Jane Eyre on Page and Screen 13: The Engagement

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Chapter XXIV of Jane Eyre deals with the weeks leading up to Jane’s wedding day. It reveals that while Jane is deeply in love with Rochester, she has serious reservations about entering into the married state, and specifically about marrying a man of Rochester’s tyrannical tendencies. Jane had good reason to be afraid. In Charlotte Brontë’s day, single women were able to earn wages, own property, enter into contracts, live where they pleased, and make decisions for themselves. Upon marriage, they lost most of these rights.

By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing. (-from Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England)

Not until 1870 did the Married Woman’s Property Act allow women to own land, houses, investments, or the wages they earned. As we will see, this chapter is full of the language of power and domination, slavery and despotism. It’s an exploration of the power dynamics between lovers, before marriage as well as after, and it expresses some surprisingly feminist and subversive ideas with regard to gender and relations between men and women.

In other installments of this series, I have used images from the wonderful website Jane Eyre Illustrated, which collects artwork from published editions of the novel and other sources. But Chapter XXIV receives minimal attention from these artists, who understandably focus more on the proposal and wedding scenes. Therefore I’ve included images that help explain the dense cultural references and literary allusions in this chapter.

The day after the proposal, Jane wakes up feeling uncertain whether her engagement is real or a dream. But as she is dressing, she looks in the mirror:

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The glow of love makes Jane attractive even in her own eyes.

This tiny pencil sketch, found on one of Charlotte Brontë’s notebooks, is believed to be a self-portrait, drawn with the aid of a mirror. Click the image for the Daily Mail article.

Notice that despite her passionate words about equality during the proposal scene, and despite her new status as his fiancée, Jane still thinks of Mr. Rochester as her “master,” and refers to him this way throughout the chapter.

Jane chooses a “light summer dress” from her wardrobe and finds that it becomes her, because she has never before worn a dress “in so blissful a mood.” Outdoors the previous night’s storm has yielded to a beautiful June day. A beggar-woman and her son come up the walk, and Jane runs to give them all the money in her purse, that they might share in her joy.

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“I ran down and gave them all the money I happened to have in my purse.” Edmund Dulac’s 1905 illustration is the only one I could find from Chapter 24. Notice Jane’s Regency-style gown.

The dress is a puzzle, for Jane’s previous description of her three-gown wardrobe did not include this summer dress. Is it a continuity error which Brontë missed, or did Jane purchase the dress at some unspecified time after receiving her wages? Jane’s generosity to the beggar-woman foreshadows the kindness she will herself receive from the Rivers family.

Mrs. Fairfax invites Jane to breakfast, but neither woman speaks of the matter uppermost in their minds: that Jane was absent all evening with Mr. Rochester, and that he kissed her in the hall after their return. Adèle tells Jane that Rochester has canceled her lessons for the day, and Jane goes to find him.

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Rochester confirms the positive change in Jane’s looks, and seems almost nostalgic for her former “elfish” state. The elf- and fairy-language is his favorite way of describing the attraction Jane possesses for him. He is at his most romantic and playful here, invoking the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His error about her eye-color is interesting; I wonder if we are to take this as a sign that Rochester’s fantasies cloud his ability to see truth.

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“Mustardseed” is one of the (male) fairies in Shakespeare’s play, together with Peaseblossom, Cobweb, and Moth. The tiny size of a mustard seed makes it a good descriptor for the diminutive Jane. This costume design for a production of “Midsummer Night” is by Pamela Scofield for the Geva Theatre in Rochester (!), New York. Click for source.

To Rochester’s question “Is this my pale little elf?” Jane answers with a characteristic statement: “It is Jane Eyre, sir.” He replies that in four weeks she will be “Jane Rochester.”

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This is one of the most feminist passages in the book. When faced with the loss of her own unique identity, and its absorption into that of her husband under the legal doctrine of “coverture,” Jane feels a powerful emotion which she is reluctant to recognize as fear. To Jane, the loss of her name feels “strange,” but Rochester experiences such delight in taking it from her, and replacing it with his own, that he repeats it over and over:

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Jane remarks that her fate seems like “a fairy-tale” or a daydream. Rochester responds that he will make it come true; in fact he has already sent to his banker in London for the Thornfield family jewels, for he wishes to treat Jane as the equal of a peer’s daughter. Jane is aghast, and begs him not to pretend that she is a beauty, but to think of her as “your plain, Quakerish governess.”

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A late Georgian/early Victorian parure (jewelry set) of chrysoberyls set in gold, comprising a necklace, brooch or pendant, and earrings. To judge from the decor at Thornfield, some of the Rochester jewels would likely be much older. Rochester mentions a diamond chain, a circlet or tiara, bracelets, and rings.

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Rochester looks on Jane as he might one of the “airy spirits” in Shakespeare’s play, but she insists that he is “dreaming.” I think there may also be some allusion here (and later in the conversation) to the diminutive stature and plucky character of Hermia, one of the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” Hermia is insecure about her beauty, and while she is not described as “puny,” Lysander insults her by playing on her size: “You dwarf, you minimus… you bead, you acorn.”

