Mr. Rochester continued blind the first two years of our union: perhaps it was that circumstance that drew us so very near — that knit us so very close; for I was then his vision, as I am still his right. Literally, I was (what he often called me) the apple of his eye. He saw nature — he saw books through me; and never did I weary of gazing for his behalf, and of putting into words the effect of field, tree, town, river, cloud, sunbeam — of the landscape before us; of the weather round us — and impressing by sound on his ear what light could no longer stamp on his eye. (Brontë, 475)

If a dread of not being understood be hidden in the breasts of other young people to anything like the extent to which it used to be hidden in mine... it is the key to many reservations. I felt convinced that if I described Miss Havisham's as my eyes had seen it, I should not be understood. Not only that, but I felt convinced that Miss Havisham, too, would not be understood; and although she was perfectly incomprehensible to me, I entertained an impression that there would be something coarse and treacherous in my dragging her as she really was (to say nothing of Miss Estella) before the contemplation of Mrs. Joe. (Dickens, 60)

decorated initial 'I'n Dickens' Great Expectations, much of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Gargery's experiences of a class above theirs must be achieved vicariously: namely through Pip as he goes back and forth to Miss Havisham's. However, in Brontë's Jane Eyre, no such previous dependence on indirect experience between Jane and Rochester occur, until Rochester's injury which cripples his hand and blinds him. The fire in which Rochester received his hurts, however, cleansed him of his previous wife, the unethical money he lived on, and the dominating position he held Jane under. Thus, the new relationship forged between Jane and a new Rochester, according to Brontë, knits them very close and happy. Jane becomes Rochester's hand and eyes, becomes the controller of how he moves and perceives — she does literally become “the apple of his eye." An empowered woman, why should not Jane be content and why should not Brontë, a female writer, pass anything but the best of judgments over this unequal arrangement. Pip, however, in his childlike way, understands the problems of vicarious experience. He worries his account of the Havisham “would not be understood," nor would his account of Miss Havisham herself. Moreover, the word coarse has made such an impression on him from Estella, that Pip worries whether his station allows him to drag Miss Havisham “as she really was... before the contemplation of Mrs. Joe Gargey." Pip, then, is acutely aware of how his and Mrs. Joe's lower class standing to Miss Havisham's limits the observations he may make, whereas between Rochester and Jane, the previous class distinctions have disintegrated, allowing information to pass freely.

Jane has found a way over social as well as gender barriers. Her marriage, therefore, presents itself as an exceptional relationship for the period. Queen Victoria herself, remarked upon marriage as a “great happiness... in devoting oneself to another who is worthy of one's affection; still, men are very selfish and the woman's devotion is always one of submission which makes our poor sex so very unenviable... it cannot be otherwise as God has willed it so." ("The Women Question," Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 2) That Jane has devoted herself remains true; however, to say that her role is one of submission does not hold. Rather, all of Rochester's sensory experience depends itself upon Jane, making him submissive. Fortunately for Pip and other Victorian men in his dilemma, they do not need to concern themselves with moving beyond this sort of gender discrimination, but only with rising above their stations.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens

Last modified 1996