Response to Jane Eyre Volume 2 – Chelsea Radigan
Charades and Fortune-Telling Gypsy
Chapters 18 and 19
The motif of the performance, as it relates to the shallowness and falsity of both characters and ideas, can be best seen the game of charades and subsequent encounters with the fortune-teller in chapters eighteen and nineteen of Jane Eyre’s volume two. The playing of charades occurs just as Jane’s anxiety over her feelings for Rochester, and his interactions Blanche, reaches its peak. As an outsider to the charade, it is apparent that Jane wishes to take the role of Blanche (or at least of someone of her social stature, who would be eligible to play Rochester’s wife). While it is obvious that Jane would like to be in Blanche’s place in regards to being courted by Rochester, Jane’s true feelings about Blanche’s character are developed in the aftermath of the performance. Jane remarks of Blanche, “she was very showy, but not genuine,” (215). Jane confesses she even feels superior to Blanche, precisely because of the realization that although she might be a good actress, she has little to offer as a real person; again, she explains, “she was not good, she was not original: she used to repeat sounding phrases from books: she never offered, nor had, an opinion of her own,” (216). Each of Jane’s criticisms of Blanche come from the shallowness of her personality; she is good at performances, not real life. This shallowness resounds in the idea of a marriage between Rochester and Blanche (although Jane does not blame Rochester for his seemingly petty reasons for wanting to marry Blanche).
The true crux of the author’s construction of the charade can be found in its answer, “Bridewell.” The endnote defines Bridewell as a type of mental asylum/prison, often for females who are sexual deviants. Jane is imprisoned by her feelings for Rochester – Jane is often depicted as trapped, both with the Reeds and at Lowood, evoking a kind of fairytale princess helplessness readers can easily romanticize. She is also imprisoned by her social class and occupational rank, and perhaps her feelings for Rochester are a direct result of her literal, geographic constraints; one might say that Jane has conveniently fallen in love with the only eligible, of-age man that she has had much contact with. As to the significance of the sexual nature of Bridewell’s prisoners, Jane reflects that Blanche and Rochester’s relationship is undoubtedly without ‘passion,’ something which would inevitably lead their marriage to become a metaphorical imprisonment for Rochester, where his hands would be “attached to fetters,” as they are in the third scene of the charade, (214).
The arrival of Richard Mason marks the beginning of a theme of uncertainty and eeriness, only to be elevated by the coming events with the fortune-teller. Jane mentions an immediate distrust of Mason, who, as it is later revealed, will serve another purpose later in the novel. The fortune-teller carries with her an inevitable sense of mystery and superstition, as does Bronte’s choice to leave her a conversation with Blanche a looming, but certainly negative, mystery. The conversation also takes on a larger-than-life character; Jane remarks that Blanche had, “obviously not heard anything to her advantage,” and seemed to attach much “important to whatever revelations had been made her,” (225). In her session with Jane, the fortune-teller hints that she has information about Grace Poole, but quickly moves on, reminding readers of the pending mystery behind her and her attempted murder of Rochester. Wary of her ‘talents’ from the start, Jane recounts being “wrapped…in a kind of dream,” by the fortune-teller, who seems to have successfully thrown dust in her eyes, (231). At the end of their meeting, the gypsy says, “‘the play is played out,’” joining the earlier charade as yet another allusion to performance and falsity. When the fortune-teller is then revealed as Rochester, Jane is not displease, but in fact, happy with the knowledge that he can see Blanche’s true character and that, at least momentarily the restrictions of social class between them were lifted. Rochester does; however, seem to take on another layer of mystery: if he can so easily disguise himself as the fortune-teller, what else might he be hiding?