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Jane begins to feel true alarm that the “role” of Mrs. Rochester will require her to pretend to be something she is not.

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“An ape in a harlequin’s jacket”: Harlequin was a stock character in the Italian commedia dell’arte, who always wore a checkered costume. Jane fears that Rochester will make her look ridiculous. Photo: a harlequin from 1671. Wikipedia.

Rochester ignores Jane’s worries, telling her that he will take her to Millcote to choose some dresses that very day. After they are married in four weeks’ time, he will “waft” her away to London, and then to France and Italy and Austria, all the places he once traveled in his self-imposed exile. “Wherever I stamped my hoof, your sylph’s foot shall step also.” Where he once traveled with “disgust, hate and rage” as his companions, he will be healed, with an “angel” as his comforter.

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“I will be myself.” Once again, Jane insists on keeping her own identity.  She rejects the Cinderella narrative.

Diverted, Rochester asks Jane what sort of husband she anticipates. She predicts that he will be amorous, as he is now, for only a little while, then grow by turns “capricious” and “stern.” She will have “much ado” to please him, until he grows to like–not love–her again. In fact, she expects his present state of delirious passion to last no longer than six months:

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The contrast between the two lovers is comical. Whereas Rochester cherishes wildly romantic notions of turning his Cinderella into a princess and living happily ever after, practical Jane deflates this dream. She expects him to quickly revert to his grumpy old self, and she has trouble imagining a relationship in which he is not her “dear master” but her spouse.

Rochester protests, and when Jane asks him whether he is not in fact capricious, he insists that he can be “the very devil,” but only to women whose character is flat, trivial, imbecilic, coarse, and ill-tempered. He protests his tender and true devotion to the character that is “at once supple and stable, tractable and consistent.” 

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Now we come to the paradox that in spite of all Rochester’s power, his desire reverses the situation; he is mastered, conquered, bewitched. He finds it pleasurable when Jane submits to him, yet he also admires the part of her that is “consistent” and “stable,” and he confesses to a certain thrill in yielding to her firmness. There is a gender reversal here, which Jane drives home with her references to Hercules and Samson. Both were conquered by their mistresses.

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Detail from Rubens’ “Samson and Delilah” (1609). Delilah got Samson to confess that the source of his strength was his unshorn hair, which he had vowed to God not to cut. She let the Philistines cut it while he slept; they then blinded and enslaved him.

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“Hercules at the feet of Omphale” by Gustave Boulanger (1861). Hercules was enslaved to Queen Omphale, who dressed him in her clothes and herself wore his lion skin. Jane might also be referring to Hercules’ wife Deianira, who gave him a poisoned shirt that killed him.

Jane opines that had Samson or Hercules been married, they would have made up for their softness as suitors by their severity as husbands, and so will Rochester. In a year’s time, how eager will he be to grant her a favor? Rochester urges her to ask for something: “I desire to be entreated.” Jane asks him not to send for the jewels, and he grants the request, only complaining that her request was not for a gift, but for the withdrawal of one. Jane then asks him to answer a question about which she is curious, but this alarms Rochester. How fortunate, he declares, that he did not vow to give her anything she asked.

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Rochester would rather give Jane material riches than information, because he has a secret to hide. Jane catches the allusion to the Book of Esther, in which Esther, the Jewish wife of the Persian king, learns of a plot against the Jews in the land, but fears to approach Ahasuerus without being summoned (the penalty for which is death). After three days of fasting and prayer, she enters his throne-room, so weak that she has to be supported by her maids. Instead of punishing her, the love-struck Ahasueras decrees that she may ask for anything, even up to half his kingdom.

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“Esther before Ahasuerus” by Pompeo Batoni (1738). “Ahasuerus” is a form of the name Persian Kashayar, or in Greek, Xerxes.

Unfortunately, the allusion to a Jewish text is marred by an antisemitic slur. Jane indignantly protests that she is not a money-grubbing investor (“Jew-usurer”); she wants Rochester’s trust, not his land. As readers, we would prefer to idolize our favorite authors and overlook evidence of bigotry, but Charlotte Brontë was a woman of her time. She harbored negative stereotypes about Jews, Catholics, Muslims, “pagans” and “savages,” as did the majority of upper-class Protestant Englishmen and women of the Victorian era.

Rochester replies that Jane is welcome to all his confidence “that is worth having,” but begs her not to “desire a useless burden,” and not to “long for poison.” Above all, he hopes she will be not be a “downright Eve” on his hands. Jane teasingly asks why not, since he has just been telling her how much he enjoys being conquered. Shouldn’t she test her power by coaxing and sulking?

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Jane’s teasing begins to make Rochester grumpy, and she says his brow resembles a “blue-piled thunderloft.” To my knowledge, the source of this quote has not been identified, but it sounds like a description of the dark storm cloud from which Jupiter casts his thunderbolt when angered. Rochester gives as good as he gets: Jane is no longer a “dimpled, sunny-faced girl,” but a fiery spirit. The “salamander” was one of the four elemental types of “sprite” or soulless spirit identified by the alchemist Paracelsus. The others were the gnome (earth), the undine (water), and the sylph (air). Rochester likes to call Jane a “sylph” when he is in a good mood and pleased, but at the moment, he demotes her to the status of “thing”!

