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Turning 55: the Proposal Scene from Jane Eyre

File:Charlotte Bronte coloured drawing.png

Dear readers, RT for the last several weeks has been exploring 19th century British romantic prose; where else could he possibly find himself, on his 55th birthday, but washed up on the shores of Charlotte Bronte‘s great novel, Jane Eyre?

It goes without saying that this novel is primarily addressed to women, relating as it does the search of a sympathetic and intelligent young lady for the earthly paradise of marriage. “Reader, I married him,” she reports as the novel reaches it conclusion. Few sentences in the English language can have had as widespread an impact on our culture as this one.

But fellow men, take note: we can only wish that we were capable of the profound passion that Mr. Rochester evinces during the novel’s proposal scene. Rochester’s language here reaches the intensity of poetry, as does, in an entirely more feminine way, Jane Eyre’s:

Excerpts from the Proposal Scene, Jane Eyre

“Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?  Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart!  And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.  I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of 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!”

“And your will shall decide your destiny,” he said: “I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions.”

“You play a farce, which I merely laugh at.”

“I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”

A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away—away—to an indefinite distance—it died.  The nightingale’s song was then the only voice of the hour: in listening to it, I again wept.  Mr. Rochester sat quiet, looking at me gently and seriously.

“My bride is here,” he said, again drawing me to him, “because my equal is here, and my likeness.  Jane, will you marry me?”

Still I did not answer, and still I writhed myself from his grasp: for I was still incredulous.

“Do you doubt me, Jane?” “Entirely.”

“You have no faith in me?” “Not a whit.”

“You, Jane, I must have you for my own—entirely my own.  Will you be mine?  Say yes, quickly.”

“Mr. Rochester, let me look at your face: turn to the moonlight.” “Why?” “Because I want to read your countenance—turn!” “There! you will find it scarcely more legible than a crumpled, scratched page.

Read on: only make haste, for I suffer.”

His face was very much agitated and very much flushed, and there were strong workings in the features, and strange gleams in the eyes.

“Oh, Jane, you torture me!” he exclaimed.  “With that searching and yet faithful and generous look, you torture me!”

“How can I do that?  If you are true, and your offer real, my only feelings to you must be gratitude and devotion—they cannot torture.”

“Gratitude!” he ejaculated; and added wildly—“Jane accept me quickly.  Say, Edward—give me my name—Edward—I will marry you.”

“Are you in earnest?  Do you truly love me?  Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?”

“I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it.”

“Then, sir, I will marry you.”

“Edward—my little wife!”

“Dear Edward!”

RT suspects that the need for romance becomes more insistent as we grow older. Perhaps, visual impairment notwithstanding, we grow more clear-sighted as we age. Energy is everything, and what better energy can we hope for than affection? Marriage may not be the only answer; we should remember that we are always falling in love with each other. Passion pursues us right up to the grave, and perhaps beyond it. A better fate is hard to imagine.

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Drawing: Portrait of Charlotte Bronte; Evert A. Duyckinck (based on a drawing by George Richmond). 1873. University of Texas; WikiCmns. Public Domain. *