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In his essay "The Progress of Error" William Cowper writes:
Returning he proclaims by many a grace,
By shrugs and strange contortions of his face,
How much a dunce, that has been sent to roam,
Excels a dunce, that has been kept at home. (Buzard 99)
In the novel, we are presented with the tale of Jane Eyre and her travels around the English countryside. What she has seen and done are not considered extraordinary but rather common to a woman of her social standing. On the other hand, Rochester as a man of wealth and land has traveled the world and seen the sights of many nations. He has been to the new world and has also completed the Grand Tour of Europe that so many aristocrats before him have done. Yet when he returns home jaded, he finds in the plainest of women something that he had not found in his countless expeditions. When Jane is betrayed by Rochester, she leaves on her own tour with only a hope of survival without him. She eventually returns from her trek and has learned what she truly desires is to be with Rochester. Rochester’s advantageous trip abroad does not deliver the hope and satisfaction that the Grand Tour promises. On the other hand, Jane’s inconvenient journey around her homeland proves revealing to her independent nature. These details closely mirror the questions that arise when the value of travel as a learning experience is considered. Ultimately, Jane learns that where one goes is less important than how one spends the time.
We see both sides of this argument in their first real conversation. While trying to explain why he finds her so interesting and at the same time must condescend to her, Rochester tells Jane that "…I have battled through a varied experience wit+h many men of many nations, and roamed over half the globe, while you have lived quietly with one set of people in one house" (140; ch. 14). Rochester believes this view of conquering more of the world makes him a stronger, better person. Jane retaliates that Rochester shouldn’t feel superior just because "…you have seen more of the world than I have – your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience" (140; ch. 14). Rochester responds by admitting he has "made an indifferent, not to say a bad use of both advantages" (140; ch.
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We learn a great many things about Rochester in relation to the Grand Tour. We see that Rochester was one of a select group of affluent travelers when he announces he and Jane’s plans to "sojourn at Paris, Rome, and Naples: at Florence, Venice, and Vienna: all the ground I have wandered over shall be re-trodden by you" (258; ch. 24). This list contains all the vital destinations of the Grand Tour with the inclusion of Vienna. Rochester’s mention of Vienna makes his tour all the more exclusive in that it suggests a "longer and more expensive journey, its court society did not attract non-aristocratic tourists" (Black 15). A travel boom would have occurred from the end of the Napoleonic War around the late seventeen and early eighteen hundreds when Rochester would have taken his tour. He would have had a lot of Englishmen accompanying him. While most tourists would have opted for a carriage, Rochester as the "practiced and indefatigable" equestrian would have most likely traveled Continental Europe by horse (246; ch. 23).
When Rochester first brings his nomadic tea party to Thornfield, we get an appropriate vision of English aristocratic travelers and their habits. Travelers among Rochester’s circles are spared no expense when visiting his house. The same type of lodging was expected allow the Grand Tour. The note Mrs. Fairfax receives from Rochester does not specify the number of guests but calls for "all the best bedrooms to be prepared; and the library and drawing rooms…to be cleaned out" (166; ch. 17).
Rochester sought companionship in his Grand Tour as a means of forgetting what awaits him at home. Rochester admits to Jane that he did "wander here and there, seeking rest in exile: happiness in pleasure – I mean in heartless, sensual pleasure – such as dulls intellect and blights feeling" (219; ch. 20). We see an example of a common idolatry in Rochester’s "grande passion" for Céline Varens (146; ch. 15). As an "Opera-dancer" she shared the typical beauty that captured the hearts of many young Englishmen (146; ch. 15). Similarly, Varens costs Rochester a great deal of money and heartache when he discovers her false front. The heartache just repeats with later mistresses "an Italian, Giacinta, and a German, Clara" whom Rochester most likely courted in a similar way (307; ch. 27). The pain worsens because with every attempt at a relationship he realizes finding the right woman will be more and more difficult.
Rochester knows about the expenses that travel can create as well. When Jane announces that she must travel back to Gateshead, Rochester notes that "you must have some money; you can’t travel without money" (224; ch. 21). This was never truer than on the Grand Tour. We see Rochester’s ability to assess Jane’s paintings as being another achievement in his journey (132; ch. 13). The ability to distinguish talent from artist to artist shows that the Grand Tour didn’t go completely to waste.
Rochester’s status in life has given him the chance to explore facets of Europe that Jane can only read about in books. Yet he goes there only to escape the "hideous indigence" that his life has become (302; ch. 27). Instead of facing the reality of his failed marriage and insane wife, he prefers to fly "through Europe half mad; with disgust, hate, and rage, as my companions" (258; ch. 24). When he arrives, rather than spend his time educating himself, he would rather waste his life chasing "English ladies, French countesses, Italian signoras, and German gräfinnen" (306; ch. 27). As a result of this tour he has a daughter whom he prefers to believe has so little in common with him that his dog "Pilot is more like me than she"(150; ch. 15). He sees her existence as another weight he must bear rather than a gift.
Jane sees things in a different light. She sees Adele as not a burden but a child "forsaken by her mother and disowned by you, sir – I shall cling closer to her than before" (150; ch. 15). She makes a point not to be an "English Céline Varens" (268; ch. 24) by insisting that Rochester treat her in the same manner. This is proposed by Rochester’s use of the word "sylph" (146; ch. 15) for Céline as well as for Jane’s "sylph’s foot" (258; ch. 24). Jane contradicts her feelings and leaves Rochester and hears the voice of her mother telling her to "flee temptation" (315; ch. 27). She undergoes "physical suffering" (323; ch. 28) but as a reward is given a family to rely on as well as financial independence. Her diligence against St. John’s advances is rewarded when she realizes that she and Rochester can be together again. She returns to Rochester wiser, happier, and more secure.
Rochester on the other hand has paid for the abuses of his wasted life in his eyesight and crippled body. Although his sight will return slightly, he will never be able to fully see those things he had passed up in his younger years.
Black, Jeremy. The British and The Grand Tour. London: Croom Helm, 1985.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Beth Newman. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996.
Buzard, James. The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to Culture, 1800-1918. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1993.