Study Guide

Jane Eyre Quotes

By Charlotte Brontë

  • Education

    Volume 1, Chapter 1

    Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting: as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evenings, when she chanced to be in good humour; and when, having brought her ironing-table to the nursery-hearth, she allowed us to sit about it, and while she got up Mrs. Reed's lace frills, and crimped her night-cap borders, fed our eager attention with passages of love and adventure taken from the old fairy tales and older ballads; or (as at a later period I discovered) from the pages of Pamela, and Henry, Earl of Moreland. (1.1.13)

    Very early in her life, stories, tales, and narratives are some of the most positive things that Jane experiences. It’s unsurprising that she becomes a teacher and governess, given that hearing tales from her nursemaid was a special treat, and that these tales naturally segue into hearing parts of, and then reading, novels. (By the way, we definitely recommend Pamela.) Even at the very beginning of the novel, Jane is learning to be an astute "reader" of the pictures in Bewick’s British Birds, and to connect the text with the pictures to understand what’s going on.

    Volume 1, Chapter 3

    I scarcely knew what school was; Bessie sometimes spoke of it as a place where young ladies sat in the stocks, wore backboards, and were expected to be exceedingly genteel and precise; John Reed hated his school, and abused his master: but John Reed’s tastes were no rule for mine, and if Bessie’s accounts of school-discipline (gathered from the young ladies of a family where she had lived before coming to Gateshead) were somewhat appalling, her details of certain accomplishments attained by these same ladies were, I thought, equally attractive. She boasted of beautiful paintings of landscapes and flowers by them executed; of songs they could sing and pieces they could play, of purses they could net, of French books they could translate; till my spirit was moved to emulation as I listened. Besides, school would be a complete change: it implied a long journey, an entire separation from Gateshead, an entrance into a new life. (1.3.70)

    Jane instinctively embraces the opportunity to go to school—it’s a way to get away from Gateshead, and the fact that people she hates dislike school probably means that she’ll enjoy it. It’s sort of an "enemy of my enemy is my friend" thing.

    She’s also really interested in being "accomplished," in learning, and in being a talented, cultured person, which is more than we can say for any of the Reeds. From the beginning, then, Jane’s motives for getting an education are complex: she loves learning for its own sake, but it’s also a way out of a bad living situation and a way to distinguish herself from louts like John.

    Volume 1, Chapter 8

    They conversed of things I had never heard of; of nations and times past; of countries far away: of secrets of nature discovered or guessed at: they spoke of books: how many they had read! What stores of knowledge they possessed! Then they seemed so familiar with French names and French authors: but my amazement reached its climax when Miss Temple asked Helen if she sometimes snatched a moment to recall the Latin her father had taught her, and taking a book from a shelf, bade her read and construe a page of Virgil; and Helen obeyed, my organ of Veneration expanding at every sounding line. (1.8.52)

    At this moment, Jane develops a love of knowledge and learning that has something to do with the sparkling conversation going on between Miss Temple and Helen Burns, but a lot more to do with the way that she idolizes the two of them. Just like a girl watching her idols today, Jane wants to be what they are—but instead of having fashion mavens like Tyra Banks for idols, she has a schoolteacher and a pious little girl. But the main impulse is the same—Jane basically hero-worships both of them and everything they do.

    Thus relieved of a grievous load, I from that hour set to work afresh, resolved to pioneer my way through every difficulty: I toiled hard, and my success was proportionate to my efforts; my memory, not naturally tenacious, improved with practice; exercise sharpened my wits; in a few weeks I was promoted to a higher class; in less than two months I was allowed to commence French and drawing. I learned the first two tenses of the verb Être, and sketched my first cottage…on the same day. That night, on going to bed, I forgot to prepare in imagination the Barmecide supper of hot roast potatoes, or white break and new milk, with which I was wont to amuse my inward cravings: I feasted instead on the spectacle of ideal drawings, which I saw in the dark; all the work of my own hands… (1.8.59)

    When Jane starts fantasizing about homework instead of food, we get a tiny bit nervous about her. Still, we’re glad that she’s found something to sustain her through the long, cold, hungry nights at Lowood.

    I had meant to be so good, and to do so much at Lowood; to make so many friends, to earn respect, and win affection. Already I had made visible progress: that very morning I had reached the head of my class; Miss Miller had praised me warmly; Miss Temple had smiled approbation; she had promised to teach me drawing, and to let me learn French, if I continued to make similar improvement two months longer: and then I was well-received by my fellow-pupils; treated as an equal by those of my own age, and not molested by any: now, here I lay again crushed and trodden on; and could I ever rise more? (1.8.1)

    From her first days at Lowood, Jane sees learning not only as something enjoyable (she thinks learning French is a special treat!) but as her way of rising in the world and earning friends and approval. Still, learning doesn’t make up for ethics, and Jane is very defensive about being slandered.

    Volume 1, Chapter 10

    I had had no communication by letter or message with the outer world: school-rules, school-duties, school-habits and notions, and voices, and faces, and phrases, and costumes, and preferences, and antipathies: such was what I knew of existence. And now I felt that it was not enough: I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon. I desired liberty… (1.10.9)

    Some people get sick of things slowly and stuff builds up forever; other people wake up one day and need to change their whole lives. Obviously, Jane is the second type of person. It’s pretty amazing, though, that she realizes there’s more to life than studying—after all, education was her ticket out of Gateshead and her way of earning approval from her closest friends and teachers.

    Where do you think Jane got the idea that education is only a part of her life, and not the whole of it? Why does she get sick of Lowood and long to get out in the world, besides simple wanderlust?


    "I dare say you are clever, though," continued Bessie, by way of solace. "What can you do? Can you play on the piano?"

    "A little."

    There was one in the room; Bessie went and opened it, and then asked me to sit down and give her a tune: I played a waltz or two and she was charmed.

    "The Miss Reeds could not play as well!" she said exultingly. "I always said you would surpass them in learning." (1.10.66-69)

    Bessie has always thought of Jane’s intellectual abilities as making up for, or even replacing, her (lack of) good looks. If Bessie were a high school teacher, she’d be the kind who totally believed that there are only two kinds of girls: the popular, pretty ones and the dorky, bookish ones, and never the twain shall meet.

    We know that’s a pretty silly way to see the world—haven’t we learned from reality TV that anyone can be gorgeous with the right expensive makeover? And haven’t you learned from Shmoop that anyone can get smarter with the right tutor? It’s nice that Bessie’s so excited for Jane’s accomplishments, but the way she sees the world—pretty and smart are opposites—is going to make a lot of trouble for Jane down the line, when she has to keep herself dowdy in order to feel savvy.

    Volume 1, Chapter 13
    Mr. Edward Rochester

    "Oh, don’t fall back on over-modesty! I have examined Adèle, and find you have taken great pains with her: she is not bright, she has no talents; yet in a short time she has made much improvement."

    "Sir, you have given me my 'cadeau'; I am obliged to you: it is the meed teachers most covet; praise of their pupils' progress." (1.13.30-31)

    This little moment where Rochester tells Jane she’s a good teacher is important, because Jane never tells us so herself. It’s one of the things she forgets to mention, or maybe leaves out—her modesty is getting in the way of telling her own story. It won’t be the last time that Jane can’t be trusted to depict herself accurately.

    Volume 3, Chapter 4

    I could talk a while when the evening commenced: but the first gush of vivacity and fluency gone, I was fain to sit on a stool at Diana’s feet, to rest my head on her knee, and listen alternately to her and Mary; while they sounded thoroughly the topic on which I had but touched. Diana offered to teach me German. I liked to learn of her: I saw the part of instructress pleased and suited her; that of scholar pleased and suited me no less. (3.4.4)

    In her refuge at Moor House, Jane reverts to her Lowood days; Diana is a lot like Miss Temple and Helen Burns combined, a kind and intelligent teacher who also has strong religious beliefs. During this difficult moment, Jane becomes a student—and a child—all over again in order to recuperate after her traumatic experience with Rochester.

    Volume 3, Chapter 5

    This morning, the village school opened. I had twenty scholars. But three of the number can read: none write or cipher. Several knit, and a few sew a little. They speak with the broadest accent of the district. At present, they and I have a difficulty in understanding each other’s language. Some of them are unmannered, rough, intractable, as well as ignorant; but others are docile, have a wish to learn, and evince a disposition that pleases me. I must not forget that these coarsely-clad little peasants are of flesh and blood as good as the scions of gentlest genealogy; and that the germs of native excellence, refinement, intelligence, kind feeling, are as likely to exist in their hearts as in those of the best-born. My duty will be to develop these germs: surely I shall find some happiness in discharging that office. (3.5.2)

    Basically, this is the part where the new college grad with a degree in education (Jane) has turned down a gig at a high-class private school (tutoring Adèle) in order to do Teach for America (the village school). It’s her community service time, something way more difficult and way more low-to-the-ground than she was trained for, but she can feel good about it.

