Teaser and Seductive

It is true: when it happens to re-read a book after many years, even one that you think to know very well, it will inevitably appear under a different light. The book is just the same, but the reader has changed in sensibility and life experience, hence; words, actions unexpectedly take different forms and meanings and the novel, like a precious jewel case, opens to your mind to reveal its new treasure.

So, when I recently analyzed with my students chapter XXXVIII of Jane Eyre, I couldn’t help but noticing a tension in the book, that I had missed before and, I have to say, I quite enjoyed it. Whoever has bumped into my old articles about Jane Eyre, knows that she is not exactly my favorite heroine and not certainly one I naturally emphatize with. I have often found tedious such display of prudery, modesty and self-righteousness, however, between the lines of that chapter I could perceive a new aspect of Jane which I had totally missed.

First of all, I felt that Charlotte Bronte, through Jane, must have really had a great deal of fun ( mixed with a little degree sadism) in humiliating her Byronic hero: Mr Rochester. She tortures him slowly in this very long chapter, which apparently celebrates the re-union of the two lovers. When Jane Eyre comes back to Thorfield after a year, she only finds physical and spiritual ruins. Thorfield has been destroyed by a fire set by Mr Rochester’s wife Bertha Mason and Mr Rochester, in the attempt of rescuing her, has become lame and blind. When Jane approaches him for the first time, what she sees is only a shuttered, miserable, brooding man: a pale shadow of the man he used to be. However; after she has revealed her presence to him( which, I have to admit, is one of the most effective love scenes ever) thus giving Mr Rochester a sparkle of joy, she soon inflicts him one last terrible blow confessing that she is a rich and independent woman now.

Jane had left Thornfield a year before penniless, that is why Rochester had believed her  “dead in some ditch under some stream” or  “pining outcast amongst strangers”. Now that she has turned up rich and independent and being in such a wretched physical and mental state, he is convinced he has no longer any power on her. No more. Nevertheless, our heroine doesn’t seem to show any real mercy and keeps teasing him, in fact, right before going to sleep, somehow she hints at the presence af a man near her in the time she had been missing. The pangs of jealousy work during the night till the next morning, when the two meet again, Mr Rochester will flood a super satisfied Jane with questions on whom he perceives as his rival.

Her answers will just add pain to his tortured soul. That man is Jane’s cousin St. John Rivers, whom she describes at first as a sort of cultivated, refined, handsome Apollo with a Grecian profile too, exactly the kind of person that in that moment makes him feel undeserving of Jane’s love and attentions. At a certain point, probably feeling that this game was lasting a bit too long, Jane justifies her behaviour saying that she was doing this for his own good: to relieve him from his state of melancholy. Maybe she was right, but I could see her exultant smile between the lines. When Jane hears that Mr Rochester has been wearing  her little pearl necklace fastened round his bronze scrag under his cravat since the day he left, she cannot but triumph over the ashes of somebody who once could be rightly defined a true Byronic hero. What an end!

What is surprising in these last scenes is the sensual tension between the two lovers and it is Jane who makes the rules of the game. She is seductive. She approaches silently Mr Rochester till he feels her presence and only then she allows him to touch her fingers, her face and her entire body so that he might have the joy and the pleasure of identifying her.  Mr Rochester’s joy for having his Jane back at last is balanced by the uncertainties due to his condition and our heroine plays this bitter-sweet game as long as she can, till she eventually accepts to be his wife. From the ashes of the Byronic hero a dominant, self-confident woman is born.



21 thoughts on “Teaser and Seductive

  1. Considering that Rochester confessed to Jane back when he proposed to her that he’d deliberately acted to make her jealous, what with Blanche Ingram (and let’s not forget the gypsy fortune teller trick), you might say Jane has stolen his playbook. Though thanks to gender roles, HE still has to be the one who proposes.

    • I wouldn’t call it revenge, Emilio, but rather a ceartain sort of satisfaction which originates from the awareness of having become , as she says:: ” her own mistress”. She chooses to go back to Thornfield, she chooses to look after him for the rest of her life even if he is blind and lame, she chooses him. If you think about the period the novel is set, it’s a great victory.

    • We have a different view of what you describe. I don’t think we should ever excuse anyone with power (or good fortune/money) acting the way you describe.

      Obviously, I’ve not read the book but it’s telling that you describe it as a victory as opposed to achievement. Still, I don’t see it as a victory or an achievement . . . she inherits the money, does she not? If I won the lotto, could I claim any credit of my own for my fortune? Could I claim it as a victory for my struggles to become a multimillionaire?

      Understand, my intention is not to denigrate the story or character, but when I read the above I could not help but take a different view. That view does not include the words virtuous or charitable or moral or (because she’s described as a determined christian) christian. Unless I’m reading it wrong, she helps someone who is down, but first, she kicks them around a bit, you know, just for fun. Apparently, that’s to be admired, but not if the genders are reversed.

      Am I reading it wrong?

