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Jane Eyre | Study Guide

Charlotte Brontë

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Jane Eyre | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Chapter 13 of Jane Eyre, what character traits does Rochester reveal when he and Jane talk in the drawing room in the evening?

Rochester's behavior in Chapter 13 reveals a complex character. First, he is unconventional; he doesn't use polite, formal greetings and, in fact, does not even look up when Jane enters the room. He also speaks "gruffly." These behaviors all suggest a lack of social grace and an effort to distance himself from other people. It may reflect his desire to maintain his higher social standing. He acts in a commanding way, giving orders rather than asking people to do things. That reflects his being the master of the house. As he talks to Jane, though, he shows other sides of his character that are warmer and more appealing. He is curious and insightful, asking pointed questions about Jane's background and accomplishments. He has a droll, dry sense of humor, accusing Jane of bewitching his horse to make it fall and asking her if she was sitting on the stile that night to wait for "her people ... the men in green."

In Chapter 13 of Jane Eyre, Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane some of Mr. Rochester's history. What remains unknown to Jane, and why do these unknown points matter to the narrative?

Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane that, when Rochester was a young man, his father and brother did something unfair that put Rochester in a "painful position." Overcome with anger, Rochester broke with his family and began to live an "unsettled" life. Since inheriting Thornfield, he has rarely spent more than two weeks there. She does not, however, say exactly what wrong. She also, of course, does not tell about the presence of Bertha on the third floor. The partial truth about Rochester and the absence of truth about Bertha contribute to the mood of mystery about the man and Thornfield and set up the dramatic scene when the secret is revealed and Jane's wedding to Rochester must be called off.

Does Jane Eyre come to accept the vision of death that Helen Burns imparts to her in Chapter 10?

Helen Burns's death is the first experience Jane has with death within the narrative—both her parents died before the story's beginning. It is thus the first time readers see her grappling with the reality and the meaning of death. She is still young and innocent enough at first that she does not understand fully what is happening. When she arrives in the room where Helen is staying and Helen tells her she came just in time, she is innocent enough to say, "Are you going somewhere, Helen? Are you going home?" Helen then explains that she will die and speaks of how happy she will be in heaven. Jane is full of questions, some of which she asks Helen and some of which she asks only of herself. She is clearly unfamiliar with the ideas Helen is discussing and not yet able to accept Helen's certainty about life after death. Over the course of the book, Jane gains experience and wisdom, including experiencing the death of Mrs. Reed, facing the possibility of Rochester's death, and deliberately choosing to separate herself from Rochester despite the wrenching heartbreak it causes. These experiences mature her and move her toward Helen's view. Thus she ends the book quoting without question St. John Rivers's easy acceptance of his own pending death. In doing so she signals that she agrees with this view.

In Jane Eyre how is Blanche Ingram similar to, and different from, Céline Varens?

Céline Varens and Blanche Ingram are both attractive women with whom Rochester is romantically linked, and both are attracted to Rochester primarily because of his wealth and status. Rochester doesn't have deep feelings for either woman. Céline was a "French opera-dancer," which meant she had low social status, and loose morals, given that she was his mistress. In fact, she was also mistress to another man—the father of Adèle. Presumably she was attracted to him for Rochester's ability to maintain her. Blanche is an English socialite with proper English values and high social status (her rank is "Honourable"), making her socially superior to Céline. However, her desire to marry Rochester seems to be based on his money and position. There are no scenes indicating any tenderness or passion toward him.

In Chapter 15 of Jane Eyre, what do Rochester's digressions from his discussion of Céline Varens with Jane reveal about him?

Rochester digresses from his account of his involvement with Céline Varens several times. He breaks to comment on Jane's lack of experience with jealousy and love and warn her of its dangers, to angrily discuss his mixed feelings about Thornfield, and to muse on why he chose to confide in Jane. From these departures from his narrative, it is apparent that he is hesitant to say certain details of his story. The halting manner of his delivery suggests that his mind is in turmoil. As they learn more about his situation, readers can conclude that he is upset about decisions he must make concerning his feelings for Jane, his feelings about Thornfield, and the obstacle that torments him. His hesitance also suggests a fear that Jane, if she knows the truth, will respect him less. Similarly his refusal to disclose the truth about Bertha, even when he is about to marry Jane, reflects his fear that the truth will cause an end to their relationship. By putting off confessing the truth for a year and a day, he shows wishful thinking that the problem may be resolved in that amount of time and exhibits self-centeredness in that he is willing to compromise Jane's moral code and future prospects for his own happiness.

What is the significance of Jane's dreams in Jane Eyre?