  • The Supernatural

    Volume 1, Chapter 2

    Returning, I had to cross before the looking-glass; my fascinated glance involuntarily explored the depth it revealed. All looked colder and darker in that visionary hollow than in reality: and the strange little figure there gazing at me, with a white face and arms specking the gloom, and glittering eyes of fear moving where all else was still, had the effect of a real spirit: I thought it like one of the tiny phantoms, half fairy, half imp, Bessie’s evening stories represented as coming out of lone, ferny dells in moors, and appearing before the eyes of belated travelers. (1.2.24)

    When Jane sees herself in the mirror as a child, she sees herself as something uncanny—perhaps a ghost or a fairy, something out of the kind of tales her nursemaid tells her by the fireside. If even Jane perceives herself as unnatural, it’s not surprising that Rochester is going to be continually disconcerted by her.

    Shaking my hair from my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly round the dark room: at this moment a light gleamed on the wall. Was it, I asked myself, a ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling and quivered over my head. I can now conjecture readily that this streak of light was, in all likelihood, a gleam from a lantern, carried by some one across the lawn: but then, prepared as my mind was for horror, shaken as my nerves were by agitation, I thought the swift-darting beam was a herald of some coming vision from another world. My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings: something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke down—I uttered a wild, involuntary cry—I rushed to the door and shook the lock in a desperate effort. (1.2.32)

    What actually happens to Jane during her traumatic experience in the red room is somewhat ambiguous. The older, more experienced Jane who is narrating the story is ready to find a rational explanation for the strange light that she saw as a child; the child Jane is convinced that this light is the beginning of the manifestation of Mr. Reed’s ghost. What is clear is that Jane panics before the question can be resolved—the anticipation of seeing the ghost is itself the trauma, and, as Jane will tell us, her nerves never really recover from this shock.

    Volume 1, Chapter 11

    The laugh was repeated in its low, syllabic tone, and terminated in an odd murmur.

    "Grace!" exclaimed Mrs. Fairfax.

    I really did not expect any Grace to answer; for the laugh was as tragic, as preternatural a laugh as any I ever heard; and, but that it was high noon, and that no circumstances of ghostliness accompanied the curious cachination; but that neither scene nor season favoured fear, I should have been superstitiously afraid. However, the event showed me I was a fool for entertaining even a sense of surprise.

    The door nearest me opened, and a servant came out,—a woman of between thirty and forty; a set, square-made figure, red-haired, and with a hard, plain face: any apparition less romantic or less ghostly could scarcely be conceived. (1.11.118-121)

    Jane seems almost eager to find a ghost in the attic of Thornfield—or maybe she’s just a bit paranoid because of her experience with what might have been, or seemed like, her Uncle Reed’s ghost. However, her first attempt to find something creepy in the attic is unsuccessful—all she finds is a stout, middle-aged, red-headed servant. Not very eerie, that one.

    Jane Eyre the novel—and Jane Eyre the narrator—will continually tease us with things that seem spooky but turn out to be extremely plain. It’s the suspense that occurs in between the suspicion of the supernatural and the revelation of the rational that makes the novel so exciting. Why does Jane keep looking for the supernatural? Why does the novel keep finding ways to explain away things that seem supernatural?

    Volume 1, Chapter 13
    Mr. Edward Rochester

    "No wonder you have rather the look of another world. I marvelled where you had got that sort of face. When you came upon me in Hay Lane last night, I thought unaccountably of fairy tales, and had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse: I am not sure yet. Who are your parents?"

    "I have none."

    "Nor ever had, I suppose: do you remember them?"


    "I thought not. And so you were waiting for your people when you sat on that stile?

    "For whom, sir?"

    "For the men in green: it was a proper moonlight evening for them. Did I break through one of your rings, that you spread that damned ice on the causeway?"

    I shook my head. "The men in green all forsook England a hundred years ago," said I, speaking as seriously as he had done. "And not even in Hay Lane or the fields about it could you find a trace of them. I don’t think either summer or harvest, or winter moon, will ever shine on their revels more." (1.13.40-47)

    At Jane’s second meeting with Rochester, he accuses her, playfully, of being a fairy or a sprite who enchanted his horse and caused the accident in which he sprained his ankle. Jane isn’t about to be outdone and banters with him readily and quick-wittedly, seeming to take fairy tales as seriously as he himself is pretending to do.

    Although Jane’s unearthly fairy qualities are mostly a joke here, there is definitely something strange and uncanny about her quiet demeanor, plain dress, and strong personality. Rochester has met his match—and she is a little bit eerie.

    Volume 2, Chapter 5

    Then my own thoughts worried me. What crime was this that lived incarnate in this sequestered mansion, and could neither be expelled nor subdued by the owner?—what mystery, that broke out now in fire and now in blood, at the deadest hours of night? What creature was it, that, masked in an ordinary woman’s face and shape, uttered the voice, now of a mocking demon, and anon of a carrion-seeking bird of prey? (2.5.54)

    Whoa, suddenly we’re reading a Gothic novel! There’s a secret and unnamable crime at Thornfield that can’t be solved for mysterious reasons! Of course, we’ll find out that it is a human woman—we won’t call her ordinary—behind the arson and the bite wounds at Thornfield, not a demon or a vampire.

    The most disturbing part of the story is that this terrible crime isn’t supernatural—just unnatural.

    Volume 2, Chapter 6

    Presentiments are strange things! and so are sympathies; and so are signs; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity has not yet found the key. I never laughed at presentiments in my life, because I have had strange ones of my own. Sympathies, I believe, exist (for instance, between far-distant, long-absent, wholly estranged relatives asserting, notwithstanding their alienation, the unity of the source to which each traces his origin) whose workings baffle mortal comprehension. And signs, for aught we know, may be but the sympathies of Nature with man. (2.6.1)

    Foreshadowing’s a strange thing too, and so is symbolism, and so are little hints from the author about supernatural tricks she’ll use later to bring the main characters back together when they’re dozens of miles apart. Erm, what’s that called? Yeah, a deus ex machina.

    This passage is important because it’s one of the only moments that Jane actually claims to the reader that she does believe in some kind of supernatural foreknowledge and also a psychic connection between people. Still, Jane suggests that these seemingly supernatural connections may have natural explanations that we just don’t know about.

    Volume 2, Chapter 7
    Jane Eyre

    "I have been with my aunt, sir, who is dead."

    "A true Janian reply! Good angels be my guard! She comes from the other world—from the abode of people who are dead; and tells me so when she meets me alone here in the gloaming! If I dared, I’d touch you, to see if you are substance or shadow, you elf!—but I’d as soon offer to take hold of a blue ignis fatuus light in a marsh." (2.7.21-22)

    As usual Rochester is exaggerating quite a bit, but his suggestion that Jane is able to move between different worlds in a strange and uncanny way seems just about right. After all, Gateshead, Lowood, and Thornfield have practically been different planets.

    (An ignis fatuus, or "false fire," is a little light you see in the distance when you’re lost in a swamp, but it turns out to be swamp gas on fire or something like that instead of a lamp in a cottage that could lead you to safety. Ironically, later in the novel, Jane finds Moor House by following a light that she thinks is an ignis fatuus, but it turns out to be a lamp in a cottage.)

    Volume 2, Chapter 9

    "It was a fairy, and come from Elf-land, it said; and its errand was to make me happy: I must go with it out of the common world to a lonely place—such as the moon, for instance—and it nodded its head towards her horn, rising over Hay-hill: it told me of the alabaster cave and silver vale where we might live. I said I should like to go; but reminded it, as you did me, that I had no wings to fly.

    "'Oh,' returned the fairy, 'that does not signify! Here is a talisman will remove all difficulties;' and she held out a pretty gold ring. 'Put it,' she said, 'on the fourth finger of my left hand, and I am yours, and you are mine; and we shall leave earth, and make our own heaven yonder.' She nodded again at the moon. The ring, Adèle, is in my breeches-pocket, under the disguise of a sovereign: but I mean soon to change it to a ring again."

    "But what has mademoiselle to do with it? I don’t care for the fairy: you said it was mademoiselle you would take to the moon?"

