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is one which the author has almost disarmed by making her mother a
Frenchwoman. The construction of this little clever monster is
diabolically French. Such a _lusus naturae_ as a woman without a heart
and conscience would, in England, be a mere brutal savage, and poison
half a village. France is the land for the real Syren, with the woman's
face and the dragon's claws. The genus of Pigeon and Laffarge claims it
for its own - only that our heroine takes a far higher class by not
requiring the vulgar matter of fact of crime to develop her full powers.
It is an affront to Becky's tactics to believe that she could ever be
reduced to so low a resource, or, that if she were, anybody would find
it out. We, therefore, cannot sufficiently applaud the extreme
discretion with which Mr. Thackeray has hinted at the possibly assistant
circumstances of Joseph Sedley's dissolution. A less delicacy of
handling would have marred the harmony of the whole design. Such a
casualty as that suggested to our imagination was not intended for the
light net of Vanity Fair to draw on shore; it would have torn it to
pieces. Besides it is not wanted. Poor little Becky is bad enough to
satisfy the most ardent student of "good books." Wickedness, beyond a
certain pitch, gives no increase of gratification even to the sternest
moralist; and one of Mr. Thackeray's excellences is the sparing quantity
he consumes. The whole _use_, too, of the work - that of generously
measuring one another by this standard - is lost, the moment you convict
Becky of a capital crime. Who can, with any face, liken a dear friend to
a murderess? Whereas now there are no little symptoms of fascinating
ruthlessness, graceful ingratitude, or ladylike selfishness, observable
among our charming acquaintance, that we may not immediately detect to
an inch, and more effectually intimidate by the simple application of
the Becky gauge than by the most vehement use of all ten commandments.
Thanks to Mr. Thackeray, the world is now provided with an _idea_,
which, if we mistake not, will be the skeleton in the corner of every
ball-room and boudoir for a long time to come. Let us leave it intact in
its unique fount and freshness - a Becky, and nothing more. We should,
therefore, advise our readers to cut out that picture of our heroine's
"Second Appearance as Clytemnestra," which casts so uncomfortable a
glare over the latter part of the volume, and, disregarding all hints
and inuendoes, simply to let the changes and chances of this moral life
have due weight in their minds. Jos had been much in India. His was a
bad life; he ate and drank most imprudently, and his digestion was not
to be compared with Becky's. No respectable office would have ensured
"Waterloo Sedley."

"Vanity Fair" is pre-eminently a novel of the day - not in the vulgar
sense, of which there are too many, but as a literal photograph of the
manners and habits of the nineteenth century, thrown on to paper by the
light of a powerful mind; and one also of the most artistic effect. Mr.
Thackeray has a peculiar adroitness in leading on the fancy, or rather
memory of his readers from one set of circumstances to another by the
seeming chances and coincidences of common life, as an artist leads the
spectator's eye through the subject of his picture by a skilful
repetition of colour. This is why it is impossible to quote from his
book with any justice to it. The whole growth of the narrative is so
matted and interwoven together with tendril-like links and bindings,
that there is no detaching a flower with sufficient length of stalk to
exhibit it to advantage. There is that mutual dependence in his
characters which is the first requisite in painting every-day life: no
one is stuck on a separate pedestal - no one is sitting for his portrait.
There may be one exception - we mean Sir Pitt Crawley, senior; it is
possible, nay, we hardly doubt, that this baronet was closer drawn from
individual life than anybody else in the book; but granting that fact,
the animal was so unique an exception, that we wonder so shrewd an
artist could stick him into a gallery so full of our familiars. The
scenes in Germany, we can believe, will seem to many readers of an
English book hardly less extravagantly absurd - grossly and gratuitously
overdrawn; but the initiated will value them as containing some of the
keenest strokes of truth and humour that "Vanity Fair" exhibits, and not
enjoy them the less for being at our neighbour's expense. For the
thorough appreciation of the chief character they are quite
indispensable too. The whole course of the work may be viewed as the
_Wander-Jahre_ of a far cleverer female, _Wilhelm Meister_. We have
watched her in the ups-and-downs of life - among the humble, the
fashionable, the great, and the pious - and found her ever new, yet ever
the same; but still Becky among the students was requisite to complete
the full measure of our admiration.

