Charlotte Brontë and Defensive Conduct: The Author and the Body at Risk

By Janet Gezari | Go to book overview
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3. In Defense of Vision: The Eye in Jane Eyre

When Rochester disguises himself as a gypsy fortune-teller and forecasts Jane's destiny, he prefers looking at her face to looking in her palm and pays particular attention to her eyes:

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. It turns from me; it will not suffer farther scrutiny; it seems to deny, by a mocking glance, the truth of the discoveries I have already made,--to disown the charge both of sensibility and chagrin: its pride and reserve only confirm me in my opinion. The eye is favourable. ( II, 4, 251)

Like "amiable," "favourable" looks in two directions. A favorable eye is one that wins favor as well as one that confers it. In fortune-telling, a favorable eye is also propitious, boding well for a particular design. Such discriminating attention to the operations of the eye is a distinguishing feature of the novel Brontë began writing in Manchester, where her father was being treated for cataracts and where the manuscript of The Professor "came back upon her hands, curtly rejected by some publisher, on the very day when her father was to submit to his operation."1Jane Eyre registers these two events--the denial of Brontë's vision as a writer and the threat to her father's sight--not only in one of its central events, the blinding of Rochester, but also in its representation of seeing, being the object of sight, and looking as the essential forms of relatedness at every stage of Jane Eyre's experience.

In what follows, I look closely at Jane's being looked at punishingly by others and lovingly by Rochester, and at Jane's own looking, ahead at a prospect or prospects, at Rochester, and finally for him. The language Brontë uses to describe the facts of perception supports J. L. Austin's observation that these facts are "much more diverse and complicated than has

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