    "Mademoiselle is a fairy," he said, whispering mysteriously. (2.9.122-125)

    Even Adèle, who is less than ten years old, thinks this fairy tale of Rochester’s is ridiculous, but we think it might be just a little bit important that he uses a fanciful story about a magical flight to the moon as metaphors for marrying Jane.

    Rochester expects his marriage to Jane to be a quick fix: he’ll marry her, and as soon as they’ve got their wedding rings on, she’ll transport him into another world and all their problems will be over. Yeah, not in this novel, buster.

    Volume 2, Chapter 10

    "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?"

    "You may."

    "Of the foul German spectre—the Vampyre." (2.10.73-81)

    Is Bertha a vampire? Let’s go through our Handy Vampire Checklist. Is Bertha a "blood relative" of Count Dracula? No. Does she sleep in a coffin during daylight hours? No. Is she a good candidate for villain on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Maybe. Does she suck blood? Yes! Does she drain the life out of the people around her? Yes! Would a stake through the heart kill her? Yes, but it would kill you too and we’re guessing you’re not a vampire.

    So, it’s complicated. (For more on this quote from a different thematic perspective, check out Quote #5 in the "Foreignness and 'The Other'" section.)

    Volume 3, Chapter 9
    St. John Rivers

    All the house was still; for I believe all, except St. John and myself, were now retired to rest. The one candle was dying out: the room was full of moonlight. My heart beat fast and thick: I heard its throb. Suddenly it stood still to an inexpressible feeling that thrilled it through, and passed at once to my head and extremities. The feeling was not like an electric shock, but it was quite as sharp, as strange, as startling: it acted on my senses as if their utmost activity hitherto had been but torpor, from which they were now summoned and forced to wake. They rose expectant: eye and ear waited while the flesh quivered on my bones.

    "What have you heard? What do you see?" asked St. John. I saw nothing, but I heard a voice somewhere cry—

    "Jane! Jane! Jane!"—nothing more.

    "O God! what is it?" I gasped.

    I might have said, "Where is it?" for it did not seem in the room—nor in the house—nor in the garden; it did not come out of the air—nor from under the earth—nor from overhead. I had heard it—where, or whence, for ever impossible to know! And it was the voice of a human being—a known, loved, well-remembered voice—that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain and woe, wildly, eerily, urgently. (3.9.89-93)

    If you want to impress your teacher, you should refer to this as a moment of "clairaudience," which means psychically hearing things that are far away. (Get it? Like "clairvoyance," only that’s for seeing things that are far away.)

    And we’ll point out again, just in case you missed it in the "What’s Up With the Title?" section, that Jane’s last name can be pronounced "ear," like the things on the side of your head. So, special qualities of listening and hearing, plus an uber-special connection to Mr. Rochester, seem to make Jane clairaudient at this moment.

  • Society and Class

    Volume 1, Chapter 2

    Bessie answered not; but ere long, addressing me, she said,—

    "You ought to be aware, Miss, that you are under obligations to Mrs. Reed: she keeps you: if she were to turn you off, you would have to go to the poor-house."

    I had nothing to say to these words: they were not new to me: my very first recollections of existence included hints of the same kind. This reproach of my dependence had become a vague sing-song in my ear; very painful and crushing, but only half intelligible. (1.2.14-16)

    Jane’s early life includes constant reminders that she’s poor, that she’s alone, and that even her aunt and cousins consider her lower-class than they are because she won’t inherit any money. Thinking of herself as beneath others, even those in the same household with her, is a habit that she learns from the very beginning.

    Volume 1, Chapter 3

    Poverty looks grim to grown people; still more so to children: they have not much idea of industrious, working, respectable poverty; they think of the world only as connected with ragged clothes, scanty food, fireless grates, rude manners, and debasing vices: poverty for me was synonymous with degradation. (1.3.63)

    Jane would refuse to live with poor relatives, even if she had any and they were loving, because the Reeds have taught her that poverty is always accompanied by immorality and unpleasantness. It’s going to take Jane some time to realize that wealthy people can easily be just as degraded as poor ones—or more so.

    Volume 1, Chapter 10
    Jane Eyre

    "A new servitude! There is something in that," I soliloquized (mentally, be it understood; I did not talk aloud). "I know there is, because it does not sound too sweet; it is not like such words as Liberty, Excitement, Enjoyment: delightful sounds truly; but no more than sounds for me; and so hollow and fleeting that it is mere waste of time to listen to them. But Servitude! That must be matter of fact. Any one may serve: I have served here eight years; now all I want is to serve elsewhere." (1.10.13)

    Jane’s keeping it real here: she knows that she can’t just up and leave Lowood and be the Queen of England tomorrow. (Besides, that job is taken, and Victoria’s not going anywhere.) Instead of wanting complete freedom from all responsibilities, she just wants new responsibilities. She’s accepted that she’s just a peon, and all she’s asking for is a change of scenery. So her new job really isn’t any kind of class or status change—just a transfer.

    Volume 1, Chapter 11

    There are people who seem to have no notion of sketching a character, or observing and describing salient points, either in persons or things: the good lady evidently belonged to this class; my queries puzzled, but did not draw her out. Mr. Rochester was Mr. Rochester in her eyes; a gentleman, a landed proprietor—nothing more: she inquired and searched no further, and evidently wondered at my wish to gain a more definite notion of his identity. (1.11.102)

    Jane is frustrated that Mrs. Fairfax can only tell her Mr. Rochester’s station in life instead of what kind of person he actually is. In fact, Mrs. Fairfax—like some people we could name—can’t tell the difference between status and character, and assumes that describing him as "a gentleman" is enough.

    But Jane has met gentlemen like Mr. Brocklehurst, and she knows that the fact that he owns land and a house and keeps servants doesn’t really tell her anything about what kind of person Rochester is. She’ll have to figure that out on her own.

    Jane Eyre

    "I am so glad you are come; it will quite pleasant living here now with a companion. To be sure it is pleasant at any time; for Thornfield is a fine old hall, rather neglected of late years perhaps, but still it is a respectable place; yet you know in winter time, one feels dreary quite alone, in the best quarters. I say alone—Leah is a nice girl to be sure, and John and his wife are very decent people; but then you see they are only servants, and one can’t converse with them on terms of equality: one must keep them at due distance, for fear of losing one’s authority." (1.11.42)

    Mrs. Fairfax is glad to have Jane at Thornfield because they’ll be able to socialize together. Later in this chapter, we’ll learn that Mrs. Fairfax is the housekeeper and household manager for Thornfield; as such, she is above the regular servants but below the master of the house, and there’s hardly anyone she can talk to without compromising her position.

    It’s a little bit like being a camp counselor: you’re living with the people you’re in charge of, but you can’t start hanging out with them or they won’t do what you say anymore. You can only hang out with the other camp counselors.

    Volume 1, Chapter 14

    "The fact is, once for all, I don’t wish to treat you like an inferior: that is (correcting himself), I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years’ difference in age and a century’s advance in experience."


    "I don’t think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have—your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience." (1.14.42, 48)

    Try that one on a teacher (or parent, or boss) next time they tell you they know better just because they’re older and have more experience than you do.

    Volume 2, Chapter 2
    Jane Eyre

    "You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protégée, and to be grateful for such respectful and kind treatment as, if you do your duty, you have a right to expect at his hands. Be sure that is the only tie he seriously acknowledges between you and him: so don’t make him the object of your fine feelings, your raptures, agonies, and so forth. He is not of your order: keep to your caste; and be too self-respecting to lavish the love of the whole heart, soul, and strength, where such a gift is not wanted and would be despised." (2.2.2)

    Here Jane’s trying to sort out her relationship to Rochester, and it’s a lot harder because she’s developed several different relationships to him that aren’t entirely compatible. She’s reminding herself that (1) she’s his employee, (2) she’s lower-class than he is, and (3) he hasn’t necessarily shown a serious romantic interest in her.

    But that highly rational assessment really doesn’t cover the instant connection they made in the forest on their first meeting, when he leaned on her shoulder to limp back to his horse and she began taking care of him.

    Volume 2, Chapter 5
    Mr. Edward Rochester

    "You are my little friend, are you not?"

    "I like to serve you, sir, and to obey you in all that is right." (2.5.138-139)

    You can’t forget that, whatever else is going on between Jane and Rochester, they’re never really equals. One of their first big conversations is an argument about whether Jane is going to let Rochester order her around and why she should, and he only wins the argument because she helps him.

    And remember: Jane likes to call Mr. Rochester her "master." Yeah, it’s a little weird, but Jane, like Kate at the end of The Taming of the Shrew, knows that you can actually be in charge by seeming like you’re not in charge. If you’re really good at that kind of thing.

