In Chapter 19 of Bronte's Jane Eyre, why does Rochester ask Jane whether she will support him even if she must stand against society?
In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Chapter Nineteen has revolved around a house party at Thornfield where Miss Ingram, her mother and other members of the elite society (of which Rochester is a part) have been staying. On this particular night, there was a "gypsy" to entertain the group, and a newcomer has arrived. Jane tells Rochester it is a Mr. Mason, newly arrived from Jamaica in the West Indies. The news rocks Rochester's usual stoic cynicism. Jane goes to get a glass of wine for him, noting the occupants of the room where the rest of the party has gathered to eat—all in very high spirits.
The conversation that ensues between Jane and Rochester is foreshadowing, for Edward Rochester has a dark secret housed in his heart, as well as his estate.
Rochester closely questions Jane as to how she would react if society spat on him, turned him away and removed him from its company. Jane is loyal and steadfast, promising that she would support him as she would any friend wrongfully treated, even if society included her in its displeasure:
“If all these people came in a body and spat at me, what would you do, Jane?”
“Turn them out of the room, sir, if I could.”
He half smiled. “But if I were to go to them and they only looked at me coldly, and whispered sneeringly among each other, and then dropped off and left me one by one, what then? Would you go with them?”
“I rather think not, sir: I should have more pleasure in staying with you.”
“To comfort me?”
“Yes, sir, to comfort you, as well as I could.”
“And if they laid you under a ban for adhering to me?”
“I, probably, should know nothing about their ban, and if I did, I should care nothing about it.”
“Then, you could dare censure for my sake?”
“I could dare it for the sake of any friend who deserved my adherence, as you, I am sure, do.”
It will not be long before Rochester's secret will be exposed to the world.
When this scene takes place, Rochester is trying to ascertain whether Jane cares enough about him to remain by his side when society turns its nose up at him. The secret will ultimately be revealed by Mr. Mason, who Rochester is actually related to. Through misadventure, Mason is hurt and ends up leaving quickly that night, but later—at the time when Rochester and Jane are closer than they have ever been— Mason will arrive on the scene again and shatter Rochester and Jane's world, exposing the secret that Rochester has been harboring for many years.
Rochester, we can infer, has warm feelings for Jane and he is wondering if a secret that would rock the foundations of society would drive her away. He is realistic enough to know that his secret will be known sooner or later. This is why he asks about her dedication. Jane reassures him that she will remain by his side in the event that tragedy strikes, for Jane cares deeply for Rochester.