      • You forget that the novel is set in the Victorian age and in that period the only way a woman could set herself free from the laces of her family was through marriage. Women left their families to form another family and the husband replaced the father figure. There were no many other ways to be independent .Jane inherits a large sum (20.000 pounds) which she shares among her relations after all, but after leaving school she has always worked. If she has fun for a while with a man, who didn’t actually behave so well (he just forgot to tell her he was married and she discovers it when she is about to pronounce her marriage vows, for example), well, it is not that bad, and I tell you what, I like her more for this, because she is less perfect and more woman.

      • That’s a weird excuse. We can point to a whole slew of men right now in US politics and the entertainment arena being called on being “not perfect.”

        I think we would laugh and maybe throw rotten tomatoes at them if their excuses included “Hey, I’m not perfect but that makes me more of a man.”

  2. One of my favourite reads. I had (an abridged) copy as a child but never read it. As an adult, it is a book with which I’ll never part. Thanks for posting and enjoy the festive season.

    • Had you read the abridged edition, you wouldn’t have enjoyed the novel as you did in your more mature years, I’ m sure. What’s interesting here is the development of characters, and in abridged editions there is never room for that. Thanks for commenting and have a great Christmas time. 🙋

  3. I share your reservations about Jane’s character – and the devastating emasculation of Rochester – and your appreciation of CB’s unparalleled portrayal of sexual politics. It’s a triumph of literary technique to make the consummation work on two levels, romantic and polemic, The novel’s conclusion is, as you say, to fully realize Jane’s autonomy, through any plot device and metaphor available, however cruel and vindictive they might appear. Still uncomfortably relevant today….

    • So very true, the emasculation of Mr Rochester is really devastating, and this time it appeared to me in all the cruelty of Charlotte Bronte’s sadic pleasure. I wonder what a man might feel while reading this part of the novel.🙋

      • See, that’s my hangup . . . it shouldn’t matter who reads it or if the roles are reversed. If it were James Eyre and Ms. Rochester I would have no less castigation for the behavior nor would I consider in the light of a supposed love.

        There may be some argument for consideration of the times, but then only in light of “sticking it to the man” (literally, in this case) and not to a person whom one loves. To me, it speaks to a part of human nature that casts us (humans) in a not-so-good light. Now, I happen to hold the view that the majority of humans are not worthy of the name; basically, humans are jerks (I’m using a gentle word here but feel free to substitute much stronger wording).

        The exception to humans being jerks is when they truly care about someone else (call it love). Now, I know there’s an abundance of toxic relationships out there, but in no scenario I can think of would someone who truly cares for another willfully and purposefully make them suffer (physically or emotionally) especially when they are already suffering. I suppose one can think of denying a child an extra scoop of ice cream or some equivalent perceived deprivation of a desired item, but that’s not what’s celebrated here hence my reluctance to view her as truly caring for him. At best, pity plays a role, but that too is a poor basis for marriage.

        Anyway, I’m now flogging a dead horse and likely overstaying my welcome by continuously attacking a classic and a character perceived by many as a heroine held up as a model for others.

      • Again, etinkerbell, I agree with your reading. It is a pleasure to be here, by the way. “I wonder what a man might feel while reading this part of the novel” – probably not as angry as a woman feels when Angel goes off with a younger, thinner (“spiritualized” is the word I recall) version of Tess at the end of Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
        Jane is controlling and punishing, but also the eternally nurturing Feminine – perhaps men secretly think Rochester gets his deserts/gets away with it. CB mutilating her own sexual fantasy of the Byronic hero is self-punishment, perhaps, mixed in with the harsh declaration of equality?

  4. I read Jane Eyre when I was fourteen and the sexual power of it, right from the scene where she leaves the room when Blanche Ingram has arrived, and Rochester waylays her, had me rapt… I learned the book off by heart and used to entertain my dormitory after lights out by reciting it… I also found Villette a sexual knockout, and in fact haven’t been able to bring myself to re-read it since then, in order to assess it more accurately !!!
    And yes, I agree with PJR about the Tess substitute when poor Tess has been hanged … really, Angel had it all ways !!!!

  5. The power-game of love. Yes, in the Victorian age, it was an unheard-of victory for a woman to be able to step out of the grip of that power-game and allow herself to follow the biddings of her heart. But that seems to be only in part what Jane Eyre does. Yes, she makes sure she can live with the man she loves. That’s the victory. But she doesn’t step out of the power-game. She remains in it and she turns it upside down. That’s what makes her interesting as a character. That’s what makes us have this discussion. Oh, I’ll have to see if I can find my old copy and re-read it!

    • Dear Ellington, thank you so much dropping by. It is correct, what is intriguing in Jane Eyre is the way she is able to change the rules within the rules, and this makes her so modern, despite the Victorian background. Hope to see you back here.

  6. Jane Eyre is probably my favorite classic novel. I love how you featured photos from my favorite movie of this classic starring Ruth Wilson. I enjoyed this version so much that after watching it on TV I went out and bought it on DVD. You’ve reminded me that after all the hectic activity of the holidays dies down I MUST watch it again.

    • I my opinion all movie/ tv versions of Jane Eyre are quite dull, with the exception of the Bbc series of 2006 with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. It was so well dramatized by Sandy Welsh that I may say that for the first time the tension and the growing passion of the two characters have been really well developed. That’s why I chose only pictures from that adaptation.

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