    Volume 3, Chapter 3

    She again regarded me with a surprised stare. "I believe," she said, "I was quite mista’en in my thoughts of you: but there is so mony cheats goes about, you mun forgie me."

    "And though," I continued, rather severely, "you wished to turn me from the door, on a night when you should not have shut out a dog."

    "Well, it was hard: but what can a body do? I thought more o' th' childer nor of mysel: poor things! They’ve like nobody to tak' care on 'em but me. I'm like to look sharpish."

    I maintained a grave silence for some minutes.

    "You munnut think too hardly of me," she again remarked.

    "But I do think hardly of you," I said; "and I’ll tell you why—not so much because you refused to give me shelter, or regarded me as an impostor, as because you just now made it a species of reproach that I had no "brass," and no house. Some of the best people that ever lived have been as destitute as I am; and if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime." (3.3.56-61)

    As a child Jane thought poverty absolutely horrible and wouldn’t even consider living with poor relatives even if they were kind and hard-working people. Now, she’s able to teach Hannah, from her own experience, that your moral character and your bank account (or lack of one) are completely different things.

    "You should hear mama on the chapter of governesses: Mary and I have had, I should think, a dozen at least in our day; half of them detestable and the rest ridiculous, and all incubi—were they not, mama?"

    "Did you speak, my own?"

    The young lady thus claimed as the dowager’s special property, reiterated her question with an explanation.

    "My dearest, don’t mention governesses; the word makes me nervous. I have suffered a martyrdom from their incompetency and caprice; I thank Heaven I have now done with them!"

    Mrs. Dent here bent over to the pious lady, and whispered something in her ear; I suppose from the answer elicited, it was a reminder that one of the anathematized race was present. (2.2.97-101)

    Thought #1: If Blanche Ingram were alive today she’d have been cast in Mean Girls. Thought #2: Ranting about the lower classes right in front of them shows who’s really low-class. Thought #3: Class and race seem to be getting a bit mixed up here… that’s interesting. It’s like someone took all their prejudices and swirled them together in a blender, and now Jane has to drink it. (Gross.)

  • Foreignness and "The Other"

    Volume 1, Chapter 2

    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.

    Volume 1, Chapter 14

    [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.

    Volume 2, Chapter 3

    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."

    Volume 2, Chapter 10
    Jane Eyre

    "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?"

    "You may."

    "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.)

    Volume 3, Chapter 1
    Mr. Edward Rochester

    "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.

    "One night I had been awakened by her yells—(since the medical men had pronounced her mad, she had, of course, been shut up)—it was a fiery West Indian night; one of the description that frequently precede the hurricanes of those climates. Being unable to sleep in bed, I got up and opened the window. The air was like sulphur-steams —I could find no refreshment anywhere. Mosquitoes came buzzing in and hummed sullenly round the room; the sea, which I could hear from thence, rumbled dull like an earthquake—black clouds were casting up over it; the moon was setting in the waves, broad and red, like a hot cannon-ball—she threw her last bloody glance over a world quivering with the ferment of tempest. I was physically influenced by the atmosphere and scene, and my ears were filled with the curses the maniac still shrieked out; wherein she momentarily mingled my name with such a tone of demon-hate, with such language!—no professed harlot ever had a fouler vocabulary than she: though two rooms off, I heard every word—the thin partitions of the West India house opposing but slight obstruction to her wolfish cries." (3.1.75)

    Aww, poor Rochester. He goes to Jamaica to get in on the whole colonial-exploitation thing, marries a woman to get rich, and he doesn’t like her and she has mental problems. Now he has to deal with hot weather and mosquitoes and that pesky Bertha screaming and screaming at night because he’s imprisoned her in their house. These British colonies sure are a hellish experience... for the overlords using them to get rich quick.

    "A wind fresh from Europe blew over the ocean and rushed through the open casement: the storm broke, streamed, thundered, blazed, and the air grew pure. I then framed and fixed a resolution. While I walked under the dripping orange-trees of my wet garden, and amongst its drenched pomegranates and pine-apples, and while the refulgent dawn of the tropics kindled round me—I reasoned thus, Jane—and now listen; for it was true Wisdom that consoled me in that hour, and showed me the right path to follow.

    "The sweet wind from Europe was still whispering in the refreshed leaves, and the Atlantic was thundering in glorious liberty; my heart, dried up and scorched for a long time, swelled to the tone, and filled with living blood—my being longed for renewal—my soul thirsted for a pure draught. I saw hope revive—and felt regeneration possible. From a flowery arch at the bottom of my garden I gazed over the sea —bluer than the sky: the old world was beyond; clear prospects opened thus:—

    "'Go,' said Hope, 'and live again in Europe: there it is not known what a sullied name you bear, nor what a filthy burden is bound to you.'" (3.1.78-80)

    Have you ever felt convinced that the problem wasn’t you, it was the crumby place you lived? Rochester can’t be to blame here; it’s not like he got himself into this situation with Bertha in the West Indies. The problem must be Jamaica itself. If he goes back to Europe, everything will be good and civilized again. There’s no chance that he himself was the original problem and that wherever he goes he’ll take it with him.

    Ugh. This guy.

    Volume 3, Chapter 8

    In leaving England, I should leave a loved but empty land—Mr. Rochester is not there; and if he were, what is, what can that ever be to me? […] Of course (as St. John once said) I must seek another interest in life to replace the one lost: is not the occupation he now offers me truly the most glorious man can adopt or God assign? Is it not, by its noble cares and sublime results, the one best calculated to fill the void left by uptorn affections and demolished hopes? I believe I must say, Yes—and yet I shudder. Alas! If I join St. John, I abandon half myself: if I go to India, I go to premature death. (3.8.114)

    Jane’s conviction that going to India would kill her—and the novel’s implication that it does kill St. John later—just shows the British prejudice against it. According to this messed-up line of reasoning, a little English angel like Jane could never survive in India, which is, let’s face it, that worst possible thing: not English.

    Mr. Edward Rochester

    "This parlour is not his sphere," I reflected: "the Himalayan ridge or Caffre bush, even the plague-cursed Guinea Coast swamp would suit him better. Well may he eschew the calm of domestic life; it is not his element: there his faculties stagnate—they cannot develop or appear to advantage. It is in scenes of strife and danger—where courage is proved, and energy exercised, and fortitude tasked—that he will speak and move, the leader and superior. A merry child would have the advantage of him on this hearth. He is right to choose a missionary’s career—I see it now." (3.8.31)

    Rochester used a British colonial outpost (Jamaica) as a get-rich-quick scheme. St. John, on the other hand, is planning to use a British colonial outpost (India) as a sort of adventure playground. Ah, the many different kinds of exploitation!

    Mr. Edward Rochester

    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?

  • Appearances

    Volume 1, Chapter 3

    Bessie, when she heard this narrative, sighed and said, "Poor Miss Jane is to be pitied, too, Abbot."

    "Yes," responded Abbot, "if she were a nice, pretty child, one might compassionate her forlornness; but one really cannot care for such a little toad as that."

    "Not a great deal, to be sure," agreed Bessie: "at any rate a beauty like Miss Georgiana would be more moving in the same condition."

    "Yes, I doat on Miss Georgiana!" cried the fervent Abbot. "Little darling!—with her long curls and her blue eyes, and such a sweet colour as she has; just as if she were painted!" (1.3.77-80)

    Jane Eyre is famous for being a plain-looking girl rather than a beauty, and here we see the unfortunate and unfair consequences of her plainness: the servants find it difficult to sympathize with her just because she’s not cute and sweet and blue-eyed and curly-haired. Compassion and affection are easier for people like Bessie and Abbot to give to pretty girls. Yeah, they’re not shallow or anything.

    Volume 1, Chapter 7
    Mr. Brocklehurst

    "Miss Temple, Miss Temple, what—what is that girl with curled hair? Red hair, ma’am, curled—curled all over?" And extending his cane he pointed to the awful object, his hand shaking as he did so.

    "It is Julia Severn," replied Miss Temple, very quietly.

    "Julia Severn, ma’am! And why has she, or any other, curled hair? Why, in defiance of every precept and principle of this house, does she conform to the world so openly—here in an evangelical, charitable establishment—as to wear her hair one mass of curls?"

    "Julia’s hair curls naturally," returned Miss Temple, still more quietly.

