Rochester’s treatment of Jane and Antoinette manifest physically in the images of themselves that they see in mirrors. Jane’s attitude toward herself changes when she sees her physical appearance in a mirror after Rochester professes his love:

While arranging my hair, I looked at my face in the glass, and felt it was no longer plain: there was hope in its aspect and life in its colour; and my eyes seemed as if they had beheld the fount of fruition, and borrowed beams from the lustrous ripple. I had often been unwilling to look at my master, because I feared he could not be pleased at my look; but I was sure I might lift my face to his now, and not cool his affection by its expression. I took a plain but clean and light summer dress from my drawer and put it on: it seemed no attire had ever so well become me, because none had I ever worn in so blissful a mood. (Bront‘ 342)

She perceives “hope” and “life” in her face and “fruition” in her eyes where she once saw “plain[ness].” Mirrors reveal a great deal about the character’s attitude which are informed by Rochester’s projections.

Antoinette seems uncertain how to understand herself without the aid of a mirror, “There is no looking glass here and I don’t know what I am like now.”

I remember watching myself brush my hair and how my eyes looked back at me. The girl I saw was myself yet not quite myself. Long ago when I was a child and very lonely I tried to kiss her. But the glass was between us — hard, cold and misted over with my breath. Now they have taken everything away. What am I doing in this place and who am I? (Rhys 107)

In a parallel encounter in front of mirror, Antoinette sees a woman with “streaming” hair, but fails to understand that woman in the frame is herself. In both of Antoinette’s experiences with the mirror, she never fully identifies with her image in the same way that Jane does. The reasons the images undergo visible changes seem very much under Rochester’s control. However, with Antoinette, a barrier always reminds her that the image is separate from herself. The “hard, cold” glass in the first scene and the “wall of fire” in the second prevent her from giving in entirely to the seduction of the images of herself. In the second scene, her image has undergone such a radical change due to outside circumstances, that she fails to recognize herself in the mirror:

I went into the hall again with the tall candle in my hand. It was then that I saw herŃthe ghost. The woman with streaming hair. She was surrounded by a gilt frame but I knew her. I dropped the candle I was carrying and it caught the end of a tablecloth and I saw flames shoot up. As I ran or perhaps floated or flew I called help me Christophine help me and looking behind me I saw that I had been helped. There was a wall of fire protecting me but it was too hot, it scorched me and I went away from it. (Rhys 112)

Questions

In what ways do identification and identity relate to one another? How does this change from Bront‘ to Rhys?

What is Rhys saying about the ways people “fasten bad words” (68) onto others? How does this change the person or the way others perceive the person?

In the case of Antoinette, it seems to make little difference whether these words were truth or lies. They manifest physically in her appearance and make her unrecognizable to herselfŃin her actions and thoughts as well.

Does fastening words to people always necessarily change the person? It seems as though these texts leave no room for the possibility of averting the consequences of these words. Are words, rumors, and legends always stronger than “truth” or do they comprise “truth”?


Victorian Overview Neo-Victorian sitemap Jean Rhys