Dreams figure in Jane Eyre several times, on each occasion reflecting Jane's present concerns or hopes and fears about the future. In Chapter 15, after she saves Rochester from the fire and he indicates he has strong feelings for her, she dreams of an "unquiet sea where billows of trouble rolled under surges of joy." This dream reveals that she feels hopeful yet anxious—she is unable to reach the shore that she is aiming for. The dream foreshadows trouble in her relationship with Rochester. The "counteracting breeze" that keeps her from reaching land could represent the differences in their status, which makes a marriage between the two problematic. It could also represent the unknown obstacle that torments Rochester. In Chapter 25, after Jane and Rochester are engaged, she has two disturbing dreams of children. In one she is holding a child as she and Rochester walk, but he walks ahead and she can never catch up. In the second she is clutching a baby while walking in the ruins of Thornfield and again sees Rochester in the distance. These dreams show her continued uncertainty about the future and anxiety that she will lose Rochester. In Chapter 32, when Jane is living in her cottage, she continues to dream of Rochester from time to time, but these dreams are more hopeful, even though her situation then seems hopeless. These dreams show that Jane longs for the emotional attachment she felt with Rochester and does not feel with St. John Rivers

Under what circumstances does Jane create her "Portrait of a Governess" in Chapter 16 of Jane Eyre?

In Chapter 16 Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane that Rochester will be away for some time at a party at a neighboring estate. She says that he is popular in society, especially with the ladies. At past parties Rochester seemed to particularly enjoy singing duets with Blanche Ingram, a "beautiful and accomplished" young society woman. Jane, who had been unaware of these aspects of Rochester's social life, feels dejected and foolish for having nurtured hopes of marrying someone of his class. She takes steps to discipline her emotions by drawing two portraits. One portrait is an image of Blanche Ingram labeled "Blanche, an accomplished lady of rank." The other is a harsh self-portrait labeled "Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain." Jane resolves that she will take out these portraits and compare them whenever she begins to have hopes about Rochester, an effort of will intended to instill in her greater self-control. She hopes to suppress any growing attachment to Rochester in order to avoid what she assumes will be certain disappointment.

In Chapter 19 of Jane Eyre, Rochester poses as a gypsy fortune teller. How does he hide his motives in this scene and Jane, her emotions?

Posing as a fortune teller gives Rochester an opportunity to try to prod Jane into admitting how she feels about him. For example, he tells her that she's cold because she's alone; she's sick because love "stays away" from her; and she's silly because she won't invite love to approach her. He wants to know what hopes she has for her future and whether the attention he pays to Blanche Ingram makes her feel jealous. He impresses on her that she only needs to reach out and grasp the happiness that's waiting for her. As he pretends to tell her fortune, he begins to talk of what seem to be his own hopes for a future with her: "I wish to foster, not to blight—to earn gratitude, not to wring tears of blood." He lapses into his own voice and doesn't mind when she discovers his true identity. Jane correctly assesses his motives when she says she believes he's been trying to draw her out—to learn her feelings toward him—but she qualifies that by suggesting that he may have been trying to draw her in—to attract her. She is not going to open her heart to him while the prospect of his marriage to Blanche Ingram looms over her.

Consider Jane's last conversation with Mrs. Reed in Chapter 21 of Jane Eyre. What does it reveal about each character?

This conversation at Gateshead between Jane and her dying aunt shows how much Jane has grown and matured and how much Mrs. Reed has stayed the same. Mrs. Reed admits wronging Jane twice—once when she broke her promise to care for Jane as one of her own and again when she lied to John Eyre about his niece. She doesn't apologize for either of these wrongs. She almost doesn't tell Jane about her uncle, thinking that if she recovers she'll be "humble[d]" by Jane knowing. She struggles with whether to even tell Jane about the existence of her uncle, finally giving Jane her uncle's letter only because she wants to clear her conscience before she dies. She says she held back John Eyre's letter in revenge for Jane's rebellion all those years ago and that she won't let go of her anger even now. Jane forgives her aunt and asks for her forgiveness in turn, but Mrs. Reed refuses. Mrs. Reed is behaving with the uncontrolled passion that Jane had as a 10-year-old, when she felt she always had to strike back at those who disrespected her. Jane, in contrast, has internalized the lessons of Helen Burns, not only offering forgiveness but also accepting that her aunt can't change "her habitual frame of mind" now.

In Jane Eyre why does Rochester often refer to Jane as an elf or another unearthly creature?

Elves and other unearthly creatures often have powers they can use to change people's lives by granting wishes. Rochester begins to use these these pet names for Jane perhaps because of her appearance; she's small and slightly built. Later on he continues to use these names because he sees Jane as the agent of change who will help him achieve his dream of a better life. These comments also contrast Jane with Bertha Mason in terms of how he sees and feels about them both. Jane is elvish—small, light, and charming—in contrast to Bertha, who is dark, violent, and portrayed as looking and behaving like an animal in more than one scene. He has pet names for Jane; he has no pet names for Bertha. Rather, he calls her a "demon."

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