This post is part of this year’s April Challenge to write a post a day. I’ve chosen to write about my greatest literary passion: Jane Eyre. Today I’m going to show you a lesser known aspect of this novel. I’ll tell you about the many characters in Jane Eyre who lie. I’ll also be revealing an imperfect Jane, because I’ll be telling you about Jane Eyre’s own lies to us, her Dear Reader, and other characters in the novel.
Liars in Jane Eyre
“Deceit is, indeed, a sad fault in a child,’ said Mr. Brocklehurst; ‘it is akin to falsehood, and all liars will have their portion in the lake burning with fire and brimstone.”
Jane was severely humiliated at Lowood by standing on a stool and being called a liar by Mr. Brocklehurst.
After descending from the stool, Jane says, “…so overwhelming was the grief that seized me, I sank prostrate with my face to the ground. Now I wept: Helen Burns was not here; nothing sustained me; left to myself I abandoned myself, and my tears watered the boards.”
Throughout the whole novel Jane is excessively concerned with her Dear Reader believing her. It seems Jane wants the Dear Reader to know she’s not a liar, but her autobiography is full of lies, including her own.
In her autobiography, Jane tells us all about her life from her childhood to her marriage to Mr. Rochester, with great detail, in a moving, heart-felt story.
Jane is a powerful narrator, because she convinces the reader of her honesty. We believe her completely while she is at Gateshead with her cruel Aunt Reed, we continue to believe her while she is at Lowood, and even during her first months at Thornfield, we are mostly with her a hundred per cent, but after that, our trust begins to waver.
Jane becomes unreliable when she falls in love with Mr. Rochester. She becomes his spokesperson: a liar, too, albeit unwittingly, or perhaps not.
Readers are aware that when a story is told in the first person, it must be, at least partially unreliable, because the main character cannot know all the truth or facts, and must rely on the information other characters give her. We believe many of her characters’ lies, because Jane believes them.
Unreliable narrators add more complexity to the story, because they don’t tell the truth, and the reader needs to read the narrative more closely and make his/her own decisions about the veracity of events narrated.
The extent to which Jane believes the lies, because she wishes to believe them, is up for discussion.
Was Jane the only person in the house who didn’t know Bertha was there, in spite of seeing her once, before her marriage, when she tore her veil? Why did she always believe others’ accounts of the laughter and strange noises on the third floor? When Mr. Mason was attacked by someone in the attic, why didn’t she ask who it had been?
Did Jane prefer not to know about the pretense in the attic?
Perhaps she did, at the time the events occurred, but what about years later? There are two Janes in Jane Eyre. The naïve, 19-year-old Jane, and the mature Jane who writes the autobiography ten years after events occurred. The mature Jane has had plenty of time to grow up and realize that she might have been too naïve, at the time. Nevertheless, the older 29-year-old narrator maintains the pretense of Mr. Rochester’s innocence. Why? Why is the older Jane narrator even more unreliable than the young Jane?
Let’s look at the reasons why some narrators don’t tell us the truth:
- They can be naïve.
- They can be mentally unstable.
- They can be liars who are purposefully misleading.
I’d say Jane becomes unreliable for all of the above reasons.
Firstly she is naïve, she was not only nineteen when she met Mr. Rochester, and she had led a sheltered life, not having left Lowood Institution for the length of her stay, eight long years. She had met very few men, probably only Mr. Brocklehurst and the local vicar, and had no experience of real life outside those walls.
Jane believes all the lies other characters tell her, and practically everyone in the novel lies to her. Her aunt lies to her, Mr. Rochester, and the servants at Eyre Hall, including Mrs. Fairfax.
Secondly, she suffered a transitory mental instability; she was in love, or rather madly and hopelessly in love with her employer, Mr. Rochester. Recent scientific research has investigated the chemical storm that romantic love can trigger in our brains. Dr. Frank Tallis, has gone as far as to write a book about love as a mental illness called Love Sick.
