And then you won’t know me, sir; and I shall not be your Jane Eyre any longer, but an ape in a harlequin’s jacket – a jay in borrowed plumes.
– Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre, Chapter 24. A horrified Jane responds thus to Rochester after he tells her: “I will attire my Jane in satin and lace, and she shall have roses in her hair; and I will cover the head I love best with a priceless veil.” Jane has just accepted Rochester’s marriage proposal and he wants the world to acknowledge her beauty by showering her with jewelry and fine clothes. But Jane resists this, refusing to change her outward appearance to suit her new social position. She uses two apt animal metaphors to emphasize how unnatural this is to plain Jane. She would be “an ape in a harlequin’s jacket” or “a jay in borrowed plumes.” Jane doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of the wealthy Victorian man’s wife who dresses to demonstrate her high station. She values too much her spirit of independence and freedom and the desire to be her natural self. This spirit is one of the reasons Rochester is so drawn to Jane.