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I am currently reading Jane Eyre, the famous novel written by Charlotte Bronte. In his account of how he was cheated on by the opera-dancer Celine Varens, Rochester didn't really explain why he thought Varens had cheated on him. (Maybe, when he was abridging his account, he thought he didn't have to tell Jane on what grounds he thought that Varens was cheating on him.)

Does the novel detail how Rochester knew, or whether Varens actually was, unfaithful to him?

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    Are you reading an abridged version of the novel, or the full text? – Rand al'Thor May 24 '18 at 13:25
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    @Randal'Thor: The abridgement is diegetic: "Monsieur, John has just been to say that your agent has called and wishes to see you." "Ah! in that case I must abridge." – Gareth Rees May 24 '18 at 13:28
  • @Gareth Yes, but I also wondered if the OP has a different version of the text, since the passage quoted in your answer seems quite clear. – Rand al'Thor May 24 '18 at 13:51
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Assuming Rochester’s account to be honest, I think we can reconstruct his reasoning from the details that he included. When Céline arrived at her hotel late that night, she was wrapped in a cloak, which Rochester interpreted as an attempted disguise:

“The carriage stopped, as I had expected, at the hotel door; my flame (that is the very word for an opera inamorata) alighted: though muffed in a cloak—an unnecessary encumbrance, by-the-bye, on so warm a June evening—I knew her instantly by her little foot, seen peeping from the skirt of her dress, as she skipped from the carriage-step.”

Céline was accompanied by a young man, and on seeing him Rochester was instantly jealous:

“Bending over the balcony, I was about to murmur ‘Mon ange’—in a tone, of course, which should be audible to the ear of love alone—when a figure jumped from the carriage after her; cloaked also; but that was a spurred heel which had rung on the pavement, and that was a hatted head which now passed under the arched porte cochère of the hotel. You never felt jealousy, did you, Miss Eyre?”

When the pair came up to Céline’s room, Rochester recognized the young man, and believed he was the kind of man likely to have a sexual affair with Céline (a roué is “A debauched or dissolute man; a rake, a libertine, a playboy” [OED]):

“… there was her companion in an officer’s uniform; and I knew him for a young roué of a vicomte—a brainless and vicious youth whom I had sometimes met in society, and had never thought of hating because I despised him so absolutely.”

Rochester spied on the pair from the balcony, observing their behaviour when they believed themselves unseen. According to Rochester’s account, they used this opportunity to mock him:

“A card of mine lay on the table; this being perceived, brought my name under discussion. Neither of them possessed energy or wit to belabour me soundly, but they insulted me as coarsely as they could in their little way: especially Céline, who even waxed rather brilliant on my personal defects—deformities she termed them.”

None of this amounts to proof that Céline was sexually unfaithful to Rochester. But according to his account he had proof of emotional duplicity, and the rest seemed to him likely to follow.

Later on, Rochester believed he had one further piece of evidence, namely the paternity of Adèle:

“But unluckily the Varens, six months before, had given me this filette Adèle, who, she affirmed, was my daughter; and perhaps she may be, though I see no proofs of such grim paternity written in her countenance: Pilot is more like me than she.”

(Pilot was Rochester’s dog, “a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head”.)

  • Very nice answer and use of passages! (I was going to have a go at it but this beat me to it!) The point about the non explicit unfaithfulness was precisely what I was thinking. – Fabjaja May 24 '18 at 13:53
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Gareth Rees's answer is correct (he just beat me to it :-)), showing how Mr Rochester's story indicates his lover's infidelity as clearly as it could be without him actually finding them in flagrante delicto. However, since your question seems to be casting doubt on Mr Rochester's status as a reliable narrator, I thought it would be interesting to examine the issue of whether or not, or to what extent, we can take his story at face value.

