Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: Ch. 15

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Chapter XV

Mr. Rochester did, on a future occasion, explain it.  It was one afternoon, when he chanced to meet me and Adèle in the grounds: and while she played with Pilot and her shuttlecock, he asked me to walk up and down a long beech avenue within sight of her.

He then said that she was the daughter of a French opera-dancer, Céline Varens, towards whom he had once cherished what he called a “grande passion.”  This passion Céline had professed to return with even superior ardour.  He thought himself her idol, ugly as he was: he believed, as he said, that she preferred his taille d’athlètew to the elegance of the Apollo Belvidere.h

“And, Miss Eyre, so much was I flattered by this preference of the Gallic sylph for her British gnome, that I installed her in an hotel;w gave her a complete establishment of servants, a carriage, cashmeres, diamonds, dentelles,w &c.  In short, I began the process of ruining myself in the received style, like any other spoony.w  I had not, it seems, the originality to chalk out a new road to shame and destruction, but trode the old track with stupid exactness not to deviate an inch from the beaten centre.  I had—as I deserved to have—the fate of all other spoonies.  Happening to call one evening when Céline did not expect me, I found her out; but it was a warm night, and I was tired with strolling through Paris, so I sat down in her boudoir; happy to breathe the air consecrated so lately by her presence.  No,—I exaggerate; I never thought there was any consecrating virtue about her: it was rather a sort of pastille perfume she had left; a scent of musk and amber, than an odour of sanctity.  I was just beginning to stifle with the fumes of conservatory flowers and sprinkled essences, when I bethought myself to open the window and step out on to the balcony.  It was moonlight and gaslight besides, and very still and serene.  The balcony was furnished with a chair or two; I sat down, and took out a cigar,—I will take one now, if you will excuse me.”

Here ensued a pause, filled up by the producing and lighting of a cigar; having placed it to his lips and breathed a trail of Havannah incense on the freezing and sunless air, he went on—

“I liked bonbons too in those days, Miss Eyre, and I was croquantw—(overlook the barbarism)—croquant chocolate comfits, and smoking alternately, watching meantime the equipages that rolled along the fashionable streets towards the neighbouring opera-house, when in an elegant close carriage drawn by a beautiful pair of English horses, and distinctly seen in the brilliant city-night, I recognised the ‘voiturew’ I had given Céline.  She was returning: of course my heart thumped with impatience against the iron rails I leant upon.  The carriage stopped, as I had expected, at the hotel door; my flame (that is the very word for an opera inamorataw) alighted: though muffed in a cloak—an unnecessary encumbrance, by-the-bye, on so warm a June evening—I knew her instantly by her little foot,w seen peeping from the skirt of her dress, as she skipped from the carriage-step.  Bending over the balcony, I was about to murmur ‘Mon ange’w—in a tone, of course, which should be audible to the ear of love alone—when a figure jumped from the carriage after her; cloaked also; but that was a spurred heel which had rung on the pavement, and that was a hatted head which now passed under the arched porte cochèrew of the hotel.

“You never felt jealousy, did you, Miss Eyre?  Of course not: I need not ask you; because you never felt love.  You have both sentiments yet to experience: your soul sleeps; the shock is yet to be given which shall waken it.  You think all existence lapses in as quiet a flowd as that in which your youth has hitherto slid away.  Floating on with closed eyes and muffled ears, you neither see the rocks bristling not far off in the bed of the flood, nor hear the breakers boil at their base.  But I tell you—and you may mark my words—you will come some day to a craggy pass in the channel, where the whole of life’s stream will be broken up into whirl and tumult, foam and noise: either you will be dashed to atoms on crag points, or lifted up and borne on by some master-wave into a calmer current—as I am now.

“I like this day; I like that sky of steel; I like the sternness and stillness of the world under this frost.  I like Thornfield, its antiquity, its retirement, its old crow-trees and thorn-trees, its grey façade, and lines of dark windows reflecting that metal welkin:w and yet how long have I abhorred the very thought of it, shunned it like a great plague-house?w  How I do still abhor—”

X [w] “taille d’athlète”

Athlete's shape. Jane earlier referred to his athletic build, broad and thin-flanked.

X [h] Apollo Belvidere.

Arts

The Apollo Belvedere (Brontë uses a literal spelling of Latin "videre," to see), discovered in the late 15th c., was for centuries regarded as the paradigm of male beauty.

The marble statue is a Roman copy of what is believed to have been a Greek bronze from about 320 B.C.E. The statue prefigures the appearance of a man later in the novel.

X [w] hotel;

A large townhouse.

X [w] dentelles,

Laces.

X [w] spoony.

Simpleton, fool.

X [w] croquant

Manners & Morals

Crunching...chocolate (hard). A comfit is a small sweet sometimes encased in hardened sugar.  Presumably the "barbarism" is the noise he's making crunching the candies, something he'd not do when in company. 

X [w] voiture

Transportation

Carriage.

X [w] inamorata

Female lover, mistress.

X [w] her little foot,

19th-c. England had a fixation upon little feet and little hands on women, as Thackeray and Dickens, among others, attest.

X [w] ‘Mon ange’

My angel. 

X [w] porte cochère

Transportation

The covered area at the entrance to a house or hotel under which passengers can leave or enter vehicles.

X [d] You think all existence lapses in as quiet a …

Although Rochester was good at analyzing the watercolors, he seems to have forgotten what they portend.

X [w] welkin:

Writing & Reading

The sky or vault of heaven, here envisioned as metal, which is to say overcast.

Rochester began the paragraph speaking of "that sky of steel." "Welkin" originates in Old English and by the 16th c. was regarded as obsolete, its use nearly confined to poetry. For Rochester to employ it here is learned but affected and another instance of the novel's fondness for rhetorical peculiarities. The paragraph beginning "We were ascending" will supply further evidence of Rochester's hybrid language. 

X [w] plague-house?

Places

A house the authorities designated by some sign as having occupants with the plague.