    "Naturally! Yes, but we are not to conform to nature: I wish these girls to be the children of Grace: and why that abundance? I have again and again intimated that I desire the hair to be arranged closely, modestly, plainly. Miss Temple, that girl’s hair must be cut off entirely […]." (1.7.23-27)

    Poor Julia Severn. Here we see Mr. Brocklehurst at his most unreasonable. Later, he’ll claim that the girls at Lowood Institution shouldn’t curl or braid their hair because that’s wasting time on worldly vanities. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but we understand the logic: just take what you’re given and don’t worry about your appearance.

    But here he implies that, if Julia can’t find a way to straighten her hair and make it less good-looking, then he’ll give her one serious buzz cut. So he’s contradicting himself: if curls are bad because they’re an unnatural kind of ornament, then Julia’s, which are natural, should be okay. But here he freaks out and claims that "we are not to conform to nature" and that the girls should live under Grace (that’s the grace of God) instead. But didn’t God give Julia her curly hair? Why does Mr. Brocklehurst try to say that nature and Grace are different, then?

    That’s right, he’s an idiot.

    "I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world: my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shame-facedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel; and each of the young persons before us has a string of hair twisted in plaits which vanity itself might have woven: these, I repeat, must be cut off; think of the time wasted, of—"

    Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted: three other visitors, ladies, now entered the room. They ought to have come a little sooner to have heard his lecture on dress, for they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs. The two younger of the trio (fine girls of sixteen and seventeen) had grey beaver hats, then in fashion, shaded with ostrich plumes, and from under the brim of this graceful head-dress fell a profusion of light tresses, elaborately curled; the elder lady was enveloped in a costly velvet shawl, trimmed with ermine, and she wore a false front of French curls. (1.7.32-33)

    We’ve suspected all along that Mr. Brocklehurst was the worst kind of hypocrite, and here we get some very obvious confirmation of our suspicions. Just as he’s lecturing Miss Temple on why all the girls at Lowood must have very plain clothing and hair—he’s even against braids—his wife and daughters come in completely tricked out in the latest fashions with complicated hairdos and (we assume) their noses in the air.

    Maybe keeping the Lowood girls plain-looking is more about keeping them in their lowly place than about real Christian humility. Of course, Mr. Brocklehurst’s family members aren’t exactly charitable and good-hearted, either, so ironically his advice to Miss Temple does result in the girls at Lowood being, in a way, holier. But, and we might be going out on a limb here, we don’t think they’d be any less holy if they were allowed to braid their hair. Just a thought.

    Volume 1, Chapter 8

    The refreshing meal, the brilliant fire, the presence and kindness of her beloved instructress, or, perhaps, more than all these, something in her own unique mind, had roused her powers within her. They woke, they kindled: first, they glowed in the bright tint of her cheek, which till this hour I had never seen but pale and bloodless; then they shone in the liquid lustre of her eyes, which had suddenly acquired a beauty more singular than that of Miss Temple’s—a beauty neither of fine colour nor long eyelash, nor pencilled brow, but of meaning, of movement, of radiance. Then her soul sat on her lips, and language flowed [...]. (1.8.51)

    Helen’s beauty comes not from fancy curls or makeup, but from animation, activity, and intellectual stimulation. It’s not just that "real beauty comes from the inside," although that does seem to be true in this novel—it’s that Helen is at her most beautiful when she’s excited about a subject that she knows a lot about and when she's talking about it to someone she really respects.

    Notice that her beauty comes out most in movement and talking—it’s an active rather than a passive beauty. What that means is that she’s beautiful because of what she’s doing and because she’s so intensely alive: not because she’s a passive, static object, something to be looked at, like a beautiful painting.

    Volume 1, Chapter 11

    I rose; I dressed myself with care: obliged to be plain—for I had no article of attire that was not made with extreme simplicity—I was still by nature solicitous to be neat. It was not my habit to be disregardful of appearance, or careless of the impression I made: on the contrary, I ever wished to look as well as I could, and to please as much as my want of beauty would permit. I sometimes regretted that I was not handsomer: I sometimes wished to have rosy cheeks, a straight nose, and small cherry mouth; I desired to be tall, stately and finely developed in figure; I felt it a misfortune that I was so little, so pale, and had features so irregular and so marked. And why had I these aspirations and these regrets? It would be difficult to say: I could not then distinctly say it to myself; yet I had a reason, and a logical, natural reason too. (1.11.47)

    In this passage Jane considers appearance in several different ways. She begins by thinking about being dressed neatly and carefully—basically, not looking like a slob. But this pride in her appearance quickly turns into a lament that she isn’t more of a classic beauty. She can’t even admit why she wants her clothes to look nice, or to be prettier, although she claims there is a specific reason… can you guess what it might be? Yep, walks on two legs, has a deep voice, rhymes with Bochester—you got it.

    Volume 1, Chapter 14

    I am sure most people would have thought him an ugly man; yet there was so much unconscious pride in his port; so much case in his demeanour; such a look of complete indifference to his own external appearance; so haughty a reliance on the power of other qualities, intrinsic or adventitious, to atone for the lack of mere personal attractiveness, that in looking at him, one inevitably shared the indifference; and even in a blind, imperfect sense, put faith in the confidence. (1.14.33)

    Jane is able to separate Rochester’s actual appearance from how Rochester is perceived by the people around him and from what she herself thinks of his character. Distinguishing appearance from personality is something she learned to do at Lowood.

    Volume 1, Chapter 15

    And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader: gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire. Yet I had not forgotten his faults: indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. (1.15.28)

    Rochester’s actual appearance seems to transform as Jane’s opinion of him changes (and as she starts to fall in love with him). We’ve got to be on the lookout with this novel for moments when someone’s exterior seems to physically change—but what’s really changing is the attitude of the person looking at them. In this passage, Jane admits that it’s her feelings that make Rochester look different, but at other moments she’s a little less obvious.

    Volume 2, Chapter 1

    "Listen, then, Jane Eyre, to your sentence: to-morrow, place the glass before you, and draw in chalk your own picture, faithfully; without softening one defect: omit no harsh line, smooth away no displeasing irregularity; write under it, 'Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain.'

    "Afterwards, take a piece of smooth ivory—you have one prepared in your drawing-box: take your pallette, mix your freshest, finest, clearest tints; choose your most delicate camel-hair pencils; delineate carefully the loveliest face you can imagine; paint it in your softest shades and sweetest hues, according to the description given by Mrs. Fairfax of Blanche Ingram: remember the raven ringlets, the oriental eye;—what! you revert to Mr. Rochester as a model! Order! No snivel!—no sentiment!—no regret! I will endure only sense and resolution. Recall the august yet harmonious lineaments, the Grecian neck and bust: let the round and dazzling arm be visible, and the delicate hand; omit neither diamond ring nor gold bracelet; portray faithfully the attire, aërial lace and glistening satin, graceful scarf and golden rose: call it 'Blanche, an accomplished lady of rank.'

    "Whenever, in future, you should chance to fancy Mr. Rochester thinks well of you, take out these two picture and compare them: say, 'Mr. Rochester might probably win that noble lady’s love, if he chose to strive for it; is it likely he would waste a serious thought on this indigent and insignificant plebeian?'" (2.1.72-74)

    Notice that the portrait Jane draws of Blanche is completely imaginary; she hasn’t seen or met Blanche yet, although we already know that Jane’s drawings and paintings sometimes have an eerie way of looking just like real places and people that she’s never seen.

    These portraits probably tell us more about the contrast between who Jane is and who she wishes she could be than about the real contrast between Jane and Blanche. It’s like feeling a bit depressed, having low self-esteem, and comparing yourself to airbrushed pictures of Zoë Kravitz.

    Volume 2, Chapter 9
    Jane Eyre

    "Oh, sir!—never mind jewels! I don’t like to hear them spoken of. Jewels for Jane Eyre sounds unnatural and strange: I would rather not have them."

    "I will myself put the diamond chain round your neck, and the circlet on your forehead,—which it will become: for nature, at least, has stamped her patent of nobility on this brow, Jane; and I will clasp the bracelets on these fine wrists, and load these fairy-like fingers with rings."

    "No, no, sir! think of other subjects, and speak of other things, and in another strain. Don’t address me as if I were a beauty; I am your plain, Quakerish governess."

    "You are a beauty in my eyes, and a beauty just after the desire of my heart,—delicate and aërial."

    "Puny and insignificant, you mean. You are dreaming, sir,—or you are sneering. For God’s sake don’t be ironical!" (2.9.19-23)

    Famous passage alert: Jane’s self-description as a "plain, Quakerish governess" is one of the most important and most frequently quoted lines in the novel. Her insistence that this plain exterior is an expression of who she really is, and that jewels and fancy gowns aren’t right for her, is interesting on a lot of levels.

