Sally Shuttleworth’s essay explores the prevalence of phrenology in Jane Eyre and what this prevalence suggests. She poses the question of the implication of phrenology regarding gender. The parts of Shuttleworth’s essay that I want to focus on are: relationship between Jane and Rochester and the encouragement of men to subjugate their lower propensities. Both of these lens have something in common: the faculty of control.
During Jane and Rochester’s courtship, the two characters constantly bantered back and forth. There is an attempt at control (through both physical action and language) that is prevalent throughout the novel. This struggle is especially prevalent even before Jane realizes that she has feelings for Rochester. During one of Jane and Rochester’s discussions, the latter has Jane move herself to suit him: “Miss Eyre, draw your chair still a little further forward… I cannot see you without disturbing my position in this comfortable chair, which I have no mind to do” (149). Both Jane and Rochester attempt to read each other without revealing anything about themselves, as when Rochester asks Jane many questions regarding his handsomeness (or lack of), and as when Jane refuses to speak because she believes that Rochester has expected her to speak “for the mere sake of talking and showing off” (152). Shuttleworth states that Rochester’s ultimate grasp at control is attempting to marry Jane when he already has an insane wife. Rochester could never get a read on Jane until he revealed his intentions to her, and the fact that he revealed his feelings puts Jane in a position of power. However, Jane does return to Thornsfield because Rochester has control of her heart. So, who has the control – Jane or Rochester?
Shuttleworth states that during Victorian times, men were encouraged to “subjugate their lower animal propensities to the control of their higher sentiments and intellectual faculties” (129). In the first chapter of volume III, Rochester explains his deceit to Jane. As Rochester realizes that he and Jane are not seeing eye to eye, he grows increasingly irritated. He even states, “Jane! will you hear reason?…. because, if you won’t, I’ll try violence” (340). There is something very animalistic in Rochester’s nature, something that he is struggling to control, and something that Jane also tries to repress by speaking to him soothingly. However, Rochester is unable to establish control because in the end of the scene, he states, “But Jane will give me her love: yes – nobly, generously” (358). The narrator writes of how blood rushed to Rochester’s face, and “forth flashed the fire from his eyes” as he sprang at Jane (358). This passage is an example of Rochester’s failure to be in control of his animal propensities and act, instead, using his higher, intellectual faculties.
I believe this example shows that there is a possible gender confliction at play here, but it involves me relating events in the novel after chapter 35, and I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read it yet. But don’t worry, I’ll return to my point when everyone’s finished the book!