Monday, 7 February 2011

V THE PARANORMAL IN VICTORIAN LITERATURE, 'JANE EYRE'

THE INTERPENETRATION OF MIND AND MATTER


We will now discuss a key scene in 'Jane Eyre'. When Rochester disguised as a gypsy appears amongst his guests this scene - perhaps more than any other -  brings out Charlotte Bronte's belief in PHRENOLOGY.

At first, because of Rochester's absence, his guests are somewhat wary of allowing a gypsy fortuneteller into the house. Eventually they all agree that it might provide some light entertainment.


A TYPICAL GYPSY FORTUNE-TELLER OF THE PERIOD. NOTE THE CARDS ON THE TABLE.

Of course, unknown to anyone it is Rochester himself in disguise. 








THE GIRLS TROOP IN TOGETHER TO HEAR THEIR FORTUNES. GOOD DISGUISE OF ROCHESTER, DON'T YOU THINK


Three of the  girls troop in together and when they re-enter the room they tell the startled guests that the gypsy 'told them of things they had said and done when they were mere children.' For instance the fortune-teller 'described books and ornaments they had in their boudoirs at home.' What was even more astounding, the gypsy had 'even divined their thoughts and whispered in the ear of each the name of the person she liked best in the world, and informed them of what they most wished for' (Vol. ii. III).

In the novel, of course, the episode is presented as some sort of game. However, to Victorian readers the statements that the girls made would carry conviction. More than that they also reveal Charlotte Bronte's familiarity with certain Paranormal practices. The reason why I spent so much time in previous posts on the Victorian Consciousness in relation to the Paranormal was to show how mistaken are those modern readers who consider such scenes as nothing more than artistic fantasy.

Now it is Jane's turn, and here we get to the heart of the matter.

Jane visits the disguised Rochester next. He is sitting in the library in an atmosphere resembling the Victorian seance room; the fire provides the only light. Rochester dispenses with palmistry and moves to PHYSIOGNOMY saying, 'it is in the FACE: on the FOREHEAD, about the EYES, in the eyes themselves, in the lines of the MOUTH. (Vol ii. IV)

In the next paragraph notice how Rochester diagnoses Jane's FEATURES from a PHYSIOGNOMIC point of view, in relation to her PERSONALITY. He isolates one aspect at a time. Again, I have Capitalised for emphasis.

" The flame flickers in the EYE; the eye shines like dew; it looks soft and FULL OF FEELING; it SMILES at my jargon; it is SUSCEPTIBLE; impression follows impression through its clear sphere when it ceases to smile it is SAD; an unconscious LASSITUDE weighs on the LID; that SIGNIFIES MELANCHOLY resulting from loneliness .... The EYE IS FAVOURABLE." (Vol. ii. IV). 

We are aware of Rochester's motives in using this PHYSIOGNOMIC jargon. He is trying to woo her.

He next proceeds to diagnose her MOUTH.

" It DELIGHTS at times in laughter; it is DISPOSED to IMPART all that the brain conceives; ... it would be SALIENT on much that the heart conceives ... " (Vol ii. IV) 

This PHYSIOGNOMIC feature suggests the same as the eye; that Jane is insular, cautious, yet desperately needing affection. Rochester subtly tries to break down her reserve by playing on her confidence in PHYSIOGNOMY AND PHRENOLOGY. 

He next passes on to her BROW, which seems to suggest some resistance to his seduction. In fact 'that brow SUGGESTS that I can live alone ...' Her brow implies that she is a cautious person  who will not allow 'the feelings [to] burst away..' In every situation she is a person who follows 'the dictates of conscience.'  (Vol. ii. IV) 

I feel there is something of Jung here; as if Rochester, desperate for Jane's affections PROJECTS his own fears and tries to get Jane to throw caution to the wind and declare her love for him. 

A SCENE SIMILAR TO ROCHESTER'S WOOING JANE - THE PROPOSAL BY ADOLPHE BOUGUEREAU

It is also worth considering what Charlotte Bronte is doing in this scene. Through Rochester's diagnosis she is giving us a preview of Jane's future course of action, namely that to relieve her loneliness Jane wishes to marry Rochester. But, such is her moral conscience that when she discovers the existence of his wife she will forgo this desire and flee from him.

Similar to the DREAM IMAGERY Bronte uses the PHRENOLOGICAL DIAGNOSIS to forecast what her characters will do. Bronte's plot construction is based on the assumption that if the PHYSICAL SIGNS are understood correctly one sees the future mapped out.

In my earlier Posts I  discussed the investigations into MESMERISM and TELEPATHIC COMMUNICATION. These ideas are central to the novel and I shall take them up in my final Post on 'Jane Eyre' before moving to another topic.

I hope you are enjoying the exploration of the Victorian Consciousness as expressed in the novel. We have not finished with it for a while yet.

Any Comments?

Picture Credits from Wikipedia Commons.

Extracts from the Clarendon Edition of 'Jane Eyre'







3 comments:

  1. Most enjoyable, again.

    There is an Oriental healing acupressure system that works entirely with the face.

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  2. A great post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
    I also appreciate your intensive study which reveals so much that is usually hidden to a casual reader.

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  3. The Jane Eyre books is my favorite from Charlotte Bronte. Villette and Shiley are must-read from her as well. :)

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