by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre Foreignness and "The Other" Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Volume.Chapter.Paragraph)
He chuckled; he rubbed his hands. "Oh, it is rich to see and hear her?" he exclaimed. "Is she original? Is she piquant? I would not exchange this one little English girl for the Grand Turk’s whole seraglio, gazelle-eyes, houri forms, and all!"
The Eastern allusion bit me again. "I’ll not stand you an inch in the stead of a seraglio," I said; "so don’t consider me an equivalent for one. If you have a fancy for anything in that line, away with you, sir, to the bazaars of Stamboul without delay, and lay out in extensive slave-purchases some of that spare cash you seem at a loss to spend satisfactorily here."
"And what will you do, Janet, while I am bargaining for so many tons of flesh and such an assortment of black eyes?"
"I’ll be preparing myself to go out as a missionary to preach liberty to them that are enslaved—your harem inmates amongst the rest. I’ll get admitted there, and I’ll stir up mutiny; and you, three-tailed bashaw as you are, sir, shall in a trice find yourself fettered amongst our hands: nor will I, for one, consent to cut your bonds till you have signed a charter, the most liberal that despot ever yet conferred." (2.9.129-132)
It’s lucky that Rochester thinks Jane is just as good as a whole seraglio (like a harem), because apparently he’s a "serial monogamist"; we know he’s had at least four sexual partners—Bertha, Céline, Giacinta, and Clara—and probably others, too, and that he was aiming at bigamy this time.
So, even though he relies on oriental stereotypes to talk about his own horniness, Rochester the English gentleman is the real consumer of "tons of flesh." Notice Jane’s suggestion that she could be an insurrectionary missionary—maybe there’s some foreshadowing there? Eh? Eh?
"It seemed, sir, a woman, tall and large, with thick and dark hair hanging long down her back. I know not what dress she had on: it was white and straight; but whether gown, sheet, or shroud, I cannot tell."
"Did you see her face?"
"Not at first. But presently she took my veil from its place; she held it up, gazed at it long, and then she threw it over her own head, and turned to the mirror. At that moment I saw the reflection of the visage and features quite distinctly in the dark oblong glass."
"And how were they?"
"Fearful and ghastly to me—oh, sir, I never saw a face like it! It was a discoloured face—it was a savage face. I wish I could forget the roll of the red eyes and the fearful blackened inflation of the lineaments!"
"Ghosts are usually pale, Jane."
"This, sir, was purple: the lips were swelled and dark; the brow furrowed: the black eyebrows widely raised over the bloodshot eyes. Shall I tell you of what it reminded me?"
"Of the foul German spectre—the Vampyre." (2.10.73-81)
If we subtract Jane’s ignorance and fear from this weird description, we figure out that Bertha has a dark-colored face, large lips, and black eyebrows. A little later in the novel, we learn that Bertha’s mother was Creole, which means that she had a multiracial background. So Jane is using a supernatural creature, the vampire, as a metaphor to describe a woman of color.
By depicting Bertha’s features in monstrous, supernatural terms, Jane characterizes herself as "afraid of the batlike undead" instead of "afraid of racial difference." Yeah, that’s the way to deal with your fear of the unknown: turn it into something from a horror movie. (For a reading of what’s going on with the horror-movie stuff here, see the discussion of Quote #9 in "The Supernatural" section.)
"These were vile discoveries; but except for the treachery of concealment, I should have made them no subject of reproach to my wife, even when I found her nature wholly alien to mine, her tastes obnoxious to me, her cast of mind common, low, narrow, and singularly incapable of being led to anything higher, expanded to anything larger—when I found that I could not pass a single evening, nor even a single hour of the day with her in comfort; that kindly conversation could not be sustained between us, because whatever topic I started, immediately received from her a turn at once coarse and trite, perverse and imbecile—when I perceived that I should never have a quiet or settled household, because no servant would bear the continued outbreaks of her violent and unreasonable temper, or the vexations of her absurd, contradictory, exacting orders—even then I restrained myself: I eschewed upbraiding, I curtailed remonstrance; I tried to devour my repentance and disgust in secret; I repressed the deep antipathy I felt." (3.1.68)
At several points Rochester seems to admit, subtly, that the real reason his marriage to Bertha failed is "irreconcilable differences": they just didn’t get along. If you took this passage and substituted the word "niece" for "wife," it could easily express Mrs. Reed’s attitude toward Jane when she was a child. At Gateshead, Jane was the "heterogeneous thing," the one thing that’s not like the others; in Bertha and Rochester’s marriage, Bertha is in the same sort of othered position.