When Mr. Rochester proposes to Jane a second time, their conversation reverses conventional gender roles:

"Ah! Jane. But I want a wife."

"Do you, sir?"

"Yes: is it news to you?"

"Of course: you said nothing about it before."

"Is it unwelcome news?"

"That depends on circumstances, sir — on your choice."

"Which you shall make for me, Jane. I will abide by your decision." "Choose then, sir — her who loves you best."

"I will at least choose — her I love best. Jane, will you marry me?"

"Yes, sir."

"A poor blind man, whom you will have to lead about by the hand?"

"Yes, sir."

"A crippled man, twenty years older than you, whom you will have to wait on?"

"Yes, sir."

"Truly, Jane?"

"Most truly, sir."

"Oh! my darling! God bless you and reward you!" [547]

Jane's new-found wealth and Mr. Rochester's disability have put Jane in a relative position of power, unusual for women of this period. Her teasing is an expression of that power. Here she pretends ignorance of Mr. Rochester's desires, and earlier she encouraged him to be jealous of St. John. She can afford to tease because she is confident in her position. Before his first proposal, Mr. Rochester was the one who teased Jane, most notably by pretending to want to marry Miss Ingram. At the time the balance of power was so uneven that Mr. Rochester could approach or even exceed the threshold of cruelty without fear of losing Jane. Now the balance of power has switched, but Jane does not adopt the dominating attitude of her former master.

Although Jane is no longer a servant, she persists in addressing Mr. Rochester as "sir." She also engages and as a married woman will continue to engage in servile activities such as leading around and waiting on Mr. Rochester, as he mentions. She does all of this, however, out of love, of her own free will: as an independent woman. So, although playing the role of a servant, she is now socially as well as mentally independent, and that makes an important difference.

Questions

1. Charlotte Brontë rarely includes any stage action, so to speak, during conversations. Why?

2. The italics in this passage seem to me to give too much emphasis, considering that they are rarely, if ever, used elsewhere in the novel. Why does Charlotte Bronte italicize here?

3. Is it possible that Jane is actually ignorant of Rochester's desires in the first part of the passage?

4. How does Jane's love compare to the love of Porphyria's lover?


Victorian Overview Charlotte Bronte Jane Eyre

Last modified 2 February 2009