"Jane Eyre," as a work, and one of equal popularity, is, in almost every
respect, a total contrast to "Vanity Fair." The characters and events,
though some of them masterly in conception, are coined expressly for the
purpose of bringing out great effects. The hero and heroine are beings
both so singularly unattractive that the reader feels they can have no
vocation in the novel but to be brought together; and they do things
which, though not impossible, lie utterly beyond the bounds of
probability. On this account a short sketch of the plan seems requisite;
not but what it is a plan familiar enough to all readers of novels -
especially those of the old school and those of the lowest school of our
own day. For Jane Eyre is merely another Pamela, who, by the force of
her character and the strength of her principles, is carried
victoriously through great trials and temptations from the man she
loves. Nor is she even a Pamela adapted and refined to modern notions;
for though the story is conducted without those derelictions of decorum
which we are to believe had their excuse in the manners of Richardson's
time, yet it stamped with a coarseness of language and laxity of tone
which have certainly no excuse in ours. It is a very remarkable book: we
have no remembrance of another combining such genuine power with such
horrid taste. Both together have equally assisted to gain the great
popularity it has enjoyed; for in these days of extravagant adoration of
all that bears the stamp of novelty and originality, sheer rudeness and
vulgarity have come in for a most mistaken worship.

The story is written in the first person. Jane begins with her earliest
recollections, and at once takes possession of the readers' intensest
interest by the masterly picture of a strange and oppressed child she
raises up in a few strokes before him. She is an orphan, and a dependant
in the house of a selfish, hard-hearted aunt, against whom the
disposition of the little Jane chafes itself in natural antipathy, till
she contrives to make the unequal struggle as intolerable to her
oppressor as it is to herself. She is, therefore, at eight years of age,
got rid of to a sort of Dothegirls Hall, where she continues to enlist
our sympathies for a time with her little pinched fingers, cropped hair,
and empty stomach. But things improve: the abuses of the institution are
looked into. The Puritan patron, who holds that young orphan girls are
only safely brought up upon the rules of La Trappe, is superseded by an
enlightened committee - the school assumes a sound English character -
Jane progresses duly from scholar to teacher, and passes ten profitable
and not unhappy years at Lowood. Then she advertises for a situation as
governess, and obtains one immediately in one of the midland counties.
We see her, therefore, as she leaves Lowood, to enter upon a new life - a
small, plain, odd creature, who has been brought up dry upon school
learning, and somewhat stunted accordingly in mind and body, and who is
now thrown upon the world as ignorant of its ways, and as destitute of
its friendships, as a shipwrecked mariner upon a strange coast.

