Jane Eyre question - unboxed spoilers within

So, I’m reading Jane Eyre for perhaps the 80th time. I recently saw the movie version starring William Hurt as Mr. Rochester, and I thoroughly approved this version. They kept a lot of the dialogue intact, Jane was appropriately plain, and Mr. Rochester was nicely-balanced between bitter and playful. I also like the actress playing Mrs. Fairfax, having seen her in many other movies. However, only for the first time did it occur to me: was Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper, in on the identity of the madwoman upstairs? That she knew Mr. Rochester kept a madwoman is obvious, but did she know that the woman is indeed Mrs. Rochester?

This movie made it seem so, and I’m going to pay close attention to clues to this fact as I re-read the book.

I don’t think Mrs. Fairfax knew the identity of the madwoman in the attic. She is a virtuous and upright woman, and would not knowingly help Mr. Rochester commit bigamy.

Just as a total aside, you might enjoy The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde… the protagonist (Thursday Next) gets caught in the book, behind the scenes.

I don’t think that Mrs Fairfax knew that it was Mrs Rochester. Possibly her ignorance involved a little bit of wilful blindness on her part?

Another vote for no. I don’t think there was any way Mrs. Fairfax would have allowed Jane (of whom she was quite fond) to become engaged to Rochester if she had know the madwoman was Mrs. Rochester. Mrs. Fairfax objected to the relationship on other grounds and would have spoken out.

I am reading the book online as we speak, and came across this bit:

'[Mrs. Fairfax]. . . I don’t think he has ever been resident at Thornfield for a fortnight together, since the death of his brother without a will left him master of the estate; and, indeed, no wonder he shuns the old place.”

“Why should he shun it?”

“Perhaps he thinks it gloomy.”

The answer was evasive. I should have liked something clearer; but Mrs. Fairfax either could not, or would not, give me more explicit information of the origin and nature of Mr. Rochester’s trials.’

Humph. This doesn’t sound promising for the housekeeper. I’ll keep reading.

Having just read The Eyre Affair, I’m dying to reread Jane Eyre. I haven’t read it in a long time, so I know I missed lots of the allusions. From what I remember though, I can’t imagine Mrs. Fairfax knew. That wouldn’t fit her personality at all. (I think I’ll get to it around Christmas…)

I haven’t read it in a while, but IIRC, at one point Mr. Rochester comments that he’s sure the vicar has heard rumors about the madwoman; some say it’s his sister, some say it’s an old mistress. Mrs. Fairfax would have known it wasn’t his sister, and while an old mistress speaks of a degraded and depraved past, the Fairfax had enough compassion and partiality for Rochester, and enough confidence in Jane’s abilities to keep him in line, that she wouldn’t necessarily have said anything to Jane about it.

I don’t think Mrs. Fairfax knew it was Rochester’s wife, either, although that may partially have been because she chose not to know.

I picked up Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair a couple of months ago and reread Jane Eyre because of it. I’m not completely hooked on Mr. Fforde’s stuff and am happily enjoying his third novel. His Thursday Next books are the most original things I’ve seen in years!

Mr. Rochester is quite a feminist, very bold for the 1840s.

“my bride is here because my equal is here, my second self, and best earthly companion”

Best portrayal of Jane Eyre by far was the one with Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke.

What would the proper thing to do if you had a crazy wife, be? Ship her off to the asylum? In that case, would divorce be an option?

If you were well off, it was probably kinder to keep her locked up at home rather than send to an asylum.

At that time in England, divorce could only be had through a private act of Parliament. I don’t know whether permanent insanity would have been regarded as an adequate reason for divorce, though I suspect that if you had enough money and influence they might have been.

One would hope.

So I suppose Rochester might have been doing the best he could do for his wife. If he couldn’t legally divorce her, it wasn’t due to lack of trying I’m sure. Keeping her locked up in the attic isn’t really enlightened by our standards, but I suppose it could’ve been worse.

Oh yes, the idea is that Rochester hates his wife, but being a decent man, gives her the best care possible. There just wasn’t anything better back then. Asylums were horrific places, and he’s doing the best he can.

I don’t think Mrs. Fairfax knew that she was his wife, though I think she assumes that the madwoman is an old mistress. After all, the little girl is also from a former mistress, and he’s taking care of her as well (another proof of his decency, especially when we find that she’s not even his own child).

I haven’t touched my copy in years, but I believe that Rochester mentions that it was too late for legal remedies, by which I took to mean that you couldn’t divorce an insane person. I may have misunderstood, though. He also mentions that it was legal at that time to keep an insane person on private premises as long as they had adequate care.

I also don’t think that Mrs. Fairfax knew about the first Mrs. Rochester. She wasn’t the kind of person, as others have mentioned, to let something like that go by. It would have gone against her principles.

Money and influence aside:

There’s more in here concerning the options open to Rochester and what motive he may have had in confining Bertha to Thornfield’s attic.

Isn’t this part left ambiguous? I think all the proof we really have from the text is Mr. Rochester’s belief he’s not the father–assuming he’s telling the truth when he tells Jane he doesn’t think he’s the father.

I’ve always read that as Father Rochester was a bad man, and E.Rochester had no happy memories of his childhood home.

Rochester talks about looking for himself in the child, and not seeing any. But I’ve often thought that Rochester’s distaste for his old mistress only permits him to see the flighty, dress-obsessed Adèle as her mother’s twin.
I sometimes think if we had seen the adult Adèle, we would have seen a more serious and sensible young woman, and perhaps Rochester might be able to see himself in her. Or not. Adèle is a necessary plot device to get Jane to the house. Whether or not she’s really Rochester’s natural child is only important as it exposits Rochester’s character.

This question has always intrigued me also! In addition to the “perhaps he thinks it gloomy” line already cited, there is her reaction to the news that Rochester is going to marry Jane – is she really concerned about their differences in age and status, or is Bronte trying to create a little mystery here?

And what does Mrs. Fairfax think Mrs. Poole does up there every day, all the time? I think Rochester tells Jane that only Mrs. Poole and Dr. Carter know about Bertha. Jane describes Mrs. Fairfax as being of average intelligence and not curious – she doesn’t know how to describe Mr. Rochester to Jane very well – and she seems to buy into the idea that gentry are our superiors and are Not to Be Questioned. While at least one of the movie or TV versions (I’m thinking of the TV version with Samantha Morton as Jane and Gemma Jones as Mrs. Fairfax) goes out of the way to make sure to establish that Mrs. F thought that it was Adele’s mother in the attic, I’ve always thought that Mr. Rochester just told her, “I’ve given Grace Poole a special job to do. She’ll be spending nearly all of her time up in the attic from now on, and you are not to interfere,” and that was good enough for her. Yeah, weak I know.

Re Rochester’s thoughts on Adele’s parentage – I think once he got burned by Celine’s cheating on him, he figured there’s no way to know how many men she may have been fooling around with, so in a time before DNA testing, how’s he supposed to know he’s the father? But on the off-chance that he is the father, or in any case to keep the poor kid from being raised in poverty and even danger, and because he wants to show God how hard he is trying to be a better man, he has her provided for in France for a few years before bringing her to Thornfield. He certainly doesn’t act like he thinks of her as his own daughter, though.

You simply must get your hands on the 2006 Masterpiece Theatre version with Toby Stephens as Rochester. He’s great, although personally I still think Timothy Dalton is the champ. Of course I am looking forward to seeing Michael Fassbender in the role (if it comes here – I may have to wait for the DVD. Arghhh!).