Summary and Analysis
At first, Jane sees little of Rochester. During their brief encounters, she notices his moodiness, but it doesn't upset her. Finally, one evening, he summons Adèle and Jane, offering Adèle her long-awaited present. Jane notices that Rochester is in a friendlier mood than usual, probably due to his dinner wine. Rochester enjoys Jane's frank, sincere manner, and confesses that he hasn't lived the purest, most innocent life. They discuss sin, remorse, and reformation. Finding Jane a good listener, Rochester speaks to her as freely as if he were writing his thoughts in a diary. He says he has given up his shameful lifestyle, and is ready to begin a new, pure life. Rochester tells Jane he is rearing Adèle in order to expiate the sins of his youth.
In Chapter 15, Rochester tells Jane about his passion for Céline Varens, a French opera-dancer whom he naively believed loved him. One night, however, Céline arrived home with another man and they mocked Rochester's "deformities"; Rochester overheard the conversation and immediately ended the relationship. Céline told Rochester that Adèle was his daughter, but he isn't sure because she doesn't look anything like him. Several years later, Céline abandoned her daughter and ran away to Italy with a musician. Although he refuses to recognize Adèle as his daughter, Rochester took pity on the abandoned and destitute child and brought her to England.
At two o'clock one morning, Jane hears a demoniac laugh outside of her bedroom door and the sound of fingers brushing against the panels. She thinks it might be Pilot, Rochester's dog, wandering the hallways, but then she hears a door opening. Going into the hallway, she sees smoke billowing from Rochester's room. She rushes into his chamber and discovers the curtains on fire and his bed surrounded by tongues of flame. Unable to wake him, she deluges the bed with water. Rochester won't let Jane call for help; instead, he says that he must pay a visit to the third floor. He tells Jane that Grace Poole was the culprit and then thanks her warmly for saving his life. He asks Jane to keep the incident a secret.
Early critics of the novel, such as Elizabeth Rigby, objected to Rochester's character, finding him "coarse and brutal." In her opinion, the novel as a whole showed an unwholesome "coarseness of language and laxity of tone." The conversation between Jane and Rochester in these chapters was shocking to a Victorian audience; as Rochester himself admits, telling the story of his affair with an opera-dancer to an inexperienced girl seems odd. He justifies his action by arguing that Jane's strong character is not likely to "take infection" from this tale of immorality; indeed, he claims that he cannot "blight" Jane, but she might "refresh" him. Again, Rochester hopes that his relationship with Jane will bring innocence and freshness back into his life.
Just as women need to lead active lives, Brontë argues, they should not be sheltered from life's seamier side. Not only does the Rochester's past reveal his growing faith in Jane, it also shows the Byronic side of his nature. Like Lord Byron, a romantic, passionate, and cynical poet of the early nineteenth century, Rochester let himself be ruled by his "grande passion" for Céline, despite its immorality. Rochester is not afraid to flout social conventions. This is also apparent in his developing relationship with Jane; rather than maintaining the proper class boundaries, Rochester makes Jane feel "as if he were my relation rather than my master."
Rochester's responses to Adèle provide insights on his past life, which help identity the reasons for his attraction to Jane. Adèle Varens provides Rochester with a daily reminder of his past indiscretions. Attracted to luxury, to satin robes and silk stockings, Adèle displays a materialism Rochester dislikes primarily because it reminds him of her mother, Céline Varens, who charmed the "English gold" out of his "British breeches." Emphasizing his British innocence, Rochester's comments are ethnocentric, but they also show that he dislikes the "artificiality" and the materialism of women who, like Céline, are pleased with "nothing but gold dust."
Rochester continues to create a contrast between Céline's superficiality and Jane's sincerity. While Céline pretended to admire his physical appearance, for example, Jane honestly tells him that she doesn't find him handsome. Céline presents an unsavory model of femininity, but also an image of unattractive foreignness. Jane's comment implies that the English, unlike their French neighbors, are deep, rather than superficial, spiritual rather than materialistic. Not only does the novel question class and gender roles, but it also develops a specific ideal of Britishness. Jane provides a prototype of the proper English woman, who is frank, sincere, and lacking in personal vanity. Rochester is intrigued by the honesty of Jane's conversation and the spirituality of her drawings, which clearly contrast with the values of the women with whom he has previously consorted. Honestly admitting that his life hasn't been admirable, Rochester is now looking for happiness, for "sweet, fresh pleasure." Rochester's goal is self-transformation, a reformation to be enacted through his relationships with women.
The end of Chapter 15 takes a strange, almost supernatural turn. Beginning with Rochester's revelation of his illicit passion for Céline Varens, the chapter, not insignificantly, ends with an image of "tongues of flame" darting around his bed. Rochester's sexual indiscretions have become literalized in the vision of his burning bed, an excess that Jane douses. The scene foreshadows Jane's role in channeling Rochester's sexual profligacy into a properly domestic, reproductive passion. Jane's final dream also foreshadows the direction of her relationship with Rochester: She is "tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea, where billows of trouble rolled under surges of joy." Unable to reach the "sweet hills" that await her, Jane must remain for awhile in the unquiet sea. Recognizing her growing love for Rochester, Jane's unconscious warns her that their relationship will be a rocky one. Rather than letting herself be blown around by the chaos of passion and delirium, she should maintain her sense and judgment. In this novel, the bounds of reality continually expand, so that dreams and visions have as much validity as reason.
Rencontre a meeting.
petit coffre a small trunk.
Ma boîte my box.
Tiens-toi tranquille, enfant; comprends-tu? Be quiet, child; do you understand?
Oh, ciel! Que c'est beau! Oh, heaven! Isn't it beautiful!
tête-à-tête in private conversation.
et j'y tiens and I firmly believe it.
Il faut que je l'essaie! et à l'instant même! I must try it on! right now!
Est-ce que ma robe . . . vais danser! Do you like my dress? and my shoes? and my stockings? Watch, I'm going to dance!
Monsieur, je vous . . . monsieur? Sir, I thank you a million times for your generosity. Mother did it like this, didn't she, Sir?
comme cela like that.
grande passion a great love.
taille d'athlète athletic build.
Mon ange my angel.
voiture a carriage.
porte cochère a carriage entranceway.
vicomte a viscount.
beauté mâle male beauty.
fillette a little girl.