    Is this just Jane’s low self-esteem cropping up again? Or is it a moral stance—Jane’s way of telling Rochester that she’s not his mistress and that she’s going to look respectable, not all tarted up with his finery? How do we read this moment knowing that another person who insisted on plainness at all cost —Mr. Brocklehurst—was a complete hypocrite? Surely Jane’s not a hypocrite? So when is it okay to insist on being dressed humbly and modestly, and when is it overreacting?

    Volume 3, Chapter 11

    His form was of the same strong and stalwart contour as ever: his port was still erect, his hair was still raven-black; nor were his features altered or sunk: not in one year’s space, by any sorrow, could his athletic strength be quelled, or his vigorous prime blighted. But in his countenance, I saw a change: that looked desperate and brooding —that reminded me of some wronged and fettered wild beast or bird, dangerous to approach in his sullen woe. The caged eagle, whose gold-ringed eyes cruelty has extinguished, might look as looked that sightless Samson. (3.11.9)

    English teachers are always going on about how characters change—you know, what do they learn, how do they grow, that kind of thing. Rochester’s change is personal and emotional, of course, but it’s also physical; you can see in his face that he really understands his (attempted) crime—and also that he’s pretty much lost all hope.

    Being able to read information in people’s faces accurately just by looking at them is something that happens a lot in this novel (and that depends on a nineteenth-century pseudo-science called "phrenology"—think of it as a palm-reading for your forehead). For more on the reference to Samson, check out our "Allusions" section.

  • Morality and Ethics

    Volume 1, Chapter 6
    Jane Eyre

    "If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again. […] I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved." (1.6.50, 52)

    Here Jane is responding to Helen Burns, who argues that you should "return good for evil," "turn the other cheek," "love your enemies," and all that sort of good Christian forgiveness stuff.

    Jane (remember she’s only ten at this point) can’t quite agree with this; she doesn’t see any reason to "bless them that curse you," because then they’ll get away with it! Jane’s childhood ideas of justice are strict and exact—more like the Old Testament "eye for an eye" laws of retaliation than Helen’s New Testament charity. It’ll be interesting to see whether Jane’s ideas change over time and, if so, exactly how.

    Volume 1, Chapter 8
    Helen Burns

    "If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends."

    "No: I know I should think well of myself; but that is not enough: if others don’t love me, I would rather die than live—I cannot bear to be solitary and hated, Helen." (1.8.11-12)

    Jane’s convinced that she wouldn’t be able to stick to her moral guns (so to speak) if doing so meant that she was alone and friendless. Wouldn’t it be so weird if that was exactly what she had to learn to do by the end of the novel?

    Volume 1, Chapter 14
    Mr. Edward Rochester

    "Nature meant me to be, on the whole, a good man, Miss Eyre: one of the better end; and you see I am not so. […] Then take my word for it,—I am not a villain: you are not to suppose that—not to attribute to me any such bad eminence; but, owing, I verily believe, rather to circumstances than to my natural bent, I am a trite common-place sinner, hackneyed in all the poor petty dissipations with which the rich and worthless try to put on life." (1.14.61)

    Before Jane even really knows Rochester, he’s claiming he’s really not that bad a guy. We think the gentleman doth protest too much.

    "Dread remorse when you are tempted to err, Miss Eyre: remorse is the poison of life."

    "Repentance is said to be its cure, sir."

    "It is not its cure. Reformation may be its cure; and I could reform—I have strength yet for that—if—but where is the use of thinking of it, hampered, burdened, cursed as I am? Besides, since happiness is irrevocably denied me, I have a right to get pleasure out of life: and I will get it, cost what it may." (1.14.63-65)

    The difference between "repentance" and "reform" is important here. Jane thinks it’s enough to repent —to feel bad for what you’ve done. Rochester thinks that’s not enough and that you actually need to reform—to actively change your ways. We’ll be watching through the rest of the novel to figure out which of them the text supports.

    "You seem to doubt me; I don’t doubt myself: I know what my aim is, what my motives are; and at this moment I pass a law, unalterable as that of the Medes and Persians, that both are right."

    "They cannot be, sir, if they require a new statute to legalize them."

    "They are, Miss Eyre, though they absolutely require a new statute: unheard-of combinations of circumstances demand unheard-of rules."

    "That sounds a dangerous maxim, sir; because one can see at once that it is liable to abuse." (1.14.83-86)

    The rules say Rochester is doing something wrong, so he’s out to change the rules. We don’t know what the thing is that he wants to get away with, but we’re suspicious already.

    Volume 2, Chapter 5
    Mr. Edward Rochester

    "I see genuine contentment in your gait and mien, your eye and face, when you are helping me and pleasing me—working for me, and with me, in, as you characteristically say, 'all that is right:' for if I bid you do what you thought wrong, there would be no light-footed running, no neat-handed alacrity, no lively glance and animated complexion. My friend would then turn to me, quiet and pale, and would say, 'No, sir; that is impossible: I cannot do it, because it is wrong;' and would become immutable as a fixed star. Well, you too have power over me, and may injure me: yet I dare not show you where I am vulnerable, lest, faithful and friendly as you are, you should transfix me at once." (2.5.140)

    Later in the novel, Rochester’s going to do his best to convince Jane to do something that she thinks is wrong, but notice that at this much earlier stage he already knows she’s not the kind of person who can be convinced of something she disagrees with. Also, this passage suggests that, even though Jane kind of gets a kick out of being Rochester’s servant, she won’t obey just any order.

    "[S]uppose you were no longer a girl well reared and disciplined, but a wild boy indulged from childhood upwards; imagine yourself in a remote foreign land; conceive that you there commit a capital error, no matter of what nature or from what motives, but one whose consequences must follow you through life and taint all your existence. Mind, I don’t say a crime; I am not speaking of shedding of blood or any other guilty act, which might make the perpetrator amenable to the law: my word is error. The results of what you have done become in time to you utterly insupportable; you take measures to obtain relief: unusual measures, but neither unlawful nor culpable. Still you are miserable; for hope has quitted you on the very confines of life: your sun at noon darkens in an eclipse, which you feel will not leave it till the time of setting. Bitter and base associations have become the sole food of your memory: you wander here and there, seeking rest in exile: happiness in pleasure—I mean in heartless, sensual pleasure—such as dulls intellect and blights feeling. Heart-weary and soul-withered, you come home after years of voluntary banishment: you make a new acquaintance—how or where no matter: you find in this stranger much of the good and bright qualities which you have sought for twenty years, and never before encountered; and they are all fresh, healthy, without soil and without taint. Such society revives, regenerates: you feel better days come back—higher wishes, purer feelings; you desire to recommence your life, and to spend what remains to you of days in a way more worthy of an immortal being. To attain this end, are you justified in overleaping an obstacle of custom—a mere conventional impediment which neither your conscience sanctifies nor your judgment approves?" (2.5.148)

    No matter how long and sad the story is, we can tell that Rochester’s trying to trick us into saying "yes," and so can Jane. When we find out that what he’s calling a "mere conventional impediment" is the law against bigamy, well, the trick’s just a lot more obvious then. Still, his story does inspire a lot of sympathy.

    Volume 3, Chapter 1

    The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot. (3.1.122)

    When Rochester tries to claim that Jane can reject conventional morality because she doesn’t have any family around to be offended by her decision, she realizes how much more important it is to do the right thing when you are alone in the world.

    Mr. Edward Rochester

    "Now for the hitch in Jane’s character," he said at last, speaking more calmly than from his look I had expected him to speak. "The reel of silk has run smoothly enough so far; but I always knew there would come a knot and a puzzle: here it is. Now for vexation, and exasperation, and endless trouble! By God! I long to exert a fraction of Samson’s strength, and break the entanglement like tow!" (3.1.38)

    Rochester sure gets compared to Samson a lot—you’ll really have to check out that reference in the "Allusions" section. And, as usual, Rochester is shuffling around names and labels for things in order to try to change our attitudes toward them—that "hitch in Jane’s character" is actually her morality.

    Jane Eyre

    Some time in the afternoon I raised my head, and looking round and seeing the western sun gilding the sign of its decline on the wall, I asked, "What am I to do?"

    But the answer my mind gave—"Leave Thornfield at once"—was so prompt, so dread, that I stopped my ears. I said I could not bear such words now. "That I am not Edward Rochester’s bride is the least part of my woe," I alleged: "that I have wakened out of most glorious dreams, and found them all void and vain, is a horror I could bear and master; but that I must leave him decidedly, instantly, entirely, is intolerable. I cannot do it."