Thornfield Hall is the property of Mr. Rochester - a bachelor addicted to
travelling. She finds it at first in all the peaceful prestige of an
English gentleman's seat when "nobody is at the hall." The companions
are an old decayed gentlewoman housekeeper - a far away cousin of the
squire's - and a young French child, Jane's pupil, Mr. Rochester's ward
and reputed daughter. There is a pleasing monotony in the summer
solitude of the old country house, with its comfort, respectability, and
dulness, which Jane paints to the life; but there is one circumstance
which varies the sameness and casts a mysterious feeling over the scene.
A strange laugh is heard from time to time in a distant part of the
house - a laugh which grates discordantly upon Jane's ear. She listens,
watches, and inquires, but can discover nothing but a plain matter of
fact woman, who sits sewing somewhere in the attics, and goes up and
down stairs peaceably to and from her dinner with the servants. But a
mystery there is, though nothing betrays it, and it comes in with
marvellous effect from the monotonous reality of all around. After
awhile Mr. Rochester comes to Thornfield, and sends for the child and
her governess occasionally to bear him company. He is a dark,
strange-looking man - strong and large - of the brigand stamp, with fine
eyes and lowering brows - blunt and sarcastic in his manners, with a kind
of misanthropical frankness, which seems based upon utter contempt for
his fellow-creatures and a surly truthfulness which is more rudeness than
honesty. With his arrival disappears all the prestige of country
innocence that had invested Thornfield Hall. He brings the taint of the
world upon him, and none of its illusions. The queer little governess is
something new to him. He talks to her at one time imperiously as to a
servant, and at another recklessly as to a man. He pours into her ears
disgraceful tales of his past life, connected with the birth of little
Adele, which any man with common respect for a woman, and that a mere
girl of eighteen, would have spared her; but which eighteen in this case
listens to as if it were nothing new, and certainly nothing distasteful.
He is captious and Turk-like - she is one day his confidant, and another
his unnoticed dependant. In short, by her account, Mr. Rochester is a
strange brute, somewhat in the Squire Western style of absolute and
capricious eccentricity, though redeemed in him by signs of a cultivated
intellect, and gleams of a certain fierce justice of heart. He has a
_mind_, and when he opens it at all, he opens it freely to her. Jane
becomes attached to her "master," as Pamela-like she calls him, and it
is not difficult to see that solitude and propinquity are taking effect
upon him also. An odd circumstance heightens the dawning romance. Jane
is awoke one night by that strange discordant laugh close to her ear -
then a noise as if hands feeling along the wall. She rises - opens her
door, finds the passage full of smoke, is guided by it to her master's
room, whose bed she discovers enveloped in flames, and by her timely aid
saves his life. After this they meet no more for ten days, when Mr.
Rochester returns from a visit to a neighbouring family, bringing with
him a housefull of distinguished guests; at the head of whom is Miss
Blanche Ingram, a haughty beauty of high birth, and evidently the
especial object of the Squire's attentions - upon which tumultuous
irruption Miss Eyre slips back into her naturally humble position.

Our little governess is now summoned away to attend her aunt's death-bed,
who is visited by some compunctions towards her, and she is absent
a month. When she returns Thornfield Hall is quit of all its guests, and
Mr. Rochester and she resume their former life of captious cordiality on
the one side, and diplomatic humility on the other. At the same time the
bugbear of Miss Ingram and of Mr. Rochester's engagement with her is
kept up, though it is easy to see that this and all concerning that lady
is only a stratagem to try Jane's character and affection upon the most
approved Griselda precedent. Accordingly an opportunity for explanation
ere long offers itself, where Mr. Rochester has only to take it. Miss
Eyre is desired to walk with him in shady alleys, and to sit with him on
the roots of an old chestnut-tree towards the close of evening, and of
course she cannot disobey her "master" - whereupon there ensues a scene
which, as far as we remember, is new equally in art or nature; in which
Miss Eyre confesses her love - whereupon Mr. Rochester drops not only his
cigar (which she seems to be in the habit of lighting for him) but his
mask, and finally offers not only heart, but hand. The wedding day is
soon fixed, but strange misgivings and presentiments haunt the young
lady's mind. The night but one before her bed-room is entered by a
horrid phantom, who tries on the wedding veil, sends Jane into a swoon
of terror, and defeats all the favourite refuge of a bad dream by
leaving the veil in two pieces. But all is ready. The bride has no
friends to assist - the couple walk to church - only the clergyman and the
clerk are there - but Jane's quick eye has seen two figures lingering
among the tombstones, and these two follow them into church. The
ceremony commences, when at the due charge which summons any man to come
forward and show just cause why they should not be joined together, a
voice interposes to forbid the marriage. There is an impediment, and a
serious one. The bridegroom has a wife not only living, but living under
the very roof of Thornfield Hall. Hers was that discordant laugh which
had so often caught Jane's ear; she it was who in her malice had tried
to burn Mr. Rochester in his bed - who had visited Jane by night and torn
her veil, and whose attendant was that same pretended sew-woman who had
so strongly excited Jane's curiosity. For Mr. Rochester's wife is a
creature, half fiend, half maniac, whom he had married in a distant part
of the world, and whom now, in self-constituted code of morality, he had
thought it his right, and even his duty, to supersede by a more
agreeable companion. Now follow scenes of a truly tragic power. This is
the grand crisis in Jane's life. Her whole soul is wrapt up in Mr.
Rochester. He has broken her trust, but not diminished her love. He
entreats her to accept all that he still can give, his heart and his
home; he pleads with the agony not only of a man who has never known
what it was to conquer a passion, but of one who, by that same
self-constituted code, now burns to atone for a disappointed crime. There
is no one to help her against him or against herself. Jane had no friends
to stand by her at the altar, and she has none to support her now she is
plucked away from it. There is no one to be offended or disgraced at her
following him to the sunny land of Italy, as he proposes, till the
maniac should die. There is no duty to any one but to herself, and this
feeble reed quivers and trembles beneath the overwhelming weight of love
and sophistry opposed to it. But Jane triumphs; in the middle of the
night she rises - glides out of her room - takes off her shoes as she
passes Mr. Rochester's chamber; - leaves the house, and casts herself
upon a world more desert than ever to her -