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The amphibian called the salamander is so named because it was supposed to be immune to fire.

As always, Jane accepts and even approves of Rochester’s incivility; she likes it much better than flattery: “I had rather be a thing than an angel.” She asks why he took such pains to make her believe he wished to marry Miss Ingram. Hearing her question, Rochester is much relieved that it is “no worse,” and smilingly strokes her hair. 

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Rochester is reminded of Jane’s fiery passion on the night of the proposal, and how she was the first to declare her love.

Jane agrees, but urges Rochester to get to the point.

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Jane replies that now Rochester is as “small” as the tip of her little finger. “It was a burning shame and a scandalous disgrace to act that way.” Did he think nothing of Miss Ingram’s feelings in the matter? Did Miss Ingram not suffer as a result of his “dishonest coquetry”? Rochester insists that Miss Ingram suffered nothing but a blow to her pride (which needed a set-down). Still troubled by his behavior, Jane tells him frankly that his principles are “eccentric.” She rephrases the question:

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Jane’s probing wanders dangerously close to Rochester’s secret. She is asking whether their marriage will cause pain to any other woman. He answers evasively: no other woman loves him as Jane does, so no other woman will suffer as she did. Interestingly, however, he echoes the words Hamlet speaks to his mother Gertrude: “Lay not that flattering unction to your soul/That not your trespass but my madness speaks.” It is a riddling half-confession that, like Gertrude, he is not taking full responsibility; he is lying to himself. Jane, however, is satisfied:

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“I loved him very much.” John Huehnergarth (1954).

Enjoying himself now, Rochester urges Jane ask something more. “It is my delight to be entreated, and to yield.” Jane asks him to speak to Mrs. Fairfax of the wedding, for  it pains her to be “misjudged by so good a woman.” Rochester tells her to dress for the trip to Millcote while he enlightens “the old lady”:

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Rochester wants to know: did Mrs. Fairfax believe that Jane had voluntarily ruined herself by yielding her virginity to her employer? He phrases this delicately, with a reference to a Dryden’s 1778 play about Antony and Cleopatra: All For Love, or The World Well Lost. This is another gender reversal, for of course it was Antony who lost the world and was ruined because of his passion for Cleopatra. Jane is not willing to go this far; she thinks that Mrs. Fairfax has convicted her of presumption, not fornication.

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A rather Rochesterian-looking Cleopatra in a production of “All For Love.” Engraving by Edward Edwards, 1777.

Jane readies herself for the trip, then goes down to see Mrs. Fairfax, who seems stunned by Rochester’s news. She suspect that she was dreaming, and has to ask Jane whether it is true. When Jane says yes, she again expresses shock, noting that “all the Rochesters were proud” and that they had always valued money. She further notes that “he might almost be your father,” but Jane protests at this.

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Mrs. Fairfax answers that Jane is “very well and much improved of late,” and indeed that she had noticed Mr. Rochester’s preference for her. “You were a sort of pet of his.” At times she had pondered warning Jane to keep her distance, but she had no wish to insult Jane, who was so “thoroughly modest and sensible” that she could protect herself. But then:

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Now we come to the nub of the matter: Jane was out in the dark all evening with a man to whom she was not married, and then was seen kissing him as they returned. Mrs. Fairfax had no choice but to fear the worst. Jane is angry, but Mrs. Fairfax has more experience, and she is right. Gentlemen in Fairfax Rochester’s station may have sex with their employees, but marrying them is almost unheard of. The situation is all the more awkward because a bride normally does not share a house with her husband-to-be. Jane must be on her guard in case the engagement falls through. This is not a message she wants to hear.

Adèle runs in to report that Mr. Rochester will not permit her to accompany them to Millcote. Jane twice asks Rochester to change his mind, but he refuses, insisting that he wants “no brats”; Adèle will be “a restraint.”

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Notice the language of power and obedience. Rochester’s informal use of the Northern dialect word “bairn” for “child” expresses intimacy and emotion.

Mrs. Fairfax’s words are already sinking in. No doubt Adèle’s presence will “restrain” the lovemaking Rochester plans to conduct in the closed carriage during the ninety-minute ride to Millcote. Adèle must come, and this is a foretaste of the battles Jane can expect if she marries a man as headstrong as Rochester. Still, he reads Jane’s face and yields, only glowering a bit in the carriage and threatening, “I’ll send her to school yet.”

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The conversation between Rochester and Adèle about how one survives on the moon is one of my favorite bits of the novel. Adèle is full of skepticism: what will mademoiselle eat? How will she stay warm? And most pressing of all, what will she wear? Rochester, of course, has answers: he will gather manna for her (manna being quite plentiful on the lunar surface); when she is cold, he will lay her on the edge of a volcano crater; and she will be garbed in pink clouds and rainbows.

