Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chapter 14: Repartee

Okay, Mr. Rochester is fairly contemptible. I'll admit that. Locking your wife in the attic? No, not so much.

But the way he is in this chapter, you can see why he's also intriguing enough to keep this story going for another twenty chapters. If it were obvious that Jane were making a mistake here, there'd be no story.
"Now I have performed the part of a good host," pursued Mr. Rochester, "put my guests into the way of amusing each other, I ought to be at liberty to attend to my own pleasure. Miss Eyre, draw your chair still a little farther forward: you are yet too far back; I cannot see you without disturbing my position in this comfortable chair, which I have no mind to do."
And then we have this exchange:

"You examine me, Miss Eyre," said he: "do you think me handsome?"

I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this question by something conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue before I was aware—"No, sir."

"Ah! By my word! there is something singular about you," said he: "you have the air of a little nonnette; quaint, quiet, grave, and simple, as you sit with your hands before you, and your eyes generally bent on the carpet (except, by-the-bye, when they are directed piercingly to my face; as just now, for instance); and when one asks you a question, or makes a remark to which you are obliged to reply, you rap out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque. What do you mean by it?"

Followed by:

"I don’t think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience."

"Humph! Promptly spoken. But I won’t allow that, seeing that it would never suit my case, as I have made an indifferent, not to say a bad, use of both advantages. Leaving superiority out of the question, then, you must still agree to receive my orders now and then, without being piqued or hurt by the tone of command. Will you?"

I smiled: I thought to myself Mr. Rochester is peculiar—he seems to forget that he pays me £30 per annum for receiving his orders.

"The smile is very well,” said he, catching instantly the passing expression; “but speak too."

"I was thinking, sir, that very few masters would trouble themselves to inquire whether or not their paid subordinates were piqued and hurt by their orders."

"Paid subordinates! What! you are my paid subordinate, are you? Oh yes, I had forgotten the salary! Well then, on that mercenary ground, will you agree to let me hector a little?"

"No, sir, not on that ground; but, on the ground that you did forget it, and that you care whether or not a dependent is comfortable in his dependency, I agree heartily."

"And will you consent to dispense with a great many conventional forms and phrases, without thinking that the omission arises from insolence?"

"I am sure, sir, I should never mistake informality for insolence: one I rather like, the other nothing free-born would submit to, even for a salary."

This is, let us remember, the girl who refused to accept punishment meekly at Lowood.

Tempting as it is to just copy the entire dialogue into this post - it's not quite a Hepburn-Grant duel of words, but still enjoyable - I'll leave off here. Go read for yourself.


Marie said...

I just finished REBECCA and Rochester is a doll compared to Max de Winter!

Sarah Rettger said...

I still haven't read Rebecca... one of these days!

That's what makes Jane such a great book to discuss/blog about/whatever - Bronte wrote such multifaceted characters. There's no outright villain here, just people who do varying degrees of stupid things (with locking your wife in the attic representing one extreme!)