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choice: break civil and religious laws by living in a technically adulterous relationship, or destroy both your own chance for happiness and the hope and heart of the person you love most. Jane Eyre faces this choice when she discovers on her wedding day that her fiancé and employer, Mr. Rochester, is already married. His wife, Bertha Mason, is a madwoman who has been locked in the attic for ten years. Mr. Rochester considers his first marriage nullified and wishes to marry Jane, whom he loves, but his remarriage is illegal and considered highly immoral. The night after the planned marriage, Mr. Rochester attempts to persuade Jane that they should leave the country and marry elsewhere; Jane is determined to part from Mr. Rochester despite her intense devotion to him. They argue, Jane quiet and resolute, Mr. Rochester passionate and disturbed. The argument serves as a stage for Charlotte Brontë to play with ideas of reason and insanity, moral and civil laws, and individualism. At one point Jane tells Mr. Rochester that he will forget her before she forgets him and he rebuts her:

"You make me a liar by such language: you sully my honour. I declared I could not change: you tell me to my face I shall change soon. And what a distortion in your judgment, what a perversity in your idea, is proved by your conduct! Is it better to drive a fellow-creature to despair than to transgress a mere human law — no man being injured by the breach? for you have neither relatives no acquaintances whom you need fear to offend by living with me."

This was true: and while he spoke my very conscience and reason turned traitors against me, and charged me with a crime in resisting him. They spoke almost as loud as Feeling: and that clamoured wildly. "Oh, comply!" it said. "Thing of his misery; think of his danger — look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong nature; consider the recklessness following on despair — soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?"

Still indomitable was the reply — "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad — as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth — so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am quite insane — quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot." [270-71]

Questions

How does Brontë value "mere human" laws? Religious laws? Is there a sense of "natural" morality in Jane's mental rebuttal of Mr. Rochester's argument? How has Jane's attitude toward rules changed since the beginning of the novel/her childhood?

Contrast Jane's definition of herself as "insane" at this moment with the portrayal of Bertha Mason. Jane is still capable of reason, is Bertha shown to have any capacity for thought? What constitutes insanity? What does the novel say about causes of insanity? Is insanity temporary or permanent, genetic or emotional? Can Jane truly recognize herself as insane? How does this relate to Jane's "passionate" nature? Is intense emotion the same as insanity?

How is the idea of isolation dealt with in the novel? Here Jane values it: "the more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself." Is that respect for solitude held up throughout the novel?


Victorian Overview Charlotte Bronte Jane Eyre Discussion questions for Jane Eyre

Last updated 2 February 2004