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In 1835, the New York Sun published a series of articles describing life on the moon and such places as the “sapphire temple” and the “ruby colosseum.” Perhaps Charlotte Brontë had heard of this famous hoax. At any rate, Rochester’s description of lunar volcanoes and caves is accurate enough, except that the volcanoes are long extinct.

Rochester points to a field just outside Thornfield, where he had walked late in the day a fortnight before. He had been tired from haymaking, he tells Adèle:

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Another of Rochester’s characteristic visions. This one is interesting because it replays Jane’s homecoming after Gateshead, and reveals that Rochester had been writing about his own life, past and future.

The “fairy” veiled in gossamer communicates silently with Rochester, inviting him to live with it in “a lonely place,” such as the “alabaster vale and silver caves” of the moon. Rochester reminds the fairy that he has no wings to fly there.

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What Rochester had in his pocket: a gold “sovereign,” so called because it showed the head of the King or Queen. This one shows George III. In fact a sovereign contained about the same amount of gold as a woman’s wedding band.

Informed that “Mademoiselle is a fairy,” Adèle is indignant and pronounces Rochester “un vrai menteur [a real liar].” Upon arrival in Millcote, Rochester takes Jane to a yardage shop and insists that she choose fabric for six new dresses.

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“Mr. Rochester obliged me to go to a certain silk warehouse; there I was ordered to choose half a dozen dresses.” Nell Booker (1946)

Jane feels “harassed” and “hates the business.” She is forced to bargain him down to only two dresses, but at the cost of letting him choose the fabric; he selects amethyst silk and pink satin. With difficulty, Jane persuades him to exchange these for black satin and pearl-grey silk, colors in which she would feel more comfortable. She encounters equal difficulties in the jeweler’s shop:

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Jane’s discomfort has more than one cause. First, she wants to dress according to her own taste, not that of Rochester, and she dislikes extravagance. More crucial is her feminist aversion to such an unequal arrangement, one in which Rochester’s money assures him the power position. Where he delights in bestowing gifts, Jane finds this “degrading.” The fact that she is to be Rochester’s wife, not his mistress, makes no difference. What she needs is money of her own. Legally, Rochester would control any inheritance Jane received after their marriage. Still, it would elevate her standing if she brought some money to the marriage.

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“Like a second Danaë.” The Greek princess Danaë was visited by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold nuggets or coins, which fell into her lap, impregnating her. Painting by Correggio (1531).

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Now Jane is the grumpy one.

The language of power and domination continues: Jane suspects Rochester of looking upon her as a slave, a favored and pampered one to be sure, but still a slave. The metaphor draws on Western Europeans’ fascination with stories of the seraglios and harems of the Ottoman empire. Although embedded in flirtatious banter, the slavery theme reveals how deep-seated is Jane’s anxiety about marriage.

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Western fantasies of the harem: “Odalisque with Slave” by Ingres and Flandrin (1835). Paintings like this were very popular during the Romantic period.

Rochester is delighted with Jane’s feistiness, calling her “original” and “piquant.” He declares that he would not exchange her for “the Grand Turk’s whole seraglio.” Jane warns him that she does not intend to be “anything in that line” and that if he has a fancy for slaves, he had better take himself to Istanbul. Rochester asks what Jane will do while he is purchasing his “tons of flesh,” and she has an answer ready:

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Jane envisions herself as a missionary not of Christianity but of female freedom, stirring up revolt among the enslaved. The harem will rise up and bind the master until he agrees to more equitable terms, memorialized in a “charter.” The situation of oppressed women is compared to that of the English nobles who rose up against the despotism of King John, forcing him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.

According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, a “three tailed bashaw” was an English expression for an arrogant and domineering man, “so called from the Turkish viceroys and provincial governors” who had the title of bascha (=pasha). A standard with three horse-tails was carried in front of them wherever they went, whereas lesser officials had only one or two horse-tails. Like the allusion to Jews we saw earlier in the chapter, this expression reveals stereotypes about Islamic culture.

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Ottoman standards decorated with horse-tails.

Rochester playfully says that he would consent to be at Jane’s mercy (i.e., he would like it if she tied him up!), but she answers that he cannot be trusted not to break his promises the moment he is free.

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Rochester’s question is perceptive: he sees that Jane is uncomfortable with the institution of marriage itself, and imagines her negotiating a private contract for terms she finds more acceptable (a radical proposal indeed). But what might these be?

Jane explains that she does not want to be Rochester’s “English Céline Varens,” heaped with luxuries. She proposes that she continue her duties as Adèle’s governess at thirty pounds per annum, and that she furnish her own wardrobe from that sum; he is to give her nothing but his regard. Rochester exclaims that Jane has no equal for “cool native impudence and pure innate pride,” then invites her to dine with him that day. She refuses; she would rather continue as usual for the remaining month until they are wed.

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Rochester sees Jane’s governess job as slavery; she sees it as freedom.

Taken aback, Rochester complains that he needs a smoke or a pinch of snuff to comfort himself in the face of all this resistance, but he has no tobacco to hand. He reminds Jane that once they are married, it is she who will be chained.