Without a shilling and without a friend.

Thus the great deed of self-conquest is accomplished; Jane has passed
through the fire of temptation from without and from within; her
character is stamped from that day; we need therefore follow her no
further into wanderings and sufferings which, though not unmixed with
plunder from Minerva-lane, occupy some of, on the whole, the most
striking chapters in the book. Virtue of course finds her reward. The
maniac wife sets fire to Thornfield Hall, and perishes herself in the
flames. Mr. Rochester, in endeavouring to save her, loses the sight of
his eyes. Jane rejoins her blind master; they are married, after which
of course the happy man recovers his sight.

Such is the outline of a tale in which, combined with great materials
for power and feeling, the reader may trace gross inconsistencies and
improbabilities, and chief and foremost that highest moral offence a
novel writer can commit, that of making an unworthy character
interesting in the eyes of the reader. Mr. Rochester is a man who
deliberately and secretly seeks to violate the laws both of God and man,
and yet we will be bound half our lady readers are enchanted with him
for a model of generosity and honour. We would have thought that such a
hero had had no chance, in the purer taste of the present day; but the
popularity of Jane Eyre is a proof how deeply the love for illegitimate
romance is implanted in our nature. Not that the author is strictly
responsible for this. Mr. Rochester's character is tolerably consistent.
He is made as coarse and as brutal as can in all conscience be required
to keep our sympathies at a distance. In point of literary consistency
the hero is at all events impugnable, though we cannot say as much for
the heroine.

As to Jane's character - there is none of that harmonious unity about it
which made little Becky so grateful a subject of analysis - nor are the
discrepancies of that kind which have their excuse and their response in
our nature. The inconsistencies of Jane's character lie mainly not in
her own imperfections, though of course she has her share, but in the
author's. There is that confusion in the relations between cause and
effect, which is not so much untrue to human nature as to human art. The
error in Jane Eyre is, not that her character is this or that, but that
she is made one thing in the eyes of her imaginary companions, and
another in that of the actual reader. There is a perpetual disparity
between the account she herself gives of the effect she produces, and
the means shown us by which she brings that effect about. We hear
nothing but self-eulogiums on the perfect tact and wondrous penetration
with which she is gifted, and yet almost every word she utters offends
us, not only with the absence of these qualities, but with the positive
contrasts of them, in either her pedantry, stupidity, or gross
vulgarity. She is one of those ladies who puts us in the unpleasant
predicament of undervaluing their very virtues for dislike of the person
in whom they are represented. One feels provoked as Jane Eyre stands
before us - for in the wonderful reality of her thoughts and
descriptions, she seems accountable for all done in her name - with
principles you must approve in the main, and yet with language and
manners that offend you in every particular. Even in that _chef-d'oeuvre_
of brilliant retrospective sketching, the description of her
early life, it is the childhood and not the child that interests you.
The little Jane, with her sharp eyes and dogmatic speeches, is a being
you neither could fondle nor love. There is a hardness in her infantine
earnestness, and a spiteful precocity in her reasoning, which repulses
all our sympathy. One sees that she is of a nature to dwell upon and
treasure up every slight and unkindness, real or fancied, and such
natures we know are surer than any others to meet with plenty of this
sort of thing. As the child, so also the woman - an uninteresting,
sententious, pedantic thing; with no experience of the world, and yet
with no simplicity or freshness in its stead. What are her first answers
to Mr. Rochester but such as would have quenched all interest, even for
a prettier woman, in any man of common knowledge of what was nature - and
especially in a _blasé_ monster like him?