Finally, I hate to say this, but I believe Jane, the 29-year-old narrator, is also purposefully misleading. Why? Because she wants us to love ‘her Mr. Rochester’, the man she has fallen in love with, as much as she does. She wants us to forgive him, respect him, and love him, because she needs her Dear Reader’s complicity. Consequently, she accepts his lies, forgives him, embellishes his treatment of Bertha, Adele, Blanche, and herself, so that we will see him as she does, and love him.
Jane purposefully, and successfully, manipulates her Dear Reader into loving Mr. Rochester.
She’s in love and we all know love is blind. When St. John Rivers suggests Mr. Rochester behaved incorrectly:
‘He must have been a bad man,’ observed Mr. Rivers.
‘You don’t know him—don’t pronounce an opinion upon him,’ I said, with warmth.
What? What’s to know? He lied to you, repeatedly.
Mr. Rochester is clearly unreliable because he is a compulsive liar, constantly trying to convince Jane of his innocence. He’s also selfish and immature; someone else is always to blame for his problems.
Mr. Rochester has told Adele her mother is dead, yet he later confesses to Jane that her mother fled to Italy with an opera singer and abandoned the child in Paris.
The truth is that he married a rich heiress for her money, locked her in his attic, had an illegitimate child in France, the child’s mother is not dead, he had no intention of marrying Blanche Ingram, he was not ruined, he insisted he was a bachelor, he tricked Jane into a bigamous marriage. When all else failed, he offered to make Jane his mistress, which would have compromised her future and ruined any chances of having a family, and he knew it.
Lies are hurtful. The person who is lied to is deprived of any control over their future because they cannot make an unbiased decision. They are not fully informed about their possible courses of action, so they may make a decision that they would not otherwise have made.
Jane’s power of decision is withdrawn by Mr. Rochester’s lies. If Jane had known Mr. Rochester was married, she would probably have behaved differently.
Finally, we must remember that Jane herself lied on several occasions.
She lied to Mr. Rochester when she told him she had no family. On her behalf, she was communicating someone else’s lie; her Aunt Reed’s.
She lied by omission to Mr. Rochester, when she didn’t tell him about her cruel aunt or her hard days at Lowood. She did not wish him to see her as an unwanted or humiliated young girl, so she omitted those details of her life, which she only tells her Dear Reader.
She blatantly lies herself, by inventing a false identity, including a false name, when she tells her cousins her name is Jane Elliott. The reason is self-preservation, but it seems she would have put up with the pretense forever if necessary. She didn’t own up, or tell her cousins the truth, she was found out by St. John.
Finally, Jane, the mature narrator, lies to us, her Dear Reader, by insisting on Rochester’s innocence and her naiveté ten years after events occurred.
In summary, almost every character lies or is lied to.
Aunt Reed: Lies about Jane’s uncle and cousins.
Cousin John: Denies his abusive behavior to Jane.
Cousins Georgiana and Lizzie: Ignore their brother’s abusive behavior and support his lies (by omission).
Mr. Brocklehurst: Says her aunt is pious and charitable.
Miss Temple: Doesn’t tell Jane she’s getting married and leaving Lowood (lying by omission).
Mrs. Fairfax: Said there were no ghosts or other persons at Thornfield Hall.
Leah and Grace Poole: Support Mrs. Fairfax account (lying by omission).
Mr Rochester: Claims to be unmarried, insists Adele’s not his daughter, says Adele’s mother is dead, leads Jane to believe he’ll marry Blanche Ingram, leads the Ingrams to believe he’s been ruined. (There are many more lies I cannot prove, but infer from the narrative, related to the fire, Bertha’s death and his father and brother’s deaths).
Adele: Claims her mother is dead.
Jane: Omits details about her days at Gateshead and Lowood. Gives a false identity at Moor House.
The only truthful characters are Helen, who dies in her arms at Lowood, and Ironically, her cousins are the only people young Jane lies to directly and purposefully.
So, do you still believe Jane and Mr. Rochester’s marriage, based on lies and passion, would have been happy in the long term?