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Rochester paraphrases from Robert Burns’ 1791 poem “The Bonie Wee Thing,” a song in which the lover imagines he can keep his love in his waistcoat pocket. “Tyne” means “lose.”

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How a pocket watch was worn: the gentleman fastened the bar on his watch chain through one of the buttonholes on his waistcoat, and stored the watch in his waistcoat pocket. Decorative fobs, jewels or seals might also hang from the chain.

When Rochester sends for her after dinner, Jane asks him to sing in order to give him an “occupation.” He agrees on condition that Jane play for him, but soon sweeps her from the stool as “a little bungler” and accompanies himself.

The lyrics of Rochester’s song are given in full, an original poem of twelve stanzas by Charlotte Brontë. The song describes his love for Jane as a struggle against dangers, hindrances and the hatred of the world, which he is to overcome with her help, or die (it is reminiscent of Rochester’s reaction to Mason’s arrival, when he asks Jane what she would do if the whole world rejected him). I print the last stanza only:

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When he finishes the song, Rochester rises from the piano and moves toward Jane, “his face all kindled, and his full falcon-eye flashing, and tenderness and passion in every lineament.” Jane must find some expedient to hold off this “peril,” so she asks whom he is planning to marry, for in the song he talks of his future wife dying with him, and she has no intention of committing “suttee” for his sake [this was the old Hindu custom of wives immolating themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres.] Rochester apologizes and asks for a kiss, but Jane says that she would rather be excused.

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Jane successfully follows this system for the rest of the month. Rochester is kept “rather cross and crusty, to be sure” but he is also “excellently entertained,” enjoying Jane’s resistance and witty repartee more than he would “lamb-like submission.” Jane never administers this treatment in company, but uses the technique of “thwarting and afflicting” only when they are alone. She sees with relief that Mrs. Fairfax approves of her conduct.

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In exchange for Jane’s teasing, Rochester “threatens awful vengeance” at a time fast approaching, but she laughs at him. She is confident that if she can keep him in check now, she will find a way to manage him even after they are married.

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If Jane feels the same sexual frustration as Rochester, she doesn’t allude to it (unless “I would rather have pleased than teased him” is her way of expressing this). All her energies seem to be expended on keeping him entertained. Jane’s love for Rochester overcomes her concerns about marriage, and just as Rochester has transgressed by asking her to be his wife, Jane transgresses by making a man her idol. I feel sure that this is no metaphor. In retrospect, Jane the narrator realizes that her love was so consuming, it broke the First Commandment: thou shalt have no other gods before me.

The handling of this chapter in our five films reveals the wide gulf between the literary and visual mediums. Chapter XXIV is essential for our understanding of Jane’s relationship with Rochester. It also shows that anyone who believes Jane Eyre is a fantasy fulfillment about marrying a wealthy member of the aristocracy has got the story wrong. Rochester’s status and wealth (and the very institution of marriage) are obstacles to the relationship of equality she desires. Often we judge “faithfulness to the book” by plot elements or casting or dialogue. But what about faithfulness to the ideas in the book? Only two of the films even hint at the key issues in this chapter.

1943 begins with a shot of text from the “book” (actually fake text concocted by the screenwriters). The single minute of screen time given to this chapter elapses in a whirlwind of activity.

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The fake text says that Jane’s doubts were erased–the opposite of the book. The line “I loved and I was loved” is paraphrased from Rochester’s song. The important scene in which Jane views herself in the mirror is literally relegated to the shadows.

The text dissolves into a stack of books, which is quickly knocked over by Rochester’s hand, to reveal Jane and Adèle in the garden.

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Rochester (sounding manic): “Jane! What do you think you’re doing?”
Jane: “Teaching Adèle, as usual.”

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1943: “As usual! There’s a new heaven and a new earth and you go on teaching Adèle as usual!

Adèle: “What is wrong with that?”

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1943: “Because I’m going to marry mademoiselle and take mademoiselle to the moon, and find a cave in one of the white valleys, and mademoiselle will live with us there forever! Do you approve? (He grabs Jane’s hand and runs offscreen.)

Adèle: “Monsieur, there is no one I would rather you marry, not even Mrs. Fairfax.”
(Cut to the yardage store. Hectic, celebratory music is playing.)

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1943: Rochester points with his cane. ““And some of that, and a length of the scarlet…” Jane (smiling and weakly protesting): “But I tell you, I don’t…” Rochester (gaily ignoring her): “And a length of the scarlet, and some of the gold silk…”

(Cut to Jane and Rochester in an open carriage, at a horse race.)

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1943. Bookie: “There you are my lady, half a guinea each, there’s fifty five and a tenner…” Old woman: “Read the pretty lady’s future?” Rochester: “Away, mother! The pretty lady’s going to marry me, and we shall make our future ourselves!”

