Is she original? Is she piquant?

I’ve been sort of re-reading Jane Eyre lately – sort of because I’ve been dipping in and out and going back and forth as opposed to reading straight through – sampling more than re-reading. In a way it’s more interesting than I remembered, but in another way it’s at least as irritating as I’ve long found it.

Irritating once the Rochester plot gets going, that is. The Gateshead part and the Lowood part are immortal, but the –plucky governess meets grumpy but fascinating master of the house– plot is all too familiar. It’s familiar in great part because it helped set the pattern itself, but that doesn’t make it less predictable.

It’s far more literate, in Charlotte Bronte’s telling, than the mass-produced “romance” novel would dare be, but the pink cover note creeps in all the same. Chapter XXIV for instance…

He smiled; and I thought his smile was such as a sultan might, in a blissful and fond moment, bestow on a slave his gold and gems had enriched: I crushed his hand, which was ever hunting mine, vigorously, and thrust it back to him red with the passionate pressure.

“You need not look in that way,” I said; “if you do, I’ll wear nothing but my old Lowood frocks to the end of the chapter.  I’ll be married in this lilac gingham: you may make a dressing-gown for yourself out of the pearl-grey silk, and an infinite series of waistcoats out of the black satin.”

He chuckled; he rubbed his hands.  “Oh, it is rich to see and hear her?” he exclaimed.  “Is she original?  Is she piquant?  I would not exchange this one little English girl for the Grand Turk’s whole seraglio, gazelle-eyes, houri forms, and all!”

The Eastern allusion bit me again.  “I’ll not stand you an inch in the stead of a seraglio,” I said; “so don’t consider me an equivalent for one.  If you have a fancy for anything in that line, away with you, sir, to the bazaars of Stamboul without delay, and lay out in extensive slave-purchases some of that spare cash you seem at a loss to spend satisfactorily here.”

“And what will you do, Janet, while I am bargaining for so many tons of flesh and such an assortment of black eyes?”

“I’ll be preparing myself to go out as a missionary to preach liberty to them that are enslaved—your harem inmates amongst the rest.  I’ll get admitted there, and I’ll stir up mutiny; and you, three-tailed bashaw as you are, sir, shall in a trice find yourself fettered amongst our hands: nor will I, for one, consent to cut your bonds till you have signed a charter, the most liberal that despot ever yet conferred.”

“I would consent to be at your mercy, Jane.”

“I would have no mercy, Mr. Rochester, if you supplicated for it with an eye like that.  While you looked so, I should be certain that whatever charter you might grant under coercion, your first act, when released, would be to violate its conditions.”

“Why, Jane, what would you have?  I fear you will compel me to go through a private marriage ceremony, besides that performed at the altar.  You will stipulate, I see, for peculiar terms—what will they be?”

“I only want an easy mind, sir; not crushed by crowded obligations.  Do you remember what you said of Céline Varens?—of the diamonds, the cashmeres you gave her?  I will not be your English Céline Varens.  I shall continue to act as Adèle’s governess; by that I shall earn my board and lodging, and thirty pounds a year besides.  I’ll furnish my own wardrobe out of that money, and you shall give me nothing but—”

“Well, but what?”

“Your regard; and if I give you mine in return, that debt will be quit.”

“Well, for cool native impudence and pure innate pride, you haven’t your equal,” said he.  We were now approaching Thornfield.  “Will it please you to dine with me to-day?” he asked, as we re-entered the gates.

“No, thank you, sir.”

“And what for, ‘no, thank you?’ if one may inquire.”

“I never have dined with you, sir: and I see no reason why I should now: till—”

“Till what?  You delight in half-phrases.”

“Till I can’t help it.”

“Do you suppose I eat like an ogre or a ghoul, that you dread being the companion of my repast?”

“I have formed no supposition on the subject, sir; but I want to go on as usual for another month.”

“You will give up your governessing slavery at once.”

“Indeed, begging your pardon, sir, I shall not.  I shall just go on with it as usual.  I shall keep out of your way all day, as I have been accustomed to do: you may send for me in the evening, when you feel disposed to see me, and I’ll come then; but at no other time.”

“I want a smoke, Jane, or a pinch of snuff, to comfort me under all this, ‘pour me donner une contenance,’ as Adèle would say; and unfortunately I have neither my cigar-case, nor my snuff-box.  But listen—whisper.  It is your time now, little tyrant, but it will be mine presently; and when once I have fairly seized you, to have and to hold, I’ll just—figuratively speaking—attach you to a chain like this” (touching his watch-guard).  “Yes, bonny wee thing, I’ll wear you in my bosom, lest my jewel I should tyne.”

He said this as he helped me to alight from the carriage, and while he afterwards lifted out Adèle, I entered the house, and made good my retreat upstairs.

Kinky, yeah? 50 Shades of Grey for 1848? But it’s all part of her cunning plan.

He rose and came towards me, and I saw his face all kindled, and his full falcon-eye flashing, and tenderness and passion in every lineament.  I quailed momentarily—then I rallied.  Soft scene, daring demonstration, I would not have; and I stood in peril of both: a weapon of defence must be prepared—I whetted my tongue: as he reached me, I asked with asperity, “whom he was going to marry now?”

“That was a strange question to be put by his darling Jane.”

“Indeed!  I considered it a very natural and necessary one: he had talked of his future wife dying with him.  What did he mean by such a pagan idea?  I had no intention of dying with him—he might depend on that.”

“Oh, all he longed, all he prayed for, was that I might live with him!  Death was not for such as I.”

“Indeed it was: I had as good a right to die when my time came as he had: but I should bide that time, and not be hurried away in a suttee.”

“Would I forgive him for the selfish idea, and prove my pardon by a reconciling kiss?”

“No: I would rather be excused.”

Here I heard myself apostrophised as a “hard little thing;” and it was added, “any other woman would have been melted to marrow at hearing such stanzas crooned in her praise.”

I assured him I was naturally hard—very flinty, and that he would often find me so; and that, moreover, I was determined to show him divers rugged points in my character before the ensuing four weeks elapsed: he should know fully what sort of a bargain he had made, while there was yet time to rescind it.

“Would I be quiet and talk rationally?”

“I would be quiet if he liked, and as to talking rationally, I flattered myself I was doing that now.”

He fretted, pished, and pshawed.  “Very good,” I thought; “you may fume and fidget as you please: but this is the best plan to pursue with you, I am certain.  I like you more than I can say; but I’ll not sink into a bathos of sentiment: and with this needle of repartee I’ll keep you from the edge of the gulf too; and, moreover, maintain by its pungent aid that distance between you and myself most conducive to our real mutual advantage.”

Aka they met cute.

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