Within the frame of the narrative, Mr Rochester is a reliable narrator. Although Jane doubts and mistrusts him in various ways throughout the story, it never occurs to her to believe he has fabricated or misrepresented his own past. Indeed, soon after the conversation in which he tells her of Celine Varens, her thoughts show that she disapproves of some of his past actions but doesn't think to disbelieve his story:

And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader: gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire. Yet I had not forgotten his faults; indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. He was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description: in my secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by unjust severity to many others. He was moody, too; unaccountably so; I more than once, when sent for to read to him, found him sitting in his library alone, with his head bent on his folded arms; and, when he looked up, a morose, almost a malignant, scowl blackened his features. But I believed that his moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of morality (I say former, for now he seemed corrected of them) had their source in some cruel cross of fate. I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged. I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled. I cannot deny that I grieved for his grief, whatever that was, and would have given much to assuage it.

We are clearly intended, like Jane, to take his story at face value.

Even after she discovers that he has lied to her about being a bachelor, she is quick to forgive him in her heart, and doesn't think to doubt the rest of his life story.

Oh, never more could it turn to him; for faith was blighted—confidence destroyed! Mr. Rochester was not to me what he had been; for he was not what I had thought him. I would not ascribe vice to him; I would not say he had betrayed me; but the attribute of stainless truth was gone from his idea, and from his presence I must go: that I perceived well.

[...]

Reader, I forgave him at the moment and on the spot. There was such deep remorse in his eye, such true pity in his tone, such manly energy in his manner; and besides, there was such unchanged love in his whole look and mien—I forgave him all: yet not in words, not outwardly; only at my heart’s core.

The intent of the story is that Mr Rochester is an essentially good man - with plenty of past indiscretions, to be sure, but that he is honest except for the one great secret he kept hidden - from everyone, not just his new intended bride - for so many years.

However, there are alternative readings of the story. It is possible to construe Mr Rochester in an entirely different manner: to argue that Jane's belief in him was due more to her infatuation than his essential honesty, and to cast a different light upon his life. Even his first wife Bertha, seemingly the villain of the piece, can be viewed sympathetically, her insanity the result of ill-treatment rather than a mental defect. For more on this reading of the novel, I refer you to Wide Sargasso Sea, a retelling from Bertha's point of view. (I haven't read it myself, but it sounds interesting!)

Under this interpretation, it is possible to disbelieve almost anything Mr Rochester says about his past. If his version of Bertha - the insane woman devoid of virtue whom he was tricked into marrying by his family and hers - is a lie, then so also could be his version of Celine Varens. Perhaps she was true and faithful to him, and he merely grew tired of her, moved on to other women, and made up the story about her unfaithfulness to make himself look better. We only have his word for it, and if his word comes into doubt, then so does all of his past life except the parts and details which have been somehow confirmed by other means.

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    I can vouch for Wide Sargasso Sea; I just finished it and it was well worth it. Very interesting narrative techniques too, in addition to the tie-ins with Jane Eyre :-) – Fabjaja May 24 '18 at 15:48
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    +1 for trash-talking Mr Rochester – MissMonicaE May 25 '18 at 14:22
  • "Within the frame of the narrative, Mr Rochester is a reliable narrator" — given the number of lies and half-truths he admits to telling, this is a surprising judgment. On his own account, he lied to everyone about his marriage, he allowed Adèle to believe that her mother was dead (when she had run away with an opera singer), he pretended to court Blanche (but only in order to make Jane jealous), and he falsely told the Ingrams that he was insolvent (in order to get Blanche to go away). It is reasonable to be suspicious of his other claims. – Gareth Rees Jun 7 '18 at 12:26
  • @GarethRees That's a fair point. I'll have to think about what I'm actually trying to say here, and try to express it better. Even knowing many or all of these dishonesties of Mr Rochester, Jane still trusts him implicitly on other issues. Perhaps she assumes that - with the exception of Bertha, where she can understand his reasons for concealing the truth - he's always honest with her, Jane? – Rand al'Thor Jun 7 '18 at 15:33

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