This version gets points for including Rochester’s fanciful trip to the moon and his extravagance in the yardage shop. Unfortunately, Jane’s resistance to his gifts seems more a matter of polite form than real reluctance. She smiles coyly and looks as though she is enjoying the pampering. Her behavior and thoughts have been sanitized to better match a 1940’s Hollywood ideal of what a woman ought to feel in the days leading to her wedding. There are no warnings from Mrs. Fairfax, no worries about keeping the bridegroom at a distance, no admission by Rochester that the entire Blanche Ingram farce was a way of making Jane jealous, and certainly no talk of slavery, harems, or revolting against the “sultan” and chaining him up.

As for the horse race scene, I have no idea where that came from. Betting on horses does not match the interests and tastes of either Rochester or Jane, and certainly Brontë would have disapproved this scene. Indeed, “gambling” was one of the principal reasons for John Reed’s ruin and suicide (and likewise helped to destroy Charlotte Brontë’s brother, Branwell).

1970 takes quite a different approach, but also spends only one minute on this content. 

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1970: Jane and Rochester are walking on a path in the woods. Jane wears a new dress, suggesting that he has already bought her some clothes.

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1970: The camera looks down the path and Rochester makes a gesture as Pilot runs ahead: “Ferndean. You won’t mind leaving Thornfield for this?” Jane: “How should I mind, if you are here?”

At first I was puzzled as to why on earth the filmmakers would introduce Ferndean at this point (it’s a house on Rochester’s land which becomes important later in the plot). Apparently in this version, Rochester plans to live at Ferndean after he is married, and this fact allows Jane to make the point that she doesn’t covet the house; she only cares about being with Rochester.

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1970: Rochester seats Jane on a bench beside a tree, then sits beside her.

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1970: “And we’ll travel too. You know, ten years ago, I flew through Europe, half mad with disgust and rage. And now I will return, with an angel as my guide.”

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1970: (She laughs and shakes her head.) “I’m not an angel. Don’t expect it of me.”

Rochester: “What do you expect of me?”
Jane: “For a while, you’ll be as you are now. Then you’ll turn cool, and capricious, and stern, and I’ll have much ado to please you. But when you are well used to me, perhaps you’ll like me once again.”

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1970: He picks a flower and gives it to her. The camera moves in on Jane as she smells the flower. She is smiling, but her smile fades to a more serious look.

There are many cuts here too–no admission by Rochester that he plotted to make Jane jealous; no Mrs. Fairfax. But I like this version because it conveys a key idea: Jane has a pragmatic view of the challenges she will face in this marriage. Furthermore, she doesn’t want Rochester to have illusions about her (“I’m not an angel.”)

1996 and 2011 both cast established stars as Mrs. Fairfax (Joan Plowright and Judi Dench). Therefore, both include the scene where she gives Jane a warning. In 1996, everything in the chapter is omitted, except for this scene, which begins with Jane sitting across a desk from Mrs. Fairfax in what looks like Rochester’s study.

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1996: Joan Plowright is excellent in this scene, projecting plenty of concern for Jane, but also the “voice of experience.”

Mrs. Fairfax: “I hardly know what to say to you; I am so astonished. I feel I must have been dreaming. I thought Mr. Rochester came in here and said that in a month’s time, you were to be his wife.”
Jane: “He said the same to me.”

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1996: “You know how much I like you, Jane. But… you are so young, and little acquainted with men. I have noticed Mr. Rochester’s growing fondness for you. And I have wanted so many times…(she suppresses emotion)…for your sake…to put you on your guard.”

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1996. Jane (not comprehending): “Why?”

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1996: “There is an old saying. All is not gold that glitters. And in this case I fear something… different may be found, from what you or I expect.”

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1996: “Is it impossible that Mr. Rochester should have a sincere affection for me?”

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1996: “No, no, it is not that, my dear… It’s… he is a proud man. All the Rochesters were proud. And gentlemen in his station are not accustomed to marrying their governesses.”

Jane seems truly upset for the first time in the conversation. Wordlessly, she gets up and leaves the room.

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1996: Mrs. Fairfax looks after her, clearly worried that she has offended, but also anxious about the future.

The scene is well-played, although Charlotte Gainsbourg seems far more naive and mild than the Jane of the book. The literary Jane is aware of the unconventional nature of her situation and the potential for impropriety, but her love blinds her to the true risks (scandal and Jane’s ruin) until Mrs. Fairfax opens her eyes. Here the screenwriter seems also to hint that Mrs. Fairfax knows more than she is telling. On the evidence of Rochester’s words later in the book, Mrs. Fairfax did not know of his prior marriage, but she certainly knew of strange goings-on in the house.

Entirely missing from this version is any hint that Jane is anxious about the loss of her independence, or Rochester’s unseemly attempts to lavish her with gifts as he did Céline Varens. Neither do we get any sense of the flirtatious conflict between Jane and Rochester, or her need to “keep him at a distance” until they are wed.

As always, the liberties taken in 1997 lead to mixed outcomes. In some ways, 1997 is the most faithful to Chapter XXIV (and is the only version to allot it significant screen time, a full four minutes). But there is an added scene which has no basis in the book. We begin with Jane in bed, a beatific smile on her face. She wakes, and suddenly sits up frowning.

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1997: Did it really happen?

