Attempts at Control in Jane Eyre

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!

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5 thoughts on “Attempts at Control in Jane Eyre

  1. Ali Troiano

    I agree and also see a power struggle between Jane and Mr. Rochester. I think Jane’s blunt manner and nerve are, as Kelsey states, “unusual for women to seek control and take action upon it.” Interestingly enough, this attribute of Jane actually attracts both Mr. Rochester and St. John. Mr. Rochester directly acknowledges her responses to him as somewhat shocking and he clearly takes pleasure in her direct discourse. Her manner seems to intrigue St. John in the same way. The narrator states, “Again the surprised expression crossed his face. He had not imagined that a woman would dare to speak so to a man. For me, I felt at home in this sort of discourse. I could never rest in communication with strong, discreet, and refined minds, whether male or female, till I had passed the outworks of conventional reserve, and crossed the threshold of confidence, and won a place by their heart’s very hearthstone” (319). When Jane speaks to him in this way, St. John submits to her question.

    St. John also attempts to control Jane and she admits her inability to deny him. It seems that she submits to his control more than to Mr. Rochester. She states, “ I daily wished more to please him: but to do so, I felt daily more and more that I must disown half my nature, stifle half my faculties, wrest mu tasted from their original bent, force myself to the adoption of pursuits for which I had no natural vocation” (339).

  2. Nathan

    I am quite convinced that this animalistic side of Rochester, while accepted at the time, represents a greater societal issue vis a vis gender equality. Most striking was his affirmation that he might resort to violence and the way this was accepted. To me it became hard to allow this to slide since domestic violence is something I am very sensitive to. Here it seems a normative part to any passionate relationship, however it is very clear that there exists a lack of self control perhaps leading to the need to subjugate Jane.

  3. davidginsberg

    I feel that the animalistic description of Mr. Rochester is just another example of Bronte’s championing of women and their equality to men that is prevalent throughout the book. Jane doesn’t have to resort to such primitive emotions. She uses her words and intelligence without losing self-control, unlike Mr. Rochester, who returns to more primal urges.

    St. John is a character who reminds me of a rougher, cold version of Mr. Rochester. He tries to get the better of Jane and perhaps even more stubborn than Mr. Rochester. St. John’s means are cruel – he ignores her until she cries and even threatens that she won’t go to heaven if she refuses to marry and go on a mission with him. Although his act is ultimately that of good, he is a contemptible character.

  4. kelsey214

    I agree that there is definitely a want for control in both the characters Jane and Rochester. However, I think that during this period of time, it’s unusual for women to seek control and take action upon it, whereas it’s almost an assumed characteristic in men. For example, even after there is realization that St. John is a cousin of Jane, he still is presumably cold towards her. St. John is an ambitious man in retrospective to being a missionary, but when he asks Jane to accompany him in his travels to India I see it as a power struggle. He wants to control Jane by taking her hand in marriage despite the fact that there is no sense of love between them. His reasoning is that Jane can make a more meaningful contribution towards society by coming with him; it’s yet again another example of him trying to mold her into someone that she isn’t. Jane takes control by refusing to go with him solely because she is not in love with him. In this case, she sacrifices loneliness for her independence which is something very important to her. St. John is often associated with coldness. Bronte likes to describes characters eyes in order to portray there emotions and persona. “I looked up at him: he shunned my eye”(316). -This quote embodies the firmness and severity of St. John.

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