How does Charlotte Bronte use irony when depicting the relationship between Rochester and Jane in Chapter 23 of Jane Eyre?How does the use of these forms of irony increase the tension in this chapter?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 23 of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, one of the most significant events of the entire novel occurs: Mr. Rochester’s confession of his love for Jane, which results in his request that she marry him. In describing this event, Brontë employs a number of different examples of irony, including the following:

  • Rochester continually refers to Jane as his “friend” when he intends to ask her to be his wife.
  • Rochester implies that they will never see each other again, when in fact he hopes to persuade Jane to stay with him for the rest of her life.
  • Jane assumes that she will be separated from Rochester forever, when in fact by the end of this chapter he will have persuaded her to marry him.
  • Rochester claims that he has no bride (meaning Miss Ingram) when in fact he does indeed have a “bride,” as later events in the novel will show.
  • When Jane tells Rochester that he will have a bride, he agrees. Ironically, he means Jane, not Miss Ingram, but Jane does not yet know this.
  • Jane thinks that if she stays, she will be “nothing” to Rochester, when in fact the opposite will prove to be the case.
  • When Rochester embraces Jane, she, referring to his relationship with Miss Ingram, says to him,

you are a married man—or as good as a married man, and wed to one inferior to you—to one with whom you have no sympathy—whom I do not believe you truly love . . . .

Neither Jane nor we, as readers, have any idea how ironically appropriate these words will later prove to be.  When one reads the novel for a second time, one is struck by the sheer irony of the words, for Rochester is indeed a married man, married to an inferior with whom he has no sympathy and whom he does not truly love. Only later in the novel do we and Jane discover the full and ironic truth of her words

  • Similar irony attends the following exchange, in which Rochester speaks first and Jane answers him:

“I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”

“For that fate you have already made your choice, and must abide by it.”

  • Likewise, the same irony is present again in another exchange:

“But, Jane, I summon you as my wife: it is you only I intend to marry.”

I was silent: I thought he mocked me.

“Come, Jane—come hither.”

“Your bride stands between us.”

In passages such as these, the full irony of the phrasing only becomes apparent when we realize that Rochester is indeed already married.

  • Later Rochester asks Jane whether she considers him a “liar.” Only later do we discover that in fact he is, in a sense, lying to her here.
  • Finally, having confessed his love to Jane and convinced her of his sincerity, Rochester speaks words that will later prove extremely ironic:

“It will atone—it will atone.  Have I not found her friendless, and cold, and comfortless?  Will I not guard, and cherish, and solace her?  Is there not love in my heart, and constancy in my resolves?  It will expiate at God’s tribunal.  I know my Maker sanctions what I do.  For the world’s judgment—I wash my hands thereof.  For man’s opinion—I defy it.”

Only later do we discover why Rochester feels a need to “atone,” why he worries about “God’s tribunal,” and what he means when he says, “I know my Maker sanctions what I do.” When the novel is read a second time, the many ironies of this chapter become quite apparent.


booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Charlotte' Brontë's Jane Eyre, the significant event that occurs in Chapter 23 is that Edward Rochester declares his love for Jane and asks her to marry him, even though they are from completely different social circles. He is a wealthy landowner and Jane is a penniless governess, something slightly better than a servant, but still dismissed as unimportant by the upper-class. Rochester's declaration is a complete surprise to Jane, though she deeply loves him.

Verbal irony is an ironic statement, and is...

...often used for emphasis in the assertion of a truth.

Dramatic irony occurs when an author...

...causes a character to speak or act erroneously, out of ignorance of some portion of the truth.

There is verbal irony when Rochester speaks of Jane having to leave: the truth he seems to be sharing is that she will have to take a new position in someone else's household, however (and here is where I find the statement ironic), Jane will be asked to make a move—away from what she knows—to something she does not know, but this is describing (in truth) her departure from the role of governess to mistress (the "Mrs.") of Thornfield.

“It is always the way of events in this life,” he continued presently; “no sooner have you got settled in a pleasant resting-place, than a voice calls out to you to rise and move on, for the hour of repose is expired.”

There is dramatic irony when Jane accepts Rochester's proposal and reassures him that there is no one in her family that would oppose the marriage. This is true: the Reeds could care less about her and have made this abundantly clear from the moment Jane went to live in their home as a child. However, there is dramatic irony here as well. As Jane notes there will be no interference from her family, there will certainly be interference from Rochester's, but she has no way of knowing this. Jane says...

There is no one to meddle, sir. I have no kindred to interfere.

The truth is hidden beneath Rochester's frantic desire that Jane accept his marriage proposal, and his ramblings about "atonement," "resolve" and "God's tribunal."

The use of these various forms of irony provide tension during this chapter in the exchange between Jane and Rochester. Jane's situation introduces tension with her idea that she had no control over her destiny. Ironically, she has total control but does not know it: all she needs to do is say "yes" to Rochester; but his lack of clarity draws out the suspense of what will happen by the end of this exciting and pivotal portion of the story. These forms of irony provide information that is not clear at the outset, and a lack of understanding also escalates the scene's tension between both characters.

Brontë artfully provides just enough straightforward information to draw the reader in to learn more, but inserts irony to delay satisfaction for the reader in his/her desire for understanding.

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Jane Eyre

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