Some indirect parallels exist between the scene in Jane Eyre when Rochester unexpectedly proposes to Jane and the scene in Great Expectations when, perhaps more unexpectedly, Magwitch reveals himself to Pip. Both exchanges occur between two characters: the surprise-giver (Rochester, Magwitch) and the surprise-receiver (Jane, Pip). In each story, the surprise giver chooses to maintain his position of power for as long as possible, presumably to ensure that his surprise will elicit the desired response.
In Jane Eyre, Rochester begins by asking Jane a few nonchalant questions to gauge her attachment to him, whether Thornfield is “a pleasant place in the summer" (301), whether Jane has formed connections with Ad¸le and Fairfax (302), and whether she “would be sorry to part with them" (302). Immediately after hearing the reply that pleases him — “yes" — Rochester, not wanting to make himself vulnerable just yet, diverts away from sentimentality by launching into a discussion of why Jane must regrettably leave Thornfield. With the second, slightly more cruel part of his approach, Rochester tells Jane how he will soon marry Blanche Ingram, slipping in some snooty compliments about Miss Ingram — “one can't have too much of such a very excellent thing as my beautiful Blanche" (302) — in an attempt to get Jane to show emotion, to reveal her love for him. Rochester quickly succeeds in this, as Jane cannot hold out very long without opening herself up:
'Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?- a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you, — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; — it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal, — as we are!' [305-306]
Soon afterward, Rochester proposes to Jane with little risk of rejection.
Magwitch employs a similar strategy in unveiling himself to Pip as the mysterious benefactor. When asked to state his business, he responds noncommittally: “'My business?' he repeated, pausing. 'Ah! Yes. I will explain my business, by your leave'" (Chapter 39). Once inside, Magwitch talks mostly about the distant past: his encounter with Pip in the marshes and his gift of the two one-pound notes. In this part of the scene, it feels almost as if Magwitch is attempting to gauge Pip's character while preserving his secret in the same way that Rochester gauges Jane's love for him without showing his own vulnerabilities. Pip acts wary but polite and kind, which apparently moves Magwitch:
When at last I put the glass to him, I saw with amazement that his eyes were full of tears.
Up to this time I had remained standing, not to disguise that I wished him gone. But I was softened by the softened aspect of the man, and felt a touch of reproach. “I hope," said I, hurriedly putting something into a glass for myself, and drawing a chair to the table, “that you will not think I spoke harshly to you just now. I had no intention of doing it, and I am sorry for it if I did. I wish you well and happy!"
As I put my glass to my lips, he glanced with surprise at the end of his neckerchief, dropping from his mouth when he opened it, and stretched out his hand. I gave him mine, and then he drank, and drew his sleeve across his eyes and forehead. [Chapter 39; Place within the complete text of the novel]
Pip decides to return the two one-pound notes to Magwitch, at which point the secret benefactor finally decides to unmask himself.
Though these two scenes resemble each other in many ways, a subtle difference exists between how Brontë and Dickens handle dialogue. Dickens often interrupts dialogue to give Pip a chance to describe the feelings passing through his head. As Magwitch relates his climactic monologue, Pip's thoughts interject on more than one occasion:
All the truth of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds, rushed in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had to struggle for every breath I drew. . . . I could not have spoken one word, though it had been to save my life. . . . The abhorrence in which I held the man, the dread I had of him, the repugnance with which I shrank from him, could not have been exceeded if he had been some terrible beast. . . . In his heat and triumph, and in his knowledge that I had been nearly fainting, he did not remark on my reception of all this. It was the one grain of relief I had.
In Jane Eyre, on the other hand, dialogue occurs almost entirely without interruption. In two pages of back-and-forth between Rochester and Jane, for example, the only break occurs when Jane thinks to herself, “This was a blow; but I did not let it prostrate me" (302). In general, Brontë prefers to let surprising events speak for themselves at first, letting Jane narrate her thoughts only after the fact, whereas Dickens likes to weave together Pip's internal monologue with the speech and action going on in the outside world.
Last modified 15 May 2009