care to acknowledge--that Rochester
is abusing her emotionally. There is a school of psychology which
women are by nature masochistic; this theory explains Jane's submission
abuse as natural in the male-female relationship.
- Jane has been the Other throughout
her life. At Lowood she is able to adapt and suppress part of her
nature so that she fits in. But once the restraining influence and
example of Miss Temple are gone, Jane's passionate nature re-asserts
itself; in other words, she reverts to being the Other. In
Rochester, she meets someone as passionate as she is, as
imaginative as she is. Having met a kindred spirit, she no longer
feels like the Other. She asserts the similarity of their natures
several times, "For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not mean
that I have his force to influence, and his spell to attract: I
mean only that I have certain tastes and feelings in common with
him" (p. 178).
You may prefer to see
her as the outsider, rather than
as the Other; the discussion of the previous paragraph still
applies. Just replace the words the Other with
the outsider .
It is painful to feel
alien from everyone else, not to fit in anywhere, and not to have
a home and family. Jane does not explicitly state that she is
searching for a home and a family, for a place where she is
accepted for who she is; nevertheless, is Jane unconsciously driven
by these needs? At Thornfield and with Rochester, she feels at
home and accepted for who she is.
- Jane finds Rochester sexually attractive. Notice how often
she describes him physically, emphasizing his power, his energy,
and his athletic body. Is it relevant that Jane has met very few
eligible men, let alone received their attention and engaged in
challenging, one-on-one conversation with them?
- Rochester--the dark, magnetic, mysterious stranger--is a Byronic
hero, a character type developed in Byron's poems. The Byronic hero
broods over and is tormented by an unnamed sin. His contempt for
conventional morality leads him to rebel against it and to defy fate.
Though moody, cynical, and defiant, he is capable of deep, strong
affection. Because the Byronic hero is unpredictable and
dangerous, he is exciting. The masterful and passionate Byronic hero appeals romantically to many
women and dominates their love and
sexual fantasies. Does Rochester appeal to Jane, to the reader,
and perhaps to Bronte for his Byronic qualities?
Chapter 14 (Pages 130-142)
What are some of Rochester's Byronic traits?
As you read, watch for Rochester's Byronic traits and for other expressions of his Byronicism.
- Moodiness. Rochester treats Jane with mood swings, sometimes friendly,
sometimes not, but she is not offended because she realizes "that I had
nothing to do with their alternation" (p. 131). Is it also
possible she does not necessarily expect to be treated kindly?
- Masterfulness. He commands her
appearance and her placement before the fire; he sits with his back to the fire (fire will be an
important element in their relationship). The fire shadows his
face to her and reveals her face and, presumably, her feelings, to
him. Can their their positions be interpreted as an expression of his attempt to control their
- Mysterious past, unspecified sin, and suffering. Rochester's conversation is
mystifying with its vague allusions to past transgression and the possibility of reform and redemption.
Jane holds her own in their conversations; you may even think she
comes out ahead in their game or power struggle. She responds
intelligently to his comments. When he orders her to speak, her
smile is "not a very complacent or submissive smile either" and she
sits silent. He apologizes, "I don't
wish to treat you like an inferior"; however, not wanting to give up
his advantages, he quickly adds, "I claim only such superiority as
must result from twenty years' difference in age and a century's
advance in experience" (p. 135). Jane agrees to allow him "to
hector" her (hector means to bully with words) because he
forgot that she was his employee/dependent/inferior (pp. 136-7).
Rochester's conversations are unconventional and, therefore, new and stimulating to Jane. Some of
his conversations are so improper that Bronte prepares for and justifies them by having Rochester say that
people will tell her secrets because they can trust her (p. 138). His detailed revelation in the next chapter
of his romantic/sexual relationships exemplifies his shocking frankness with a young lady.
Chapter 15 (Pages 143-154)
Rochester is prone to the emotional convulsions, torment, and conflicting
passions which are typical of the Byronic hero. As Rochester tells her about his "grande passion" for
Celine Varens (really a sexual infatuation?), he is suddenly seized by
Pain, shame, ire--impatience, disgust, detestation--seemed
momentarily to hold a quivering conflict in the large pupil
dilating under his ebony eyebrow. Wild was the wrestle which
should be paramount; but another feeling rose and triumphed;
something hard and cynical; self-willed and resolute: it settled
his passion and petrified his countenance (p. 145).
Jane wonders about this
response but stops thinking as about it as "for the present inexplicable"
(p. 148). Rochester's torment, however, may be an element in his appeal
for Jane, "I cannot deny that I grieved for his grief, whatever that was,
and would have given much to assuage it" (p. 150). Is nurturing and soothing pain a trait usually
associated with women? Is it a powerful motive in itself and in Jane?
The second incident in which Jane helps Rochester occurs in this chapter (in the first incident, she
helps him when his horse falls). She extinguishes
the fire in his bed and saves his life. Alone in her bedroom afterward, Jane is
torn by a conflict between passion and reason:
I was tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea, where billows of trouble
rolled under surges of joy. I thought sometimes I saw beyond its wild
waters a shore, sweet as the hills of Beulah; and now and then a
freshening gale, wakened my hope, bore my spirit, triumphantly towards
the bourne: but I could not reach it, even in fancy,--a counteracting
breeze blew off land, and continually drove me back. Sense would resist
delirium; judgment would warn passion (p. 154).