Cut to Jane, fully dressed, coming downstairs to where Mrs. Fairfax is arranging some flowers in the hall. 

Jane’s voiceover: “The next morning, when I awoke, I feared it had all been a dream.”
Jane: “Mrs. Fairfax, have you seen Mr. Rochester this morning?”
Mrs. Fairfax: “Oh, he was up and out by seven.”

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1997: “Do you know where he has gone?” “I don’t ask. He’s a law unto himself is that one. Adèle’s had her breakfast. She’s in the library, having a sulk. Doesn’t want to do any more mathematics.”

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1997: Rochester comes in smiling. “Good morning!” “Speak of the devil,” says Mrs. Fairfax to Jane.

Rochester (smiling broadly): “The storm last night has freshened the air. The grass is as green as anything!”
(Pilot follows him in and immediately starts up the stairs.) Mrs. Fairfax: “Pilot! Oh, no, come down!” (She goes after the dog, leaving Jane alone with Rochester.)

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1997. Rochester (in an intimate tone): “Good morning, Jane.” Jane (subdued): “Good morning, Mr. Rochester.”

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1997 (correcting her): “Edward.”

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1997: He gets Jane to smile a little, but she seems uncertain.

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1997: “You look so beautiful this morning. Radiant. Mrs. Rochester.”

Jane does not answer. 

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1997: A maid comes downstairs with Pilot. Adèle and Sophie also enter, and Jane goes to greet them.

Adèle: “Can we do some painting today, Miss Eyre?”

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1997. Rochester: “No. Today’s a holiday! Miss Eyre and I are going into Millcote so that she can choose some new dresses.”

Adèle (very excited): “And me!”

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1997: “Not this time Adèle. Jane and I are going alone. But I shall bring you back un petit cadeau, how’s that?” (In the background, Mrs. Fairfax can be seen taking in this surprising news.)

Adèle rejoices at the prospect of un cadeau, and Rochester tells Jane to go and change for the trip to town. 

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1997: The others exit, and Mrs. Fairfax is left to ponder what all this means. She doesn’t look happy.

There are some changes here. Rochester bars Adèle from the visit to Millcote, but Jane does not challenge him. Mrs. Fairfax is not permitted to air her doubts. Like 1943,  however, this version reveals the dramatic change in Rochester’s demeanor the day after the proposal. His joy is manic (or maniacal), and he is quite unlike his usual self. That broad smile is a bit terrifying, and rightly so. Jane’s response is uncertain. It’s one thing to kiss Rochester in the garden. It’s another to navigate a new kind of relationship with him, and to adapt to a new social position under the name “Mrs. Rochester.”

Cut to a bustling scene in Millcote. Miss Ingram is walking by as the Thornfield carriage arrives. She pauses. The coachman opens the door for Rochester.

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1997: “Edward, dearest, how nice to see you.”

“Good day, Blanche.”
“And…(She waits expectantly to see who his companion is)… the governess.”

 

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1997. Rochester: “Soon to be Mrs. Rochester.”

Blanche (smiling sweetly): “How quaint… Well, congratulations. No doubt you’ve a whole trousseau to buy. I’m afraid we’re a bit limited here in Millcote; it’s all a bit dull. But I’m sure you’ll find something.”

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1997: Rochester’s expression reveals that he feels the insult, and Jane’s smile looks strained.

Rochester (gallantly, but with an edge): “At least suitable for a honeymoon in Italy and France.”

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1997: (Pause.) “Lovely. You know Archibald of course. Lord Granby.” (Rochester raises his hat, as does the other gentleman.) “Arrivederci.” (She giggles.)

Many viewers have deprecated this scene because it has no basis in the book. I think there are two possible reasons for its presence. First, the book gives us only an indirect knowledge of the outcome of Blanche’s story (Rochester says that she grew cool once she believed he was not rich). Both 1943 and 1997 attempt to provide a more concrete and visually effective closure for Blanche. Second, this is a visual lead-in for Rochester’s confession of his nefarious scheme, which is the big revelation in Chapter XXIV. Beyond that, the scene also gave me food for thought about the change in Jane’s social position. Just like Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, she would have faced disapproval for presuming to marry above her station. Brontë deals with this only indirectly in the book, perhaps because Rochester was planning to “waft” Jane away to Europe where she would face less disapproval (and likely never return, at least not unless he had news of Bertha’s death).

Jane: “Whatever did you see in her?”
Rochester: “The means to make you jealous!”

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1997: “That’s truly wicked.” “But it worked.” (Jane laughs and Rochester looks self-satisfied.) Notice Jane’s black armband. Presumably this is is a token of mourning for her aunt’s death.

Cut to the yardage shop.
Shop lady: “And what for a veil?”

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1997: Rochester: “French lace, with pearls.” Jane: “A plain net. This one will do.” Rochester (contradicting her): “The finest French lace with pearls.”

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1997: The shop lady looks dismayed, as well she might.

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1997. Jane, quietly to Rochester: “I’ll get married in this if you continue.”

Rochester (to the shop lady): “All right, we’ll take both of them, and the silks.” (To Jane, quietly) “You don’t understand, I want to show the world what a beauty you are.”

