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Visiting Jane Eyre

I read an exquisite passage this morning. Jane and Rochester are sitting in the orchard at dawn after the ghastly night of Mason being bitten and mauled. Jane doesn’t yet know the deep secret and Rochester is desperate to keep that truth from her. His life teeters at the edge of disaster. Bronte presents this dilemma by having Jane and Rochester speak about Thornfield Hall.

He said, “That house is a mere dungeon; don’t you feel it so?”
“It seems to me a splendid mansion, sir.”
“The glamour of inexperience is over your eyes,” he answered; “and you see it though a charmed medium; you cannot discern that the gilding is slime and the silk draperies cobwebs; that the marble is sordid slate, and the polished woods mere refuse chips and scaly bark. Now here (he pointed to the leafy enclosure we had entered) “all is real, sweet, and pure.”

Both Bronte’s protagonists are driven by pain. Rochester is haunted and remorseful. Duped early in life into a burden he now carries, he is sensible to having played into the duping by his own appetites, therefor he has guilt as well as remorse. He is a sinner. Jane, not a light-hearted heroine, has been martyred by unfortunate circumstances which she has risen above but which constrain her heart. Each strives away from their respective fields of pain and toward an elusive goodness and peace.

Bronte has hinged their relationship on Rochester’s secret, giving every piece of dialogue layered meaning and defensible digression. (I wonder how soon Bronte knew this plot piece as she penned her novel?) Jane puzzles over Rochester’s quirky conversational flights while consulting her intuition concerning his character; he has been kind to her, respects her as no one has before; she sees his basic fairness despite his enigmatic moods and abrupt manner. The Dear Reader may have less insight into Rochester’s inner life due to the first person narrator, but we know that he hates convention that has snatched happiness from him, and that he flouts it now by letting himself fall in love with the governess. Emotionally this would be problematic enough, but as the plot unfolds we see him struggle deeper into a chaotic thicket of action, striving toward that beacon of salvation.

The passage about Thornfield Hall is laden. The secret is there. Rochester’s faith that purity exists and that nature is renewing and purifying is there. Yet the most striking aspect is his description of the lineage of Thornfield Hall’s building materials. He is also a piece of lineage having inherited the estate after the untimely death of his elder brother who was party, along with his father, to Rochester being forced into a cruel marriage for mercenary aims. For Rochester, lineage is not pure and free, but tainted with soul agony. It is as corrupted as the way her describes Thornfield’s components. Jane has no lineage that she yet knows of, so can only see the apparent beauty.

And here I turn this piece away from literature. As I sit in my state of contentment—quite different from Rochester’s discontent—I see that all the boards on the deck, the porcelain tea cup, the metal pitcher have been shaped in a factory by workers and machines, and travelled miles to reach my hands. I’ve plunked down my money and walked away with my items but they each have history moving through them. I feel both appreciation and a weightiness. So many presences stream though me. Everything we do is this full.

What do you handle that carries its nascence to you?



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    1. Fiona Murphy #

      Dear Dunya,

      I recently taught this novel, and one of the paper topics that I assigned my students was to consider how Thornfield represents aspects of Rochester’s character. This comes out of a literary tradition in which an estate or architectural space reflects it’s owner.

      In “Pride and Prejudice” when Elizabeth tells Jane that she first started to fall in love with Darcy when she saw his beautiful estate at Pemberley, modern readers tend to interpret this as something mercenary in her. But contemporary readers would have recognized it as her discerning through the proportions and decorations of the house and grounds, the relationships between the staff and the master, the prosperity of the tenant farmers, that Darcy is a beautiful man.

      I received a number of quite sensitive analyses in these papers, mostly involving the lightning-struck tree, but I hadn’t though about the lovely point you make above, about how Rochester is searching for regeneration in nature, certain that it is there, even through his despair.

      In that same “Victorian Novel” class, we are currently reading Wilkie Collins’s “The Moonstone,” and entre nous, one of the things that occurs to me is how much easier it is to skim than “Jane Eyre”. The richness of Bronte’s language is so rewarding when one slows to luxuriate in her sensuous descriptions of landscape, of the feel of a moment. On simply can’t just read for plot. Or, if one does, what a bore! How much one would miss.

      Thank you for sharing your insights.

      Fiona Murphy

      October 27, 2012
    2. I have to read “The Moonstone” now that you have mentioned it.

      Yes, rewarding is a good word for a deep reading. I savored every bit of this most recent re-read. I was surprised at how very durable “Jane Eyre”is; it tastes different decade to decade, but always delicious.

      Thanks for the writing about the literary tradition concerning architecture and character. Even beyond this being a convention, I think it is interesting to envision a domicile as a carapace. Our house, a shell. This is certainly the purview of Bachelard. (“Poetics of Space”)

      I can’t think of anything more divine than a semester of the Victorian novel.

      October 27, 2012

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