Friday, July 29, 2016
Jane Eyre Read-Along: Chapter 20
First off, DON'T FORGET that today is the LAST DAY to enter my GIVEAWAY for Five Magic Spindles-themed bookmarks!
Now, this chapter has two parts to it, really. First, Jane spending a terrifying night tending the injured Mason up in the creepy third floor with only a door between her and untold horrors. Second, Jane and Rochester walking around the garden as he alllllllmost declares his love for her, and then infuriatingly doesn't. Dreadful man! I stamp my foot at him in annoyance.
So Much To Talk About Today!
How come Jane hasn't heard any weird sounds from the room above hers before this? And what was Mrs. Fairfax thinking, giving her a room directly under The Room Upstairs Where Deadly Struggles Break Out??? Was it the only nice room in the servants' wing, or particularly close to Adele, or what? I find this So Suspicious that I'm capitalizing Random Words.
Jane is not an easy person to rattle, is she? Horror shakes all her limbs, but she gets up and puts on clothes in case she's needed. Once again, her mind and will control her body. And after Mr. Rochester calms his disturbed guests, she goes back in her room, gets dressed "to be ready for emergencies" (p. 245), and sits up for over an hour before Rochester comes to see her help.
Why doesn't Mr. Rochester have her bring her sponge and smelling salts in the first place? Is he first testing her to see if she'll really patter off alone with him in the middle of the night to the "fateful third story" (p. 246)? Or is he so agitated he didn't think of them?
And Jane gets locked in a scary room again. As a child, she got locked in one that was only scary in her mind, but now she's locked in one with a bleeding, fainting man next door to a fiend. There's such a theme of locking women up in this book -- Jane here, Jane as a child, the person on the other side of that second locked door. And you could argue that, at first, Lowood was basically a prison. There are a lot of feminist readings of Jane Eyre that draw on this locking up of women, especially powerful, passionate, independent women. Google for them and you'll find oodles. I don't feel like going into that deeply right now, though I'll come back to this later in the book.
I don't feel like going into it because I want to talk about the second half of the chapter. Rochester speaks in riddles and metaphors to Jane still, but he begins to tell her a bit more truth about himself than he's ever done before. He tells her he has committed "a capital error" in his youth -- not a crime, not a sin, but an error. Later, he became "wandering and sinful," but is now "rest-seeking and repentant" (p. 257). By which I take it he's repenting, not of that original error, but of his sinful wandering in search of pleasure to forget his plight. Don't you think? He's repentant over what he's done SINCE that error, not of being duped into the error itself. And he's clearly seeking her help in this, though he won't quite say it outright.
I LOVE how Jane answers him. She insists that "a wanderer's repose or a sinner's reformation should never depend on a fellow-creature" (p. 257). Not only is she correct, but it tells us so much about Jane and Rochester, doesn't it? Jane has a strong moral fiber, a very stern conscience, and an almost superhuman strength of will. (That strong will is what initially drew me to her when I read this as a teen -- I have struggled with my strong will all my life.) Rochester is the opposite -- he can be duped, he can be misled by others and by himself, and he really requires someone to set down rules and guides for him. Left to himself, he wanders.
If we want to wax theological for a minute, we could even say that Rochester, throughout the book, is the very picture of the Old Adam, of an unsaved person lost to original sin. And Jane is the image of the New Adam, guided and preserved by the grace of God and knowledge of his truth. Bronte doesn't quite go this far, but it's an interpretation I think works fairly well. Sinful mankind needs rules and guides imposed by others; saved mankind has them inside them now.
Anyway, I want to kick Rochester for pretending he's been talking about Blanche Ingram this whole time. But I always snort a little over his description of her: "A strapper -- a real strapper, Jane; big, brown and buxom" (p. 258). Not exactly a loving suitor, is he. He's calling her "unusually large or robust" and speaks only of her physical appearance, not of who she is and what she is like, emphasizing her physical "superiority" to Jane, of course. Sigh. Rochester, Rochester, you and your charades. Just get to the good part where you tell Jane you love her, already!
"I want you," he said (p. 246). (Mostly I love this because it's referenced memorably in The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.)
What crime was this, that lived incarnate in this sequestered mansion, and could neither be expelled nor subdued by the owner? What mystery, that broke out, now in the fire and now in the blood, at the deadest hours of the night? What creature was it, that, masked in an ordinary woman's face and shape, uttered the voice, now of a mocking demon, and anon of a carrion-seeking bird of prey? (p. 248).
Possible Discussion Questions:
I asked a lot of questions above, so here I'll only ask this: How come Jane and Mr. Mason both refer to Mr. Rochester as "Fairfax" in the middle of this chapter? His first name is Edward! I can understand Mason calling him by that name, as maybe Rochester used to go by it instead. But Jane knows perfectly well what his first name is, and yet she thinks about "the resolute spirit and... vigorous frame of Fairfax Rochester" (p. 249) BEFORE she hears Mr. Mason call him that. Hmm.