Monday, October 27, 2014

Jane Eyre Read-along: Week 6

Welcome to the sixth week of 
the 2014 Jane Eyre Read-Along,
brought to you by

Introduction:  "Jane, will you marry me?"

An emotional encounter between Jane and Rochester in Chapter Twenty-three leads to a surprising request from Rochester:

""Come to my side, Jane, and let us explain and understand one another.'
'I will never again come to your side:  I am torn away now, and cannot return.'
'But, Jane, I summon you as my wife: it is only you I intend to marry.'
I was silent;  I thought he mocked me.
'Come, Jane -- come hither.'
'Your bride stands between us.'
He rose, and with a stride reached me.
'My bride is here,' he said, again drawing me to him, 'because my equal is here, and my likeness.  Jane, will you marry me?"

This Week's Discussion Questions  
for  Chapters 20 - 23

The events of Chapter 20 are very strange, yet Jane does everything Rochester asks her to do, and continues to trust him, for the most part. She does ask him some questions, but makes no demands for an explanation of what's really going on at Thornfield, nor does she seek another position, in spite of her fears and inner doubts. How can her behavior be explained?

Jane has developed a respect for authority over her short and difficult life.  That does not mean that she does not question that authority, as we saw at Lowood and before, but in spite of Mr. Rochester's sometimes harsh personality he has treated Jane fairly (thus far) and this would seem to be a factor in his favor with Jane.  She still has "fears and inner doubts" but these are overcome by her confidence in the goodness of Rochester that underlies his outward mien.  Whether her judgement shall be justified is to be seen as the story progresses.

Rochester pressures the doctor to rush Mason out of the house and away, even though the latter is seriously injured. What do you think of this action, and why he took it?

This action follows soon after Mason's unexpected arrival at Thornfield and Rochester's strange game posing as a fortune-teller.  Thus it adds to the mystery of the story as we have been given little other information about this new character.  What could Rochester's action mean?  Rochester has demonstrated bold actions before with little explanation to those around him and so this seems in character even as it leaves the reader wondering.  I am putting it in my growing file of mysteries surrounding Thornfield Hall and its master.

What do you think of Eliza and Georgiana as adults?

I am not surprised at their development, especially Georgiana who seems to be very bitter with no reasonable basis for that view other than having developed it to a level that only her habitual behavior could have maintained.  On the other hand Eliza seems to be quiet, but happy; however I agree with Jane's assessment:
"True, generous feeling is made small account of by some;  but here were two natures rendered, the one intolerably acrid, the other despicably savourless for the want of it.  Feeling without judgement is a washy daught indeed;  but judgement untempered by feeling is too bitter and husky a morsel for human deglutition." 

Do you think Jane was right to forgive Mrs. Reed in light of the important information the later withheld from Jane for three years?

What is the meaning of right - that is how should we determine what is right for Jane Eyre?  As an individual one would expect that she would have the right to be treated justly and fairly by another individual, especially someone who has authority over her like Mrs. Reed.  That was not done, but it does not mean that it was not "right" for Jane to forgive Mrs. Reed for the harm that she did to Jane.  It is Jane who ultimately must decide what is right for her. Jane seems to value the peace of others, even those who have mistreated her, over the satisfaction of holding her own notion of justice over them.  She demonstrates courage in choosing to forgive Mrs. Reed and deserves my respect for her decision to do so.  Was it right?  Perhaps, for Jane.

What does Jane's impassioned speech to Mr. Rochester, while they're in the orchard, tell the reader about her?

Her speech is prefaced by a recognition that her emotions were "claiming mastery, and struggling for full sway, and assuming a right to predominate".  This is a feeling that most of us can identify having at times, even if we may not be able to articulate it as well as Jane.  She then proceeds to declare her love of Thornfield based on a life that has allowed her to share in "what is bright and energetic and high".  This seems to be an opinion based on her previous dark and low life at Lowood and with Mrs. Reed.  Jane's experience of life is still somewhat limited.  However, she shares her feelings and especially her realization and "anguish" that she must be "torn" from Rochester.  She has strong feelings for him that she believes will not, cannot, be realized.

A terrible storm suddenly springs up, as Chapter 23 draws to a close. During the night, lightning strikes the horse-chestnut tree, at the base of which Jane and Rochester had sat earlier. The tree is split in two. Do you think this is a bad omen? If so, what do you think it means? 

What a strong and bold omen of the terrors that may be in store for our dear Jane.  This moment is one that is as momentous as almost any that I have encountered in literature.  It is comparable to Tolstoy's use of the Oak Tree as an symbol in the life of Prince Andrei in War and Peace.  
In this case the omen signals more disturbing events yet to come, even as the changes in the weather from the first lines of chapter 23 ("skies so pure, suns so radiant as were then seen . . . as if a band of Italian days had come from the South") to the last page ("the wind blew, near and deep as the thunder crashed, fierce and frequent as the lightning gleamed, cataract-like as the rain fell during a storm").  As we have seen before, the weather reinforces the emotions and actions of the characters in Jane's story in a way that is just as effective as Giuseppe Verdi's use of orchestral music in his operas. 


Brian Joseph said...

Thought provoking commentary as usual James.

I am glad that you used the Verdi allusion to the splitting of the tree.

As I think about this scene I have changed my mind about it and I now do not believe that it was overdone. I see that it fits into the slightly over expressive tone of the book as a whole. In fact it reflects tone perfectly. It truly is a momentous moment.

I completely agree that in terms of forgiveness we need to ask if it was right for Jane. I do think that it reflect her personality and it is certainly believable that she would forgive Mrs. Reed.

James said...


I agree with your observation that the tree-splitting is a "momentous moment" as it fits with the heightened suspense and mystery - a foreshadowing as Maria puts it.
Jane is sometimes inscrutable, but with Mrs. Reed I agree she is believable. The news of her relatives adds a new twist to the mysteries in the story.

Maria Behar said...

First of all, Jaems, I do apologize for the delayed comment. I have been a little busy....

You are so right when you state that all of the events in the novel that we have discussed this week serve to heighten the mystery at Thornfield Hall. Absolutely! Bronte is a master at creating suspense, and keeping her readers engaged.

It's interesting that Jane is a combination of passive acquiescence and yet, inner doubts, in spite of her passionate nature. In my first reading, years ago, I don't remember noticing this as much.

I think that Jane's tolerance of Rochester's frequently inexplicable behavior is due mostly to her growing love for him. She has a natural empathy for those who have suffered in life, too, so his tale of jealousy and betrayal regarding Celine obviously struck a chord with her, even as she probably disapproved of the affair itself.

You are correct in saying that Jane's forgiveness of Mrs. Reed is a courageous act; indeed, I admire her myself. It also points out how Jane is able to control her emotions when she deems it necessary and proper. She must have felt a lot of bitterness toward Mrs. Reed, especially in light of the fact that the woman persisted in her negative view of Jane until the very end.

You have a very interesting comparison between the incident of the horse-chestnut tree and the oak tree in "War and Peace". I must sheepishly confess that I have not read that novel....a fact I must remedy as soon as I possibly can!

Thanks for your insightful answers, and for participating in the read-along!!

James said...


Thanks again for your insights. I especially agree with your observation that Jane has a "natural empathy for those who have suffered". Her apparent strength sometimes masks her own suffering.

Both Bronte and Tolstoy were adept at the use of symbols in their novels. In some ways their writing is far apart but they also speak to similar themes like love and death.