* * * * *

But the crowning scene is the offer - governesses are said to be sly on
such occasions, but Jane out-governesses them all - little Becky would
have blushed for her. They are sitting together at the foot of the old
chestnut tree, as we have already mentioned, towards the close of
evening, and Mr. Rochester is informing her, with his usual delicacy of
language, that he is engaged to Miss Ingram - "a strapper! Jane, a real
strapper!" - and that as soon as he brings home his bride to Thornfield,
she, the governess, must "trot forthwith" - but that he shall make it his
duty to look out for employment and an asylum for her - indeed, that he
has already heard of a charming situation in the depths of Ireland - all
with a brutal jocoseness which most women of spirit, unless grievously
despairing of any other lover, would have resented, and any woman of
sense would have seen through. But Jane, that profound reader of the
human heart, and especially of Mr. Rochester's, does neither. She meekly
hopes she may be allowed to stay where she is till she has found another
shelter to betake herself to - she does not fancy going to Ireland - Why?

"It is a long way off, Sir." "No matter - a girl of your sense will not
object to the voyage or the distance." "Not the voyage, but the
distance, Sir; and then the sea is a barrier - " "From what, Jane?"
"From England, and from Thornfield; and - " "Well?" "From _you_, Sir."
- vol. ii, p. 205.

and then the lady bursts into tears in the most approved fashion.

Although so clever in giving hints, how wonderfully slow she is in
taking them! Even when, tired of his cat's play, Mr. Rochester proceeds
to rather indubitable demonstrations of affection - "enclosing me in his
arms, gathering me to his breast, pressing his lips on my lips" - Jane
has no idea what he can mean. Some ladies would have thought it high
time to leave the Squire alone with his chestnut tree; or, at all
events, unnecessary to keep up that tone of high-souled feminine
obtusity which they are quite justified in adopting if gentlemen will
not speak out - but Jane again does neither. Not that we say she was
wrong, but quite the reverse, considering the circumstances of the case -
Mr. Rochester was her master, and "Duchess or nothing" was her first
duty - only she was not quite so artless as the author would have us
suppose.

But if the manner in which she secures the prize be not inadmissible
according to the rules of the art, that in which she manages it when
caught, is quite without authority or precedent, except perhaps in the
servants' hall. Most lover's play is wearisome and nonsensical to the
lookers on - but the part Jane assumes is one which could only be
efficiently sustained by the substitution of Sam for her master. Coarse
as Mr. Rochester is, one winces for him under the infliction of this
housemaid _beau idéal_ of the arts of coquetry. A little more, and we
should have flung the book aside to lie for ever among the trumpery with
which such scenes ally it; but it were a pity to have halted here, for
wonderful things lie beyond - scenes of suppressed feeling, more fearful
to witness than the most violent tornados of passion - struggles with
such intense sorrow and suffering as it is sufficient misery to know
that any one should have conceived, far less passed through; and yet
with that stamp of truth which takes precedence in the human heart
before actual experience. The flippant, fifth-rate, plebeian actress has
vanished, and only a noble, high-souled woman, bound to us by the
reality of her sorrow, and yet raised above us by the strength of her
will, stands in actual life before us. If this be Jane Eyre, the author
has done her injustice hitherto, not we.

* * * * *

We have said that this was the picture of a natural heart. This, to our
view, is the great and crying mischief of the book. Jane Eyre is
throughout the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined
spirit, and more dangerous to exhibit from that prestige of principle
and self-control which is liable to dazzle the eye too much for it to
observe the inefficient and unsound foundation on which it rests. It is
true Jane does right, and exerts great moral strength, but it is the
strength of a mere heathen mind which is a law unto itself. No Christian
grace is perceptible upon her. She has inherited in fullest measure the
worst sin of our fallen nature - the sin of pride. Jane Eyre is proud,
and therefore she is ungrateful too. It pleased God to make her an
orphan, friendless, and penniless - yet she thanks nobody, and least of
all Him, for the food and raiment, the friends, companions, and
instructors of her helpless youth - for the care and education vouchsafed
to her till she was capable in mind as fitted in years to provide for
herself. On the contrary, she looks upon all that has been done for her
not only as her undoubted right, but as falling far short of it. The



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