Monday, March 21, 2011

Chapter 23: "Do you think I am an automaton?"

No, I haven't seen the 2011 movie version of this scene yet, but now that the movie has been released in Boston...

It's hard to be of one mind about this chapter. Yes, it's one of the great proposal scenes, with Jane declaring herself just as much as Rochester does - but I don't love it so much that I'm willing to overlook Rochester's needless duplicity here.


Jane's out wandering the Thornfield grounds, treating us to a Romantic aside about all the nature she's encountering (or perhaps that should be Nature, as we're definitely in a Noble Ideas frame of mind here), when she runs into Rochester, who she's been trying to avoid.

Rochester won't let her leave. And then he starts in on how she'll have to leave Thornfield when he marries, and how lovely his Blanche is, and how he's already found a new situation for Jane in Ireland.

Jane is a little less iron-willed than usual, and finally gives into tears at the idea of going so far away. So what does Rochester do? He pulls out this gem:
"My bride! What bride? I have no bride!"
In other words, he lies on two levels -- about his previous bride, and about his current plans. So not seeing a justification for this.

Except for this: it gives Jane an excuse to make one of the great speeches of this book.
Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;—it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are!
Damn straight.

And then that paragraph is followed by this one (well, first there's a kiss), in which Jane continues to show her mettle, plus we get some foreshadowing:
"Yes, so, sir," I rejoined: "and yet not so; for you are a married man—or as good as a married man, and wed to one inferior to you—to one with whom you have no sympathy—whom I do not believe you truly love; for I have seen and heard you sneer at her. I would scorn such a union: therefore I am better than you—let me go!"
So much for being equals. So how does Rochester respond to that speech? He proposes, and I don't blame Jane one bit for not believing him.
"I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions."

"You play a farce, which I merely laugh at."

"I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion."

"For that fate you have already made your choice, and must abide by it."
Smart girl, that. But she starts to believe him, "beginning in his earnestness—and especially in his incivility—to credit his sincerity."

In just a bit we'll find out whether or not she's still a smart girl.

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