Monday, March 28, 2011

Chapter 27: "Reader, I forgave him"

Yes, that line actually appears in this chapter, sort of a variation on what's become one of the more famous lines in English lit -- which we'll get to in Chapter 38.

For now, though, Jane emerges from her room, where it turns out Rochester's been parked outside the door waiting. He moans a bit and asks forgiveness, and she gives it.

(Full disclosure: If you like, you can blame my cynicism about the instant forgiveness on my bitter-old-maid status. I still don't think I'd have let Rochester off that easily.)

To be fair, Jane gives us a pretty clear look into her state of mind: "I must leave him, it appears. I do not want to leave him—I cannot leave him." But while she's thinking this, outwardly she's got her priorities straight: Rochester is married to someone else, so there will be no more kissing.

Rochester, who thinks he's going to cart Jane off with him to his even-more-remote house at Thorndean, isn't too pleased when she objects to the idea, which brings us to one of the reasons my sympathies are not with Rochester here:
"Jane! will you hear reason?" (he stooped and approached his lips to my ear); "because, if you won’t, I’ll try violence." His voice was hoarse; his look that of a man who is just about to burst an insufferable bond and plunge headlong into wild license.
The Penguin Classics editors note that "violence," in this context, means rape. I don't care how upset you are about having your wedding interrupted, it's still inexcusable. (Also, it prompts the reader to reconsider Jane's whole "when I'm saucy instead of sappy I can control him" thing from earlier chapters.)

Then he tries the "you didn't want me, you just wanted my money" tack:
"You don’t love me, then? It was only my station, and the rank of my wife, that you valued?"
Charming, isn't he? Rochester gets over himself a bit, calms down, and goes back to his "well, of course we'll be together" plan:
"As to the new existence, it is all right: you shall yet be my wife: I am not married. You shall be Mrs. Rochester—both virtually and nominally."
Which, as Jane points out, would so not be the case. Even if Rochester doesn't want to believe he's married, there's a little piece of paper that says otherwise.

(Historical note: Jane Eyre is set well before the passage of the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act. The only way Rochester could have divorced Bertha was by petitioning Parliament -- and while he's shown as a wealthy man, it's never suggested that he has that kind of influence.)

This finally leads to Rochester giving a full summary of his history with Bertha, since he thinks Jane will agree with him once she has all the facts. Short version: The Rochester estate was entailed on his older brother, but in order not to leave his second son destitute, Rochester Senior arranged a marriage with a Miss Mason with 30,000 pounds. Rochester met her after everything had been agreed to; she was pretty; he went ahead with it.

(Side note: Emma Woodhouse's fortune was also 30,000 pounds. Emma is, I believe, more or less contemporary with Rochester's marriage. I would not be surprised to learn that fanfiction has already explored this coincidence.)

Short version continued: Rochester hated Bertha pretty much from the start. He ended up inheriting everything anyway, but was stuck with his wife, who ended up mad. He decided to move back to England, secretly lock her up in Thornfield, and enjoy himself on the Continent. And while it wasn't his plan to take up with one mistress after another, "I could not live alone."

But although Rochester enjoyed his mistresses' company at the time, he makes his utter disdain for them pretty clear, which Jane picks up on:
I felt the truth of these words; and I drew from them the certain inference, that if I were so far to forget myself and all the teaching that had ever been instilled into me, as—under any pretext—with any justification—through any temptation—to become the successor of these poor girls, he would one day regard me with the same feeling which now in his mind desecrated their memory.
Which is why, when he once again insists that the two of them should run off to the Riviera together, she's strong enough to say no.
"Jane, you understand what I want of you? Just this promise—'I will be yours, Mr. Rochester.'"

"Mr. Rochester, I will not be yours."
Instead, she packs a back and sneaks out.

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