Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chapter 20: In which we are reminded that this is as much a horror story as a romance

Just in case you'd been lulled into thinking Jane Eyre was all about love across employer-employee boundaries, Chapter 20 pops in to remind you of all the other stuff generally associated with Gothic novels - the totally non-romantic stuff.

Jane, who forgot to pull the curtains before going to bed, is woken by a full moon shining in her window (been there!), just in time to hear a cry from the third floor of the house:
Indeed, whatever being uttered that fearful shriek could not soon repeat it: not the widest-winged condor on the Andes could, twice in succession, send out such a yell from the cloud shrouding his eyrie. The thing delivering such utterance must rest ere it could repeat the effort.
It's followed by sounds of a scuffle, so naturally the entire house party pours out into the hall to find out what's up. Can't you just picture the ladies here?
"What awful event has taken place?" said she. "Speak! let us know the worst at once!"

"But don’t pull me down or strangle me," he replied: for the Misses Eshton were clinging about him now; and the two dowagers, in vast white wrappers, were bearing down on him like ships in full sail.

"All’s right!—all’s right!" he cried. "It’s a mere rehearsal of Much Ado about Nothing. Ladies, keep off, or I shall wax dangerous."
Clearly, things can't be too bad if Rochester can indulge in snark.

But Jane knows it's not just someone's bad dream, so she gets dressed, figuring she's going to be needed. As she is -- Rochester turns up an hour later, and leads her upstairs.

Mr. Mason, the most recent arrival, has clearly been attacked. We don't get any more details, because Rochester, before dashing off again, absolutely forbids him to speak to Jane, and vice versa. And Mason is nothing if not obedient.

But even without discussion, Jane picks up on some of the mysteries of the situation:
And why, now, was he so tame under the violence or treachery done him? Why did he so quietly submit to the concealment Mr. Rochester enforced? Why did Mr. Rochester enforce this concealment? His guest had been outraged, his own life on a former occasion had been hideously plotted against; and both attempts he smothered in secrecy and sank in oblivion! Lastly, I saw Mr. Mason was submissive to Mr. Rochester; that the impetuous will of the latter held complete sway over the inertness of the former: the few words which had passed between them assured me of this. It was evident that in their former intercourse, the passive disposition of the one had been habitually influenced by the active energy of the other: whence then had arisen Mr. Rochester’s dismay when he heard of Mr. Mason’s arrival? Why had the mere name of this unresisting individual—whom his word now sufficed to control like a child—fallen on him, a few hours since, as a thunderbolt might fall on an oak?
And then the doctor shows up, and everyone's a bit less careful about conversation, which means Jane gets to learn that Mason's assailant
  • had a knife
  • also bit him
  • demonstrated vampiric tendencies
  • was deceptively quite at first
Again: we're in the horror part of the story now.

Rochester hustles Mason off as the sun rises, with Mason's exit following this exchange:
Mason: "Let her be taken care of; let her be treated as tenderly as may be: let her—" he stopped and burst into tears.

Rochester: "I do my best; and have done it, and will do it," was the answer: he shut up the chaise door, and the vehicle drove away.
Uh-huh. In a few chapters we'll find out just what Rochester considers his best.

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