    But, then, a voice within me averred that I could do it and foretold that I should do it. I wrestled with my own resolution: I wanted to be weak that I might avoid the awful passage of further suffering I saw laid out for me; and Conscience, turned tyrant, held Passion by the throat, told her tauntingly, she had yet but dipped her dainty foot in the slough, and swore that with that arm of iron he would thrust her down to unsounded depths of agony. (3.1.1-5)

    Jane’s moment of great ethical crisis turns (in her mind, at least) into an allegorical scene in which Conscience and Passion start brawling, and Conscience is the bully. It’s interesting that Jane knows immediately and certainly what is morally right in this situation—what’s difficult isn’t to know what she has to do, but to make herself do it.

  • The Home

    Volume 1, Chapter 6

    Probably, if I had lately left a good home and kind parents, this would have been the hour when I should most keenly have regretted the separation: that wind would then have saddened my heart; this obscure chaos would have disturbed my peace: as it was I derived from both a strange excitement, and reckless and feverish, I wished the wind to howl more wildly, the gloom to deepen to darkness, and the confusion to rise to clamour. (1.6.14)

    Jane claims that, because she came from an unpleasant home where she felt unwelcome, she is excited rather than depressed by her situation at Lowood, symbolized here by the windy chaos outside the window.

    We’re not sure, however, if we should believe her; even though her life at Gateshead was unpleasant, any change is distressing, especially for a child, and maybe she is mourning for the home she had before, even if it wasn’t too great. Jane’s first comment on her homelessness makes us realize that she’s not always a completely honest narrator, and we might have to dig deep to figure out her real feelings.

    Volume 1, Chapter 8

    Well has Solomon said:—"Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."

    I would not now have exchanged Lowood with all its privations, for Gateshead and its daily luxuries. (1.8.60-61)

    Despite the fact that she doesn’t get enough to eat at Lowood and can be mocked and maligned by Mr. Brocklehurst, Jane prefers it to the red velvet curtains and cruelty of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead. Home, for Jane, isn’t just a roof over her head; it’s being accepted for who she is and having the opportunity to better herself.

    Volume 2, Chapter 6

    On a dark, misty, raw morning in January, I had left a hostile roof with a desperate and embittered heart—a sense of outlawry and almost of reprobation—to seek the chilly harbourage of Lowood: that bourne so far away and unexplored. The same hostile roof now again rose before me: my prospects were doubtful yet; and I had yet an aching heart. I still felt as a wanderer on the face of the earth; but I experienced firmer trust in myself and my own powers, and less withering dread of oppression. The gaping wound of my wrongs, too, was now quite healed; and the flame of resentment extinguished. (2.6.114)

    Returning to Gateshead after she has been at Thornfield for six months and Lowood for eight years before that, Jane doesn’t have any sense of homecoming—but at least she no longer feels bitter about her childhood experience with the Reeds. She is able to see her aunt’s house again without fear, even though she’ll never feel like it was really a home.

    Volume 2, Chapter 7
    Jane Eyre

    "Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness. I am strangely glad to get back again to you; and wherever you are is my home,—my only home." (2.7.34)

    Given the way Jane doesn’t seem to connect to places, but to people and the way they do or don’t allow her to be herself, it’s not surprising that her "home" is established in terms of companionship.

    How people feel when they are returning home from an absence, long or short, I did not know: I had never experienced the sensation. I had known what it was to come back to Gateshead when a child, after a long walk—to be scolded for looking cold or gloomy; and later, what it was to come back from church to Lowood—to long for a plenteous meal and a good fire, and to be unable to get either. Neither of these returnings were very pleasant or desirable: no magnet drew me to a given point, increasing in its strength of attraction the nearer I came. The return to Thornfield was yet to be tried. (2.7.8)

    Jane has done plenty of going back to places, but not much actual going home. She’s never felt connected to a place, which is strange because there are only three places she remembers living. Perhaps returning to Thornfield will feel different; it’s possible that Jane has finally found the home she never had. It’s also interesting that she thinks she’ll only be able to tell what feels like home after leaving it and returning. In this novel, being away from home is the thing that makes it possible to know what home is.

    Volume 3, Chapter 1

    I skirted fields, and hedges, and lanes till after sunrise. I believe it was a lovely summer morning: I know my shoes, which I had put on when I left the house, were soon wet with dew. But I looked neither to rising sun, nor smiling sky, nor wakening nature. He who is taken out to pass through a fair scene to the scaffold, thinks not of the flowers that smile on his road, but of the block and axe-edge; of the disseverment of bone and vein; of the grave gaping at the end: and I thought of drear flight and homeless wandering—and oh! with agony I thought of what I left. (3.1.161)

    Jane’s most courageous moral decision takes the form of abandoning the home she has found for herself with Rochester. Her decision to become homeless means that she is physically unmoored—but ethically grounded.

    Volume 3, Chapter 2

    I touched the heath: it was dry, and yet warm with the heat of the summer day. I looked at the sky; it was pure: a kindly star twinkled just above the chasm ridge. The dew fell, but with propitious softness; no breeze whispered. Nature seemed to me benign and good; I thought she loved me, outcast as I was; and I, who from man could anticipate only mistrust, rejection, insult, clung to her with filial fondness. To-night, at least, I would be her guest, as I was her child: my mother would lodge me without money and without price. (3.2.6)

    For at least a little while, Jane returns to the home that we can find in Nature—it’s almost like a garden-of-Eden thing. It also strikes us that going out onto the moors and trusting that Nature will care for you has an Israelites-in-the-wilderness feel. Jane even finds some manna—okay, berries, but close enough. Unfortunately, hunger will drive her back to "civilization" and houses.

    Volume 3, Chapter 3
    Diana and Mary Rivers

    "And what business have you here?" she continued. "It is not your place. Mary and I sit in the kitchen sometimes, because at home we like to be free, even to license—but you are a visitor, and must go into the parlour." (3.3.72)

    You know how, at parties, everyone always ends up in the kitchen, even if you put all the food and drinks in the living room? That’s what Jane did here—ended up in the kitchen because it seems like that’s where the action is. Diana’s trying to be kind by suggesting Jane go into the parlor, which implies that Jane is being treated as a high-class visitor, but actually she’s just reminding Jane of her own homelessness and the way she doesn’t belong at Moor House.

    Volume 3, Chapter 5

    My home, then, when I at last find a home,—is a cottage; a little room with whitewashed walls and a sanded floor, containing four painted chairs and a table, a clock, a cupboard, with two or three plates and dishes, and a set of tea-things in delf. Above, a chamber of the same dimensions as the kitchen, with a deal bedstead and chest of drawers; small, yet too large to be filled with my scanty wardrobe: though the kindness of my gentle and generous friends has increased that, by a modest stock of such things as are necessary. (3.5.1)

    This is the first (and only) time in Jane Eyre that Jane actually has a little house all to herself that she can call home, and it won’t last very long.

    Volume 3, Chapter 7
    St. John Rivers

    "You think so now," rejoined St. John, "because you do not know what it is to possess, nor consequently to enjoy wealth: you cannot form a notion of the importance twenty thousand pounds would give you; of the place it would enable you to take in society; of the prospects it would open to you: you cannot—"

    "And you," I interrupted, "cannot at all imagine the craving I have for fraternal and sisterly love. I never had a home, I never had brothers or sisters; I must and will have them now: you are not reluctant to admit me and own me, are you?" (3.7.127)

    So what would you do if you won the lottery? Move into a small house with three of your cousins so that you had somewhere to call home? Yeah, we didn’t think so. But that’s what Jane wants to do.

  • Marriage

    Volume 2, Chapter 2
    Blanche Ingram

    "Whenever I marry," she continued, after a pause which none interrupted, "I am resolved my husband shall not be a rival, but a foil to me. I will suffer no competitor near the throne; I shall exact an undivided homage: his devotions shall not be shared between me and the shape he sees in his mirror." (2.2.128)

    Blanche Ingram’s idea of a good marriage is one in which the partners are distinctly different and one partner is far superior to the other. As a stunning beauty, she doesn’t want a handsome husband, but a hideous one: that way she’ll always get all the attention. Notice how different this is from Jane’s and Rochester’s ideas about love and marriage—they’re drawn together because they are alike. Blanche thinks that opposites attract, but Jane knows that kindred spirits attract more strongly.

