Choosing Souls Over Social Silhouettes

The Victorian Era, in which Jane and Rochester dwell, can rightly be understood as a period that underlined and accentuated the inequality between men and women, primarily through assigned gender roles. Within this milieu, Jane abjures the social silhouettes of the time in both actions and speech, primarily through her relationship with Mr. Rochester himself. Consequently, both characters, and their relationship with one another, become anomalies.
A few days into her position as governess at Thornfield, Jane pauses to consider the nature of her role and the disposition of the other women inhabitants. While she commends the goodness she sees in them, she expresses a longing for a “more vivid kind of goodness,” which she outlines in the following lines (178). Restless in nature, she opposes the notion that “women are supposed to be very calm generally,” insisting instead that they “feel just as men feel”, and thus “must have action” (178). Through these internal reflections, we first glimpse Jane’s inner struggle with the gender roles from which she feels so estranged.
As her relationship with Rochester develops, Jane continues disputing those social gender convictions. In the orchard scene, before Rochester avows his love for her, Jane, believing her master to be toying with her affections, rebukes him, “I have as much should as you, —and full as much heart!… I am not talking to you now through medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even mortal flesh: —it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,— as we are!” (338). To such a declaration, Rochester consents, repeated her words and calling her his “equal” and his “likeness” (339).
From this foundation, their courtship takes a novel course, for not only did they view each other entirely as equals, but in many cases Rochester proves the one subdued. Concerning her own struggle between passion and reason, Jane often expresses her ardent desire for self-mastery, voicing frustration when this becomes unattainable and her emotions predominate. She carries this devotion to self-control and self-autonomy into her relationship with Rochester, and to such a stance he concedes. Rochester then, in response to Jane’s independence and self-discipline, allows himself to be the subdued one. The day after the proposal, he notes to Jane the peculiarity of her character, that he “has never met [her] likeness” and yet accedes that she “master[s]” him (345). In the same conversion, Jane teases him regarding his fondness of feeing “conquered, and how pleasant overpersuasion is to [him]” (347). Such a description would have characterized women in this time, but never a man in relation to a woman. Finally, the night following their would-be wedding, as Jane weeps earnestly before him, Rochester, unable to see his beloved so rent, entreats her to solace, “his softened voice announce[ing] that he [is] subdued” (393).
With their affection for one another built entirely upon a mutual understanding of equality, Jane and Rochester, freed from the social ideologies of gender hierarchy, exhibit a love for one another born of admiration for each other’s very souls. And it is out of love for Rochester’s soul that Jane rallies her will to depart from him.

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