Some Things to Consider, I hope!
This article formed the preface to the 1988 Penguin edition of Jane Eyre. In many ways insightful, but in places slipping strangely into uncertain territory. As I read along, the first thing to grab my attention was a mention of 'Lord Rochester'. This is not, in fact, Lord Rochester- John Wilmot, but Mr Rochester gratuitiously elevated to the nobility. I have read much Bronte criticism, and it surprises me how often little slips like this occur. I am sure my professors would object to such things as creating entire plot points but I have seen that as well as imagined characters. I do not recall which article it was, but in one article about Mr Rochester (I think it was) I learned that there was damning evidence that Jane had been merely a tool for Mr Rochester (and patriarchy) all along for her first action in their relationship is to mail a letter for him. She is in fact mailing a letter for Mrs Fairfax when she meets Mr Rochester- and she volunteers to take it, in fact.
A wonderful professor of mine insisted that we must not only set up citations but thoroughly explain them to make best use of the evidence. Maybe this is what is lacking in this paragraph which deals with the Byronic 'dangerousness' of Mr Rochester:
Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights is more clearly an adult's rendering of incestuous childhood obsession than are any of Charlotte Brontë's novels, but the romantically dangerous Rochester is most likely a remnant of the children's sensational world, the poetic antithesis of all that was dull, dreary, routine, and circumscribed in the world of Haworth Parsonage. Here is Jane's first vision of the man she will adore: Something of daylight still lingered, and the moon was waxing bright; I could see him plainly. His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared and steel clasped; its details were not apparent, but I traced the general points of middle height, and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted . . .; he was past youth, but had nor reached middle age. Like Emily's Heathcliff, that Byronic, doomed hero; yet unlike Heathcliff—who after all starves himself to death in his deranged attachment to the past—since, by the novel's end, after he goes blind, Rochester does become domesticated. The Gothic has become tamed, and redeemed, by ordinary marital love. However unlikely for Brontë's time, or for ours, Jane Eyre ends upon a note of conjugal bliss: I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward's society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together…. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but a more animated and an audible thinking. The orphan Jane is no longer "resisting all the way"; no longer, at this point, required to be Jane. The novel's passionate energies consume themselves as the apocalyptic fire at Thornfield consumes unregenerate Bertha.
Firstly, I have no idea what she means by Emily's 'incestuous Childhood obsession.' If anyone would like to speculate on this, feel free by all means (as always)! But let's look at this quote carefully. This 'first vision' is of a late man in a cloak, average in height, deep of chest, and angry. the cloak can't be important- it's wintertime. The physical description doesn't say much about his character, and his 'ire' and 'thwarted' look should be understandible considering that he just sprained his ankle falling from a horse! I'd like to suggest that it's quite a leap from this to pronouncing him 'byronic and doomed' and 'like Heathcliff'. As for the second quote, I wonder why Jane would have to resist herself? For, as she says elsewhere, she is 'indulging her sweetest desires'. How is she 'not being Jane'? She nowhere says that she has changed her thoughts or conversation to suit Mr Rochester- they happen to harmonise with one another. The image of their heart beats is not one of submission of one to the other- each is separate and yet familiar enough to be inextricable. Also, there are more than a few readers who would say the 'passionate energies' are by no means burned off with Bertha. That is granting far too much symbolism to Bertha- she is not the focus of eroticism that she is often made out to be.
And in a paragraph presumably about the 'increasing melodrama' of the work, after she discusses Mr Mason (who is not at all melodramatic, as the quote she uses illustrates) she moves on to Bertha:
When, later, Jane is brought into Bertha Mason's presence and mockingly introduced to Rochester's wife, she is naturally revulsed—she feels no kinship with this creature. And though Jane charges Rochester with cruelty in so despising and exhibiting his mad wife, claiming that Bertha cannot help her condition, Jane cannot really identify with the woman; and rather too readily forgives Rochester his curious (and ungentlemanly) behavior.
I have read this scene very many times and I have never detected mockery. Rochester speaks ironically, but not mockinging and these are two different things. he does not believe that Bertha is his wife in any other than a nominal sense. Otherwise, I fail to see where this comes from. And why can Jane not identify with Bertha? Why does she reproach Rochester, then- when throughout the novel she has been anxious for him to get rid of her for his own safety (in the figure of Grace Poole)? She has changed her position, apparently but the article does not acknowledge this. She does feel at least enough 'kinship' to refer to her as a 'poor woman' and not a monster or a beast any longer. In addition, she says nothing about Rochester's 'exhibiting' his wife. He has not been 'exhibiting her'- she has been concealed for ten years. He wishes now that his secret is known, to have it known completely.
I write on this article mostly because this following paragraph touches on a nerve I have. It is regarding the 'Whitcross' section of the novel. It begins:
Numerous readers have felt that the long Whitcross section, consisting as it does of nearly one hundred pages, is an awkward digression in Jane Eyre; and one is nudged to recall that the publishing firm of Smith, Elder had rejected Charlotte Brontë's earlier novel, The Professor, as "undersized." (But if Currer Bell would write a full-scale, three-volume novel for them, they would be "most interested.") Still, the carefully transcribed section is required for symmetry's sake. Brontë's authorial strategy is to balance one kind of temptation with its obverse (if Rochester is all romantic passion, urging her to succumb to emotional excess, St. John Rivers is all Christian ambition, urging her to attempt a spiritual asceticism of which she knows herself incapable).
There is a startling tendency to view this part of the book as the artcle describes, and I think it is completely groundless. All I will conceed is that it is evident that Charlotte is playing with the Gothic convention of the two men- one dark and dangerous, one fair and virtuous. It is one of the most vital sections of the work- not an 'awkward digression.' It would take far too long for me to outline my reasons, here but I hope to use one example to at least challenge this perspective. There is a point at which St.John attacks Jane's feelings for Mr Rochester, claiming that the 'tie' she cherishes is unlawful but also that she is being selfish and will live obscure if she persists in it. It is only one brief statement he drops, and yet very profound for at the end of the novel there are two things that I am sure no one would seriously dismiss. Jane is 'living with and for' what she 'best loves on Earth' (Mr Rochester), living 'for' him unselfishly when she could live contentedly and selfishly with someone more conventionally eligible or on her own. But more importantly, instead of dying nameless in India, an anonymous female missionary following the program not her own, she has written her autobiography, claimed her life and sealed her name to it- the very opposite of 'living obscure'!