In the following passage, Richard Mason, Bertha Mason's brother, visits Thornfield to speak with Mr. Rochester:

His manner was polite; his accent, in speaking, struck me as being somewhat unusual, — not precisely foreign, but still not altogether English: his age might be about Mr. Rochester's, — between thirty and forty; his complexion was singularly sallow: otherwise he was a fine-looking man, at first sight especially. On closer examination, you detected something in his face that displeased, or rather that failed to please. His features were regular, but too relaxed: his eye was large and well cut, but the life looking out of it was a tame, vacant life-at least so I thought.

The sound of the dressing-bell dispersed the party. It was not till after dinner that I saw him again: he then seemed quite at his ease. But I liked his physiognomy even less than before: it struck me as being at the same time unsettled and inanimate. His eye wandered, and had no meaning in its wandering: this gave him an odd look, such as I never remembered to have seen. For a handsome and not an unamiable-looking man, he repelled me exceedingly: there was no power in that smooth-skinned face of a full oval shape: no firmness in that aquiline nose and small cherry mouth; there was no thought on the low, even forehead; no command in that blank, brown eye. [p 162]

Here, Mason, a significant character in the novel, is introduced. This distaste Jane Eyre feels for Mason's appearance foreshadows the trouble he brings with him to Thornfield. Later that night, Bertha Mason attacks him, and later in the novel, he interrupts the wedding of Rochester and Jane Eyre by revealing that Rochester previously married Bertha. Jane's close examination of Mason's face also suggests the idea frequently stated in the novel, that one's face reveals much about one's character. Finally, the consideration with which Jane studies Mason's face reveals Jane's thoughtfulness and intelligence, especially when compared with the superficial analyses Rochester's party guests exclaim, such as "pretty little mouth and nice nose" (162).

Questions

How much did Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, and the Victorians in general value the art of physiognomy? Does Mason's superficial beauty reflect that of Blanche Ingram? Of the upper-class they both represent?

What is the significance of the distinction Jane makes between 'displeased' and "failed to please?"

Jane has "no doubt" that Mason's face is "sallow" because he comes from the West Indies (163). What does the tropical climate of the West Indies represent, as evidenced by the characters of Richard Mason, Bertha Mason, and Rochester?


Victorian Overview Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre Discussion questions for Jane Eyre

Last modified 2 February 2004