The image of an agitated ocean shows the intensity of the conflict
between Jane's reason and passion. Reaching the shore of course
represents Rochester's loving her; her own love is driving her toward
that goal or shore. But her good sense drives her back. The last sentence
clearly states the nature of the conflict. The language of this sentence
weighs in against passion; that is, she chooses judgment and sense rather
than "delirium" and "passion."
Chapter 16 (Pages 155-164)
All day Jane looks forward to discussing the fire during her evening
conversation with Rochester and asking him about Grace Poole, even though
her questions might annoy him. The risk of angering him seems to be a
pleasant prospect for Jane,
It little mattered whether my curiosity irritated him: I knew the
pleasure of vexing and soothing him by turns; it was one I chiefly
delighted in, and a sure instinct always prevented me from going too far:
beyond the verge or provocation I never ventured; on the extreme brink
I liked well to try my skill. Retaining every minute form of respect,
every propriety of my station, I could still meet him in argument without
fear of uneasy restraint: this suited both him and me (160).
Is the pleasure Jane feels due to her ability to manipulate Rochester,
i.e., to control him? Is she a willing participant in their power
struggle? Is Jane one of those people who find danger attractively exciting?
After Jane rescues him from the fire, Rochester does not want Jane to go and all but
declares his love. In the morning, however, he leaves without a word to
Jane and with no indication of how long he will be gone. Has he upped
the ante in their power struggle? Jane suffers not only from his leaving
but also from Mrs. Fairfax's telling her about the beautiful Blanche
In a display of self-honesty and emotional strength, Jane reviews her
feelings for Rochester and her situation,
"You," I said, "a favourite
with Mr. Rochester? You gifted with the power of pleasing him?
You of importance to him in any way? Go! your folly sickens me.
And you have derived pleasure from occasional tokens of preference--
equivocal tokens, shown by a gentleman of family, and a man of the world,
to a dependent and a novice. How dared you? Poor stupid dupe!
. . . It
does good to no woman to be flattered by her superior, who cannot
possibly intend to marry her; and it is madness in all women to let a
secret love kindle within them, which, if unreturned and unknown, must
devour the life that feeds it; and, if discovered and responded to, must
lead, ignis-fatuus-like, into miry wilds whence there is no
extrication ["] (p. 163).
Jane knows the dangers of encouraging a secret love and of loving her
employer, who would at most see her as a potential mistress, not as a prospective wife.
Jane's sense of self is too strong to allow such a possibility. She
chooses reason over passion; she determines to discipline her feelings
by painting a picture of Blanche Ingram with every beauty and drawing a picture of
herself, in black and white, with every flaw and comparing them, to her own disadvantage.
This "course of wholesome discipline" enables her to endure the pain of
watching Rochester with Blanche Ingram "with a decent calm" (p. 164), though not without pain.
Chapter 17 (Pages 164-184)
Jane struggles to stop thinking of Rochester, without, however, humbling
herself "by a slavish notion of inferiority" (p. 164). Jane consistently
upholds her own self-worth and asserts the integrity of her essential
self, even if her position as a governess places her in a socially
inferior and economically dependent position. She is prepared to find
other employment and leave Thornfield (p. 165).
Jane watches Rochester's guests arriving through the window, a
position that parallels her situation in the room: she is physically present but socially separated.
Later in the drawing room alone with the ladies, she sits in the shade
(i.e., away from the fire and separate from the ladies) and is half-
hidden by the window-curtains (p. 176). Jane is subjected to the
deliberate cruelty of Blanche and her mother; Rochester makes no effort
to spare her any humiliation or pain from their malice. (Incidentally,
the conversation of the Ingrams is highly artificial and unconvincing,
perhaps reflecting Bronte's unfamiliarity with their social class.) Jane
is forced to watch the interplay between Rochester and Blanche and to
suffer in silence.
Although he pays no attention to Jane, Rochester is conscious of her.
He follows her when she slips out of the room, unable to bear her torment
any longer. Rochester perceives her pain, "a few more words would bring
tears to your eyes--indeed, they are there now, shining and swimming; and
a bead has slipped from the lash and fallen on to the flag[stone floor]"
(p. 183). She denies being depressed. Rochester expresses his desire
to know what is bothering her, "If I had time, and was not in mortal
dread of some prating prig of a servant passing, I would know what all
this means" (p. 182). Does Rochester really not know why Jane is
suffering? Is he expressing a genuine concern for Jane? Or is he making
one more move in their power game? Is he in control of their
relationship now? Why does he order her to come to the drawing room the
next evening, to be subjected to the same humiliations? Why does
he suddenly break off his speech, "Good-night, my -----"? (p. 184)?
|M, April 16
||Bronte, Online overview
Jane Eyre, pp. 6-68
|W, April 18
||Jane Eyre, pp. 68-130
|F, April 20, Online class
|Jane Eyre, pp. 130-184
Caucus: To read and to send postings
|M, April 23
||Jane Eyre, pp. 184-244
|W, April 25
||Jane Eyre, pp. 244-302|
|F, April 27, Online class
|Jane Eyre, pp. 302-355
Caucus: To read and to send postings
|M, April 30
||Jane Eyre, pp. 355-417
Paper 2 due
|W, May 2
|Jane Eyre, pp. 417-461
Jane Eyre as the Other