by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre Foreignness and "The Other" Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Volume.Chapter.Paragraph)
I was a discord in Gateshead Hall; I was like nobody there; I had nothing in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her children, or her chosen vassalage. If they did not love me, in fact, as little did I love them. They were not bound to regard with affection a thing that could not sympathize with one amongst them; a heterogeneous thing, opposed to them in temperament, in capacity, in propensities; a useless thing, incapable of serving their interest, or adding to their pleasure; a noxious thing, cherishing the germs of indignation at their treatment, of contempt of their judgment. I know that had I been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child—though equally dependent and friendless—Mrs. Reed would have endured my presence more complacently; her children would have entertained for me more of the cordiality of fellow-feeling; the servants would have been less prone to make me the scape-goat of the nursery. (1.2.30)
Even at the very beginning of her life, Jane doesn’t really fit in with her surroundings; she’s an outsider from the start. What seems to set her apart her and make her different from her aunt’s family and household is her sense of injustice and her inability to let unfairness wash over her.
There also seems to be no possibility of compromise, of integrating a "heterogeneous thing" like Jane into an otherwise homogenous household. Those who are unlike in temperament, the novel implies, will always be incapable of living in harmony. It’s important, then, to find people to live with who may be different in class, bloodline, or situation, but are the same in attitude. (Hint, hint!) We also see in this passage how willing—almost eager—Jane is to characterize herself as different, as distinct.
[W]e descended, Adèle wondering whether the petit coffre was at length come; for, owing to some mistake, its arrival had hitherto been delayed. She was gratified: there it stood, a little carton, on the table when we entered the dining-room. She appeared to know it by instinct.
"Ma boîte! ma boîte!" exclaimed she, running towards it.
"Yes, there is your ‘boîte’ at last: take it into a corner, you genuine daughter of Paris, and amuse yourself with disembowelling it," said the deep and rather sarcastic voice of Mr. Rochester, proceeding from the depths of an immense easy-chair at the fireside. "And mind," he continued, "don’t bother me with any details of the anatomical process, or any notice of the condition of the entrails: let your operation be conducted in silence: tiens-toi tranquille, enfant; comprends-tu?" (1.14.3-5)
Reading Jane Eyre, it can be easy to overlook the novel’s interest in the French while we’re thinking about Bertha Mason’s origin in the West Indies or St. John Rivers’ desire to go on a missionary trip to India. Of course, these British colonies and their foreignness are being directly contrasted with the foreigners next door—the French.
Adèle’s obsession with superficial things—fancy clothes, presents, and her appearance—is stereotyped in the novel as her inherent "Frenchness" or Parisian nature. At the very end of the novel, Jane tells us what happened to Adèle: "a sound English education corrected in a great measure her French defects." So we definitely have a sense of Jane Eyre as a novel with a nationalist bias—Englishness is considered normal and everything else needs to conform to it.
Seated on the carpet, by the side of this basin, was seen Mr. Rochester, costumed in shawls, with a turban on his head. His dark eyes and swarthy skin and Paynim features suited the costume exactly: he looked the very model of an Eastern emir, an agent or a victim of the bowstring. Presently advanced into view Miss Ingram. She, too, was attired in oriental fashion: a crimson scarf tied sash-like round the waist: an embroidered handkerchief knotted about her temples; her beautifully-moulded arms bare, one of them upraised in the act of supporting a pitcher, poised gracefully on her head. Both her cast of form and feature, her complexion and her general air, suggested the idea of some Israelitish princess of the patriarchal days; and such was doubtless the character she intended to represent. (2.3.11)
Rochester and Blanche act out a Bible scene in their game of charades, only to make it obvious to Jane that both of them have a certain weird foreign look to them anyway that makes it easy for them to play-act a Middle Eastern scene. Making it a scene from the Bible puts it in a sort of middle ground: it’s "foreign," because it’s "Eastern," but it’s also familiar, because it’s Judaeo-Christian. It’s a case of "we have seen the Other, and it is us."