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1997. Jane (firmly): “I am not a beauty. I am Jane Eyre. (Looking into his eyes) “And I have everything I want right here.”

Rochester (still resisting, turning to the shop lady): “Wrap them.”

This little scene in the yardage store is a delightful interpretation. It illustrates the conflict between the couple, and includes Jane’s threat to get married in the dress she had on (lilac gingham in the book). Best of all, there is Jane’s insistence on her own identity: “I am Jane Eyre.” In Chapter XXIV, she never delivers this exact line, but she thrice refers to herself by her full name, telling Rochester that if he overdresses her and heaps her with jewels, she will no longer be “his” Jane Eyre.

Cut to Jane in her chamber, handling the French lace. 

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1997. Jane’s voiceover: “As time passed and my wedding day drew near, the house was full of excitement. Everyone seemed genuinely delighted for me, except Mrs. Fairfax. I thought perhaps she didn’t approve of a young governess marrying her employer. But I wasn’t going to let that spoil my newfound happiness. For the day after tomorrow, I would be his wife.”

Overall, I consider this the most successful attempt to convey the plot elements and themes in Chapter XXIV. Jane ought to be a bit more appalled at Rochester’s confession than Samantha Morton makes her, but the fact is that 1997 is the only feature-length version to include this essential piece of information. The others have all whitewashed Rochester and softened his outrageous behavior–leaving the dalliance with Blanche completely unmotivated. The Blanche-in-Millcote scene is fabricated, but I don’t think it’s out of line with how Blanche would have behaved had they actually met.

2011 devotes three minutes to this section, but includes one scene from the next chapter, so the actual content from XXIV is slightly more than two minutes. We begin with Mrs. Fairfax and Jane outdoors, watching as workmen remove a dead branch from the tree where Rochester had proposed the previous evening.

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2011: “Am I a monster? Is it so impossible that Mr. Rochester should love me?”

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2011: “No… I’ve long noticed you were a sort of pet of his, but you’re so young! And you’re so little acquainted with men. I don’t want to grieve you, child, but let me just put you on your guard. Gentlemen in his position… well, let’s just say they’re not accustomed to marry their governesses. Until you are wed, distrust yourself as well as him. Please. Keep him at a distance.”

This is not as lengthy as the scene with Mrs. Fairfax in 1996, and it emphasizes a different part of her speech. In 1996, Mrs. Fairfax was warning Jane that “all that glitters is not gold” and that something unexpected might happen to spoil her happiness. Here, Mrs. Fairfax delivers a much more practical but euphemistic warning about avoiding sexual activity (which is also in the book).

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2011: Jane goes to meet Adèle, looking glum, and Mrs. Fairfax watches her, worried.

[A scene from Chapter XXV is interpolated here: Jane meets Rochester at the bridge to express her worries. I will deal with it in the next installment.]

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2011: Cut to Jane, walking restlessly up and down a long path by a hedge.

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2011: Cut to a blossoming tree with the sun gleaming through.

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2011: Scenes of flirtation with Rochester. He kisses her and she permits it for a moment, then slips from his grasp.

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2011: Jane draws Rochester’s portrait. He tries to snatch the paper from her and she swats his hand away.

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2011: Rochester strikes a masculine, nineteenth-century pose.

All this is very artistically presented, but also very vague. We grasp that Jane has some kind of doubts or forebodings, perhaps planted by Mrs. Fairfax’s warning, but we are given no hint as to the nature of these worries until the next scene.

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2011: Cut to Jane, unwrapping her wedding gown. She lifts the bodice and takes it to the window to examine while Mrs. Fairfax and Adèle fondle the veil.

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2011. Jane: “I will be Jane Eyre no longer.” She smiles slightly, looking wistful.

The line “I will be Jane Eyre no longer” is good, but it does not convey the underlying concern effectively unless one has already read the book. Mia Wasikowska’s expression here is ambiguous; to one unfamiliar with the story, it might even seem that she is looking forward to leaving behind the sadness of her past life, rather than dreading the loss of her independence and personal identity. In general, this section fails because it drops a hint of worry here and there, but never gives us explanations. The director has relied on visuals rather than dialogue or voiceover, but the final product ends up being more dependent on knowledge of the book than a “talkier” film would have been. Worst of all, this Rochester bears little resemblance to the one in the book. He’s not manically happy or fancifully romantic; he doesn’t insist on showering Jane with gifts. And of course, he confesses nothing.

Time for the rubric!

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1943: The rushed, “manic” atmosphere successfully conveys Rochester’s mood, but not Jane’s.

1970: Too compressed, but what’s there is worth watching, especially for Jane’s lines.

1996: Disappointingly fails to show us Jane’s doubts or anything of Rochester’s feelings, but Joan Plowright is very good.

1997: The most faithful representation of Chapter XXIV despite one fake scene; charming interpretation of the fabric shop interaction captures some of the bantering tone of the original.

2011: Too vague and dreamy, but manages to get across the idea that Jane is anxious and worried about her future.

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