Study Guide

Jane Eyre Marriage

By Charlotte Brontë

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.