Jane Eyre And Rochester: A Match Made In Syphilis Essay

Length: 5 pages Sources: 1 Subject: Literature Type: Essay Paper: #21387524 Related Topics: Freedom Riders, Cinderella, Autobiography, Tuberculosis
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … 1847, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is structured like a puzzle. The title page reads Jane Eyre: An Autobiography but the work is credited to Currer Bell, an apparently male pseudonym. The author's involvement with the text is therefore signposted from the moment we open the book -- what does it mean for a work to be described as an "autobiography" but ascribed to a different writer? Obviously an autobiography can be ghost-written -- it is unlikely most of the Hollywood celebrities who publish an autobiography in 2015 have written these books without assistance -- but a ghost-writer is not normally credited on the title page, which ought to read "The Autobiography of Jane Eyre." Instead, the author is asking us to read the work as a fictional autobiography of a woman, but one that is apparently written by a man. Now of course that we know the author of the work is Charlotte Bronte, it is important to recall that the initial publication of the book was a seeming work of ventriloquism. However it is worth taking a basic overview of the story presented in Jane Eyre, in order to interpret the question of what it is saying about gender. In conclusion we will return to the question of what the other fictional name on the title page, Currer Bell, signifies: but first we must understand what sort of female autobiography Jane Eyre is writing in this novel.

Although the title page claims the genre of the work will be autobiography, the novel does not begin in any way that an autobiography normally does. The book's first sentence is "there was no possibility of taking a walk that day" (Bronte I). The story begins seemingly in the middle of action already begun, and we only gradually learn that Jane is a ten-year-old orphan who is living with her maternal uncle. Jane is presented as literate however her choice of reading material seems to indicate something significant about her character -- she admits to reading "Bewick's History of British Birds," which sounds like a very Victorian way of indicating the desire for flight: indeed her interest in the book is mostly in the catalogues of exotic far off regions like "Nova Zembla" makes it sound like Jane would rather be anywhere but the place where she is (Bronte I). Soon enough Jane is using her autobiography to express what she sees as the chief sentiments that afflicted her ten-year-old self at this time, although she is of course using language that no ten-year-old would use. By the second chapter, Jane is describing her uncle's house in terms that underscore the sort of confinement that would make a young girl dream of being able to fly like a bird -- and it is worth recalling that Jane's last name "Eyre" sounds like "air," and seems to point again to this desire for flight and freedom like a bird. But the description of the uncle's house makes it clear that this is a caged bird, as Jane describes it thus: "no jail was ever more secure….My blood was still warm; the mood of the revolted slave was still bracing me with its bitter vigour" (Bronte II). The images in establishing the personality of Jane as a child -- images of birds desiring to fly free, of confinement in jail, of slavery -- make it clear that, even at the age of ten, we are supposed to understand this story as one of asserting independence and freedom. Jane makes an appealing heroine from the outset, because the reader is able to identify with her own insistence on making her own way in the world, after her parents have died from an infectious disease....


This point is underscored when Jane leaves her uncle's house for school, and an epidemic of the same infectious disease strikes the school but spares Jane. This may be why Jane ultimately rejects the school as too confining, and decides to take a job as a governess.

It is at this point that Jane takes up residence in Thornfield Hall, where she eventually meets her mysterious employer, Mr. Rochester. The establishment of Rochester as the other central character in the novel besides Jane herself is handled ambiguously by Bronte. On the one hand, his introduction into the book is clearly set up in such a way as to introduce a romantic hero, the person with whom Jane might very well fall in love and marry. However then Bronte undercuts his actual entrance with irony:

It was exactly one form of Bessie's Gytrash -- a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head: it passed me, however, quietly enough; not staying to look up, with strange pretercanine eyes, in my face, as I half expected it would. The horse followed, -- a tall steed, and on its back a rider. The man, the human being, broke the spell at once. Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone; and goblins, to my notions, though they might tenant the dumb carcasses of beasts, could scarce covet shelter in the commonplace human form. No Gytrash was this, -- only a traveller taking the short cut to Millcote. He passed, and I went on; a few steps, and I turned: a sliding sound and an exclamation of "What the deuce is to do now?" And a clattering tumble, arrested my attention. Man and horse were down; they had slipped on the sheet of ice which glazed the causeway. (Bronte XII)

Rochester enters the book at first like a supernatural presence -- his horse is like a mythical creature that is too fierce to have a rider, but then she sees the man riding on its back, and therefore realizes it is just an ordinary traveler on horseback. But then immediately after this dramatic entrance, Rochester and his horse both slip on the ice, and Rochester swears ("what the deuce?"). This is deliberate on Bronte's part -- the size of Thornfield Hall and its staff indicate that the owner is probably a formidable presence, but Jane manages to see him humanized in the precise moment she sees him romanticized.

The relationship between Jane and Rochester -- which will eventually end, of course, in marriage -- mimicks precisely the action of this first meeting between the two of them, in its descent from romantic and terrifying idealization to vulnerable humanity. What ends up transpiring between the two of them is almost like a therapy session, in which Jane is trying to figure out what Rochester's secret is. The secret is configured in the book as an almost supernatural force in Thornfield Hall:

This was a demoniac laugh -- low, suppressed, and deep -- uttered, as it seemed, at the very keyhole of my chamber door. The head of my bed was near the door, and I thought at first the goblin-laugher stood at my bedside -- or rather, crouched by my pillow. (Bronte XV).

What Jane will eventually discover is that the terrifying laughter is coming from Rochester's wife, Bertha, who has gone insane and is being kept in the attic. Bertha's existence is something of a scandal partly because she is mixed-race -- "a Creole" as it says on the marriage certificate (Bronte XXVI). But Rochester will also explain to Jane that the scandal is one of her insanity itself, and he admits to Jane in the next chapter that "the doctors now discovered that my wife was mad -- her excesses had prematurely developed the germs of insanity" (Bronte XXVII). This ultimately becomes a literal threat to both Rochester and Jane when Bertha, in a fit of insanity, burns down Thornfield Hall, managing to kill herself in the process and to blind Rochester. By this point Jane has suddenly received an inheritance from a conveniently deceased relative. Thus Jane and Rochester are finally able to level their status and marry each other as equals, because Rochester is blind and Jane is no longer poor.

The difficulty with seeing this as a traditional happy ending to a romantic novel is indicated, however, in what Rochester says about the previous wife who blinds him: when he describes Bertha as being infected with "the germs of insanity" he is of course referring to an infectious disease. The book has been filled with images of infectious disease -- Jane's parents dead of typhus, her school hit by a typhus outbreak, her friend dying of tuberculosis -- but the problem here is that the disease which causes insanity and can be found in Creole Jamaica is presumably syphilis. And if Bertha had syphilis, it is likely that Rochester has it too. So therefore Jane's announcement of "reader, I married him" should probably be viewed with an aspect of cold horror -- a young virgin who had been successful at every other way of rising in the world makes the fatal mistake of marrying a man with an incurable and fatal sexually-transmitted disease (Bronte XXXVIII). The fact…

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Works Cited

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1260/1260-h/1260-h.htm

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