    Jane Eyre

    "He is not to them what he is to me," I thought: "he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;—I am sure he is,—I feel akin to him,—I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him. […] I must, then, repeat continually that we are for ever sundered:—and yet, while I breathe and think I must love him." (2.2.85)

    Seeing Rochester among his high-class houseguests, Jane realizes that he has more in common with her than he does with them. Despite Jane’s and Rochester’s different class backgrounds, their master-servant relationship, and the strict gender roles of Victorian society, Jane can tell that they share something intangible—but she doubts that they can overcome all the social obstacles keeping them apart. This isn’t the first time Jane has felt affection for someone—but it may be the first time she’s felt like somebody else.

    Volume 2, Chapter 3

    Ere long, a bell tinkled, and the curtain drew up. Within the arch, the bulky figure of Sir George Lynn, whom Mr. Rochester had likewise chosen, was seen enveloped in a white sheet: before him, on a table, lay open a large book; and at his side stood Amy Eshton, draped in Mr. Rochester’s cloak, and holding a book in her hand. Somebody, unseen, rang the bell merrily; then Adèle (who had insisted on being one of her guardian’s party) bounded forward, scattering round her the contents of a basket of flowers she carried on her arm. Then appeared the magnificent figure of Miss Ingram, clad in white, a long veil on her head, and a wreath of roses round her brow: by her side walked Mr. Rochester, and together they drew near the table. They knelt; while Mrs. Dent and Louisa Eshton, dressed also in white, took up their stations behind them. A ceremony followed, in dumb show, in which it was easy to recognize the pantomime of a marriage. (2.3.8)

    Blanche Ingram and Mr. Rochester pair up for an elaborate game of charades, and the first thing they do is play-act their own wedding, silently, in front of the other houseguests and Jane. This is the first of several not-quite-real weddings we’ll see in Jane Eyre, each of which suggests something about the actual marriages and pairings in the novel. In this particular case, the pretend wedding is meant to be a charade for the word "bride"—but that’s only the first half of the word being acted out in the game, which is "Bridewell," a famous prison. Hmm, something that begins with a marriage ends with being in prison. Do you think that’s supposed to be some kind of omen or something?

    I have not yet said anything condemnatory of Mr. Rochester’s project of marrying for interest and connexions. […] All their class held these principles: I supposed, then, they had reasons for holding them such as I could not fathom. It seemed to me that, were I a gentleman like him, I would take to my bosom only such a wife as I could love; but the very obviousness of the advantages to the husband’s own happiness, offered by this plan, convinced me that there must be arguments against its general adoption of which I was quite ignorant: otherwise I felt sure all the world would act as I wished to act. (2.3.31)

    Jane doesn’t get why anyone would not marry for love, especially if they’re rich enough to do pretty much whatever they want, but she figures there must be some reason that so many people who are already wealthy and important insist on marrying to get more money and status instead of to make themselves happy. Notice that Jane doesn’t talk about her own ideas about marriage—only the ideas that she would have if she were in Rochester’s place. Somehow Jane can’t conceive of herself needing to make a choice about marrying for love or status—only of a man like Rochester doing so.

    I saw he was going to marry her, for family, perhaps political reasons; because her rank and connexions suited him; I felt he had not given her his love, and that her qualifications were ill adapted to win from him that treasure. This was the point—this was where the nerve was touched and teazed—this was where the fever was sustained and fed: she could not charm him. (2.3.27)

    Jane is really hot and bothered by the idea that Rochester is going to marry Blanche, not just because she’s jealous, but also because she can tell that they are so unsuited and that Rochester himself knows exactly how flawed and unpleasant Blanche is.

    Jane herself knows exactly how to "charm" Rochester, how to argue with him and keep him amused and even how to make him love her. Basically, the way Jane feels here is the way we feel when we see someone doing something badly that we know how to do well. She wants to take Rochester away and show Blanche how this relationship should be done—but she can’t. She has to watch and suffer in silence, as usual.

    Volume 2, Chapter 4
    Mr. Edward Rochester

    "What tale do you like best to hear?"

    "Oh, I have not much choice! They generally run on the same theme —courtship; and promise to end in the same catastrophe—marriage."

    "And do you like that monotonous theme?"

    "Positively, I don’t care about it: it is nothing to me." (2.4.49-52)

    You remember what’s going on here, right? Rochester, disguised as the old gypsy woman, is trying to get Jane to admit that she’s in love with him. (Go back and read the summary of Volume 2, Chapter 4 if you have no idea what we’re talking about.) The real question here is, do we believe Jane’s claim that marriage is "nothing" to her and that she doesn’t care about it? We already know that she’s in love with Rochester, but we also know that she thinks that relationship isn’t going anywhere.

    Volume 2, Chapter 8
    Mr. Edward Rochester

    "Come to my side, Jane, and let us explain and understand one another."

    "I will never again come to your side: I am torn away now, and cannot return."

    "But, Jane, I summon you as my wife: it is you only I intend to marry."

    I was silent: I thought he mocked me.

    "Come, Jane—come hither."

    "Your bride stands between us."

    He rose, and with a stride reached me.

    "My bride is here," he said, again drawing me to him, "because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?" (2.8.80-87)

    Fair warning: we could have picked almost any quote from Volume 2, Chapter 8 because it’s pretty much all like this. The irony is thick on the ground here—as Jane will learn at the end of Volume 2, Rochester’s bride does indeed stand between them, but it’s not Blanche Ingram! Notice that Rochester claims a woman could only qualify as his "bride" if she was also his "equal" and "likeness." He’s laying the groundwork for twisting this argument around later in the novel and claiming that a woman who isn’t his "likeness" can’t be his wife no matter what anyone (even the law) says.

    Volume 2, Chapter 11
    Mr. Edward Rochester

    "That is my wife," said he. "Such is the sole conjugal embrace I am ever to know—such are the endearments which are to solace my leisure hours! And this is what I wished to have" (laying his hand on my shoulder): "this young girl, who stands so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of a demon. I wanted her just as a change after that fierce ragout. Wood and Briggs, look at the difference! Compare these clear eyes with the red balls yonder—this face with that mask—this form with that bulk; then judge me, priest of the Gospel and man of the law, and remember, with what judgement ye judge ye shall be judged!" (2.11.80)

    Rochester has admitted that he was trying to commit bigamy, but the weird part is that we kind of sympathize with him. The contrast between Bertha, the wild and crazy vampire-ish woman, and plain little Jane, the "Quakerish governess," really makes us understand what Rochester is saying: Bertha’s really not playing the role of a wife in his life, so why shouldn’t he be allowed to marry Jane, especially because she’s so awesome? Then we stop for a minute and think, whoa, we’re not exactly on board with this, because it’s not really fair to Jane. But we do feel bad for the guy.

    Volume 3, Chapter 6
    St. John Rivers

    "It is strange," pursued he, "that while I love Rosamond Oliver so wildly—with all the intensity, indeed, of a first passion, the object of which is exquisitely beautiful, graceful, fascinating—I experience at the same time a calm, unwarped consciousness that she would not make me a good wife; that she is not the partner suited to me; that I should discover this within a year after marriage; and that to twelve months’ rapture would succeed a lifetime of regret. This I know." (3.6.45)

    St. John’s radical separation of his emotional attachment to Rosamond from his calm, collected assessment of what a good wife should be sounds fairly rational at first—and really similar, in some ways, to Jane’s rejection of Rochester. But something’s bothering us about it. Oh, right, it’s the implication that he’s (someday) going to marry a woman he doesn’t love. On purpose. Now that’s just masochistic.

    Volume 3, Chapter 8

    Consent, then, to his demand is possible: but for one item—one dreadful item. It is—that he asks me to be his wife, and has no more of a husband’s heart for me than that frowning giant of a rock, down which the stream is foaming in yonder gorge. He prizes me as a soldier would a good weapon; and that is all. Unmarried to him, this would never grieve me; but can I let him complete his calculations—coolly put into practice his plans—go through the wedding ceremony? Can I receive from him the bridal ring, endure all the forms of love (which I doubt not he would scrupulously observe) and know that the spirit was quite absent? Can I bear the consciousness that every endearment he bestows is a sacrifice made on principle? No: such a martyrdom would be monstrous. I will never undergo it. As his sister, I might accompany him—not as his wife: I will tell him so. (3.8.116)

    The (imaginary, thank goodness) spectacle of St. John forcing himself to have sex with Jane even though he doesn’t love her and she doesn’t love him is nauseating. Clearly, a marriage can’t be conducted simply based on a rational analysis of which people are compatible as "help-meets." St. John’s legalistic ideas about marriage make Rochester’s fast-and-loose proposals look positively squeaky-clean by comparison.