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Jane Eyre: Did Mrs. Fairfax know?

18th-19th Century Britain

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1waiting4morning
Jan 26, 2007, 3:07pm Top

On a LiveJournal group I belong to, I posted a question that I've always wondered about Jane Eyre *spoilers to follow*

Do you think that Mrs. Fairfax knew about Bertha Mason? It seems incredible to me that she would not know of the madwoman in the attic, but then again she never makes a direct reference to her, even when Jane and Rochester are about to be married and if she had known, I can't imagine that she would have let bigamy go on under her nose. Also, Mrs. Fairfax isn't mentioned in the last part of the novel. Where did she go?

Here's my theory that, I think, answers the questions:

Mrs. Fairfax did know about Bertha Mason-Rochester, however, her fear of bigamy came into play when Blanche Ingram came into the picture. Mrs. Fairfax, now feeling that something must be done, but isn't quite sure what until Mr. Mason shows up unexpectedly at Thornfield during the Ingrams's visit. She's either too embarrased to talk to Mr. Mason about so "delicate" a matter, or perhaps didn't know how to confront him without arousing her master's suspicion, so she writes Mr. Mason a letter, and, being the housekeeper, puts it in his belongings, hoping that Mason will confront Rochester about it privately as a gentleman. But something happens that she did not anticipate; Mason visits his sister, gets injured, and has to leave hurriedly. He's too ill (with his injury and possible emotional issues resulting from seeing his sister like that and getting bitten by her) to notice the letter in his luggage. So he gets back to Jamaica, deals with catching up issues around his estate and finally notices the letter around this time. Mrs. Fairfax is too well-bred to say "bigamy" bluntly; she probably beat about the bush quite a bit, and since Mr. Mason isnt' portrayed as the most intelligent of men, it probably took awhile to figure out that she was worried about Rochester's seeming infatuation with Blanche and the marriage that everyone spoke of. Naturally, he goes back to England as soon as possible (perhaps there are pressing issues with the family estate that he has to take care of before he leaves), but upon arriving, finds, to his surprise and Mrs. Fairfax's, that it is not Blanche at all, but quiet little Jane Eyre.

Rochester probably found out about her attempt to warn Mason, or she was too horrified/embarrased/etc at the events that she left or was sent away. I don't think Rochester would fire her completely; she is family after all. She was probably given enough money for independence, but on the condition that she never bother his family again, and that's why she's not on stage when Jane goes back to him.

Any thoughts? Rebuttals? Different theories?

2sunnyday First Message
Jan 27, 2007, 10:09pm Top

Interesting theory...but...

In fact, Mason returns to England hoping to stop the marriage of Jane to Rochester. Jane wrote a letter to her Uncle in Madiera informing him of the coming marriage. Mason worked with Mr. Eyre and learned the news from him. (This is related in the section where Mason, Wood, Rochester, & Jane meet Bertha in the attic).

And, while, Mrs. Fairfax is not mentioned after Thornfield burned down, Jane is told by an innkeeper that Rochester had only "John and his wife: he would have none else. He is quite broken down, they say".

So, yes, I'm sure Mrs. Fairfax and other staff were pensioned off.

Did she know about Bertha? I think she knew of the madwoman, but, who she was in relation to Rochester? --I'm not sure...will have to reread more carefully and consider the question.

3waiting4morning
Jan 28, 2007, 7:54am Top

Ohh. I'd forgotten about Mr. Eyre! I'm in the middle of rereading the book now after a several year hiatus and many details had flown clean out of my mind.

Oh well, it was a fun theory :-)

4foodislove First Message
Edited: Jan 31, 2007, 1:47pm Top

Having just reread the book, the text doesn't make clear whether Mrs. Fairfax knows that Bertha is Mrs. Rochester, but I agree that it seems unlikely. She certainly knows of the madwoman, just not her relationship.

In Ch 17 Jane overhears a conversation between Leah, the housemaid, and another servant that they knew of Grace Poole's job and why she was paid such a handsome wage. They interrupt their conversation when they see Jane, and she concludes: "There was a mystery at Thornfield and I was purposefully excluded." We can surmise if Leah and other servants knew about Bertha, Mrs. Fairfax certainly did--in fact, many times she attributed the strange laughter to Grace Poole, which must have been deliberately to mislead Jane, who alone was kept ignorant.

I think Mrs. Fairfax's true affection for Jane is what made her disappointed in Jane and Rochester's engagement, and knowing that he kept a dangerous lunatic locked up on the third floor (with some obvious association) made her question whether he was good for the innocent Jane. She admonishes Jane on learning of the engagement: " ..you are so young and so little acquainted with men...; and in this case I do fear there will be found something different to what either you or I expect." The rest of her warnings to Jane are conventional: the tenor is that though Edward has asked to marry her, she may be in some danger of his compromising her before the wedding and then not going through with it as "Gentlemen in his station are not accustomed to marry their governesses." Jane, while hurt, heeds these warnings, and keeps Edward at a distance throughout the month of their engagement.

After the aborted wedding, Edward confesses to Jane that he kept (and presumably ordered the servants to keep) the existance of Bertha from Jane because he didn't believe a governess would stay in "the mad-woman's neighborhood." Edward himself doesn't know what Mrs. Fairfax knows or doesn't know: "She Grace Poole and the surgeon Carter..., are the only two I have ever admitted to my confidence. Mrs. Fairfax may indeed have suspected something, but she could have gained no precise knowledge as to facts." He also explains in this passage that his father and brother had kept the match a secret in England on Edward's urging in a letter that disclosed Bertha's "infamous conduct" after Edward & Bertha were married in Jamaica.

And yes, the the innkeeper at the Rochester Arms tells Jane that Edward sent Mrs. Fairfax away to friends and provided her a handsome annuity after Jane ran away, which explains what became of her.

My thought is that if Mrs. Fairfax didn't know, she certainly suspected something unwholesome. Several times in the novel, people (the innkeeper included) are said to whisper that the madwoman had perhaps been Edward's mistress; maybe Mrs. Fairfax shared that view.

I agree with waiting4morning that if she knew about the previous marriage, she would not have gone along with the plans for Jane and Edward's wedding.

5tomcatMurr
Mar 2, 2007, 12:28am Top

Maybe the narrator made a mistake....
This is my take on JE.

http://thelectern.blogspot.com/2007/02/jane-eyre-charlotte-bronte.html

6gzayas First Message
Jan 29, 2008, 9:49am Top

Hello, everybody, I've just entered this conversation. You''ll have to excuse my english, as it is not my language.
I've wondered also if Mrs Fairfaix knew... She did, certainly, but...
I think perhaps she thought Bertha had been in the past some kind of inconvinient acquaintance to Mr. Rochester who was taking care of her in her despair and illness, just as he did on Adèle, even when everybody thought Adèle was not at all his daughter (in the book it is said she has not the least resemblance to him).
I think Mrs. Faifaix would step out, as you say, because he did'nt want people around, but also, because probably, she made Mr Rochester clear how bad his behavior was to the innocent and young Jane.
This is my theory.
Saluti!

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