In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, what is Rochester's response to the hag that he describes as his destiny—a hag who dares him to like Thornfield?
In Charlotte' Bronte's Jane Eyre, Rochester is recalling his affair with little Adele's mother. The memory is difficult in recalling its end, but Rochester admits to Jane that he has found a calmer place in his life now...at Thornfield. I believe that he finds this ironic: he states that it has been a struggle between wanting to be there and hating it.
I like Thornfield; its antiquity; its retirement; its old crow trees and thorn-trees, its gray facade, and lines of dark windows reflecting that metal welkin; and yet how long have I abhorred the very thought of it; shunned it like a great plague-house. How I do still abhor—
In this he must be thinking about his wife, mad and imprisoned in the tower where Grace Poole works. (Jane, of course, does not know about this yet.) He stops speaking for a moment and then notes:
“During the moment I was silent. Miss Eyre, I was arranging a point with my destiny. She stood there, by that beech trunk—a hag like one of those who appeared to Macbeth on the heath of Forres. “You like Thornfield?” she said, lifting her finger; and then she wrote in the air a memento, which ran in lurid hieroglyphics all along the house-front, between the upper and lower row of windows “Like it if you can!”
He relates that he has been in the process of making a decision. His words are unclear to Jane, but not to the reader who knows his secrets. The hag on the heath of Forres that appeared to Macbeth alludes to Shakespeare's play, Macbeth. The valiant Macbeth is met by three witches who ultimately lead him to his doom—because he believes their lies. Rochester may be noting that fate here and now is like those witches—allowing him to see a future with Jane...at Thornfield. (Perhaps it, too, is a lie.) However, it is not as clear cut as that: for being at Thornfield with Jane means also living in the home that houses his first wife. Fate almost seems to be tempting him: see if you can find happiness at Thornfield under these circumstances—I dare you to try!
At that moment, Rochester promises that he will do so—he will overcome any and every obstacle that tries to find its way into his path to happiness. He wants to leave his shortcomings behind him. He wants to be a good person. He wants a second chance. His allusion to Job's leviathan is about Job being told by God that he is only a man, and no one is as strong as God. Even this Rochester seems to defy: for hindrances that would stop others, "such as iron and brass," he will overcome (he says) as if they were "straw and rotten wood." He is saying to fate: I will dare to try!
“‘I will like it,’ said I. ‘I dare like it;’ and” (he subjoined moodily) “I will keep my word: I will break obstacles to happiness, to goodness—yes, goodness; I wish to be a better man than I have been; than I am—as Job's leviathan broke the spear, the dart, and the habergeon, hindrances which others count as iron and brass, I will esteem but straw and rotten wood.”
It would seem that it is here, then, when Edward Rochester consciously decides to defy society and God, to take Jane as his wife (even while it is against the laws of God and man) because he believes he is capable of overcoming anything in his way. We can assume that the goodness in Jane has inspired him to change his life; however, to do so he must go against the very things within Jane that make her such a good and fine woman.
"During the moment I was silent, Miss Eyre, I was arranging a point with my destiny. She stood there, by that beech-trunk--a hag like one of those who appeared to Macbeth on the heath of Forres. 'You like Thornfield?' she said, lifting her finger; and then she wrote in the air a memento, which ran in lurid hieroglyphics all along the house-front, between the upper and lower row of windows, 'Like it if you can! Like it if you dare!'"
To the novitiate readers, this passage from Chapter 15 of Jane Eyre is abstruse; for, the "hag" is of yet unknown to them. The allusion that Mr. Rochester makes, therefore, is to what he perceives as not a single person, but a preternatural element that exists at Thornfield. For, his comparison of the "hag" to the witches of Macbeth is clearly that of a being from another world. Here, then, enters an element of the Gothic into Bronte's novel. What is this mysterious element that haunts Mr. Rochester, that determines his destiny, but dares him to like Thornfield?
Mr. Rochester indicates the Macbeth-like "Fair is foul and foul is fair" atmosphere of Thornfield. All is not what it seems, and all may not prove to be what it ought. But, while he feels the influences of the preternatural,
Pain, shame, ire, impatience, disgust, detestation, seemed momentarily to hold a quivering conflict in the large pupil dilating under his ebon eyebrow. Wild was the wrestle which should be paramount; but another feeling rose and triumphed: something hard and cynical: self-willed and resolute: it settled his passion and petrified his countenance:
Like Macbeth, in his personal ambition, Rochester resolves to determine his own fate:
"...I will break obstacles to happiness, to goodness--yes, goodness."
There is, indeed, foreshadowing of events that are of the eerie magnitude of Macbeth's in this passage from Chapter 15 in which Rochester responds in equal challenge to the "hag."