“In about a month I hope to be a bridegroom,” continued Mr. Rochester; “and in the interim, I shall myself look out for employment and an asylum for you.”
“Thank you, sir; I am sorry to give—”
“Oh, no need to apologise! I consider that when a dependent does her duty as well as you have done yours, she has a sort of claim upon her employer for any little assistance he can conveniently render her; indeed I have already, through my future mother-in-law, heard of a place that I think will suit: it is to undertake the education of the five daughters of Mrs. Dionysius O’Gall of Bitternutt Lodge, Connaught, Ireland. You’ll like Ireland, I think: they’re such warm-hearted people there, they say.”
“It is a long way off, sir.”
“No matter—a girl of your sense will not object to the voyage or the distance.”
“Not the voyage, but the distance: and then the sea is a barrier—”
“From what, Jane?”
“From England and from Thornfield: and—”
“From you, sir.”
I said this almost involuntarily, and, with as little sanction of free will, my tears gushed out. I did not cry so as to be heard, however; I avoided sobbing. The thought of Mrs. O’Gall and Bitternutt Lodge struck cold to my heart; and colder the thought of all the brine and foam, destined, as it seemed, to rush between me and the master at whose side I now walked, and coldest the remembrance of the wider ocean—wealth, caste, custom intervened between me and what I naturally and inevitably loved.
“It is a long way,” I again said.
“It is, to be sure; and when you get to Bitternutt Lodge, Connaught, Ireland, I shall never see you again, Jane: that’s morally certain. I never go over to Ireland, not having myself much of a fancy for the country. We have been good friends, Jane; have we not?”
Not just part-Irish, but a whole quarter Irish Paddy Catholic, for Charlotte Bronte Ireland was always associated with romance. Though not perhaps as one might expect. In the above extract from her seminal work, Jane Eyre, governess-charmer and hopelessly-inefficient-bigamist Edward Rochester uses the threat of enforced exile in Ireland to wring out of the Kerrygold-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth Jane a declaration of grand passion, or maybe it’s the other way round. One of the fascinating things about that novel is that, as is so often the way with grand passions, one is never quite sure who’s manipulating whom…
Charlotte herself was the product of a grand passion straight out of Young Lochnivar, or perhaps the Rubberbandits, her paternal grandmother, Alice McClory, having eloped with her grandfather just before her intended wedding to another man; on a horse he had outside, naturally. Not surprising, therefore, that when it came to her own, somewhat belated, honeymoon, Ireland was the logical choice. She spent some time there with her new husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls, in July 1854 . Here’s an extract from a letter written by her to a friend during her stay:
“My husband is not a poet or a poetical man – and one of my grand doubts before marriage was about ‘congenial tastes’ and so on. The first morning we went out to the cliffs and saw the Atlantic coming in all white foam. I did not know whether I should get leave or time to take the matter in my own way. I did not want to talk – but I did want to look and be silent. Having hinted a petition, licence was not refused – covered with a rug to keep off the spray I was allowed to sit where I chose – and he only interrupted me when he thought I crept too near the edge of the cliff. So far he is always good in this way – and this protection which does not interfere or pretend is I believe a thousand times better than any half sort of pseudo sympathy.”
Victorian women tended to adhere to the adage that a lady should never discuss with anyone else what her husband was like in bed. Part of the fun of being a harlot, of course, was that you could be as indiscreet as you liked; not just physically but verbally too. Indeed a good fund of stories about the prowess or lack thereof of one’s ex-lovers was necessary to provide a pension against that time when slackening flesh would force one to relinquish the hurly-burly of the chaise-longue in favour of the deeply incontinent peace of the blanketed bath-chair.
But respectable new-married women had their own little ways of indicating satisfaction, or at least the post-coital retention, through fortitude, of the will to live; usually by communicating to a trusted friend, in highly indirect terms, how considerate their husbands were. I suspect Charlotte’s letter above may have been intended to serve that purpose.
As she was very small, half-blind, of an extremely nervous disposition, and of highly advanced years (for the time) when she married, her friends were probably glad of the reassurance that all was well with Charlotte on her honeymoon. Alas, such consolation was premature; the intimacy established at Kilkee proved Charlotte’s undoing in more senses than one when she died of morning sickness eight months later. Sadly, for this most passionately prudish of authors, there was not to be anything as vulgar as a happy ending. Perhaps she should have stuck to the preference expressed by her hero, never to travel to Ireland if one could avoid it?
More about Charlotte’s honeymoon and the Brontes’ Irish connections (with a great-grandfather straight out of Wuthering Heights) here. More about her possible cause of death here. And you can peruse the unreliably-narrated-and-belief-suspendingly-humble-but-a-brilliant-read-for-all-that Jane Eyre here.