His whole face was colourless rock: his eye was both spark and flint

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Irelia20150604

Senior Member
Chinese
The quotation comes from Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre (Chap. 26) | Genius

Quotation: My nerves vibrated to those low-spoken words as they had never vibrated to thunder—my blood felt their subtle violence as it had never felt frost or fire; but I was collected, and in no danger of swooning. I looked at Mr. Rochester: I made him look at me. His whole face was colourless rock: his eye was both spark and flint. He disavowed nothing: he seemed as if he would defy all things.

Context: the impediment “simply consists in the existence of a previous marriage. Mr. Rochester has a wife now living.”
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Hi everyone! I don’t quite understand the bold part. It’s fairly subtle. I try to interpret it as below. Is it correct?

The words “rock”, “spark” and “flint” are all nouns.
Rock => Relatively hard, naturally formed mineral or petrified matter; stone.
His whole face was colorless rock => his whole face was pallid rock (as compared to a ruddy human face)

Flint => a symbol of hardness, as in heart like granite/heart like flint
A heart like granite/flint references 'a heart of stone' but emphasizes the hardness because both granite and flint are very hard minerals.
The whole sentence => his whole face was pallid rock (as compared to a ruddy human face): his eye expressed both stubbornness (in proceeding the wedding) and spark (that would ignite the passion in defying all things)
 
  • apotegma

    Member
    Spanish - Spain
    Flint is a mineral traditionally used to light fires: when struck with steel or other metal it produces bright sparks, hence the metaphor...
     

    Irelia20150604

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you. But would you like to explain more? I haven't fully understood yet. The sentence has many difficulties. "flint" also symbolizes "hardness", so I'm confused. :oops:
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    If you believe an eye can actually show an expression ..... :)
    His face is pale and unmoving. He is showing no emotion, but his expression is firm and defiant (a bit of a contradiction there). The flint is hard and unyielding, the spark is defiance. I don't think the choice of "flint" refers to creating a spark - there's no steel to strike it on - I think it is as you suggest, the hardness of flint.
     

    apotegma

    Member
    Spanish - Spain
    As I understand it (i'm not native), the author is stressing the granitic, rock-like expression of the fellow, and (somewhat in contrast) his feverish, burning glance. "His face was (...) rock", "his eye was both spark and flint": that's all you need to get a fire. So, this Rochester looked pale and tense ("colourless rock"), and still his eyes betrayed violent inner passions, that could explode at any point. That's my try anyway! :)
     

    Irelia20150604

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you Andygc. You make the whole sentence clear. :D I thought "flint" here as "flint and steel", but then I changed my mind for the reasons below:

    A) there is a sentence of "How his eye shone, still watchful, and yet wild beneath" above as in my thread How his eye shone, still watchful, and yet wild beneath
    it suggests mixed emotions;
    Yes, you've got it, Irelia. Charlotte is describing Mr R's face as he struggles with these mixed emotions.
    B) the word "both" strikes as "two contradictory emotions"

    C) there's no steel to strike it on

    D) In the Novel, Mr. R often struggled with two contradictory emotions

    So I've finally chose "hardness" . :D
     
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    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I agree with apotegma: the proximity of "spark" and "flint" here is meant to recall the action of producing fire. When translating this, I think you would need to try to preserve that metaphor.
     

    Jher

    Member
    Chinese - Singapore
    His whole face was colourless rock: his eye was both spark and flint.

    I would like to ask one question too.
    Why was eye used instead of eyes please ?
    Thanks
     

    Jher

    Member
    Chinese - Singapore
    I think spark and flint go together to mean the fire in him.
    colourless rock means his face is expressionless due to nervousness.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    The interpretation of the passage is supported by apotegma but, to go a little further:

    spark - WordReference.com Dictionary of English
    - Collins @ 5. anything that serves to animate, kindle, or excite.
    flint - WordReference.com Dictionary of English - 4.something very hard or unyielding.

    So we have:
    His whole face was colourless rock: his eye (the expression in his gaze) was both spark (sharply attuned to what was being said) and flint (hard, unyielding and giving no hint as to his thoughts.) He disavowed nothing: he seemed as if he would defy (fight/oppose regardless of the outcome for himself or others) all things.

    I think Andy above, did himself a bit of a disservice with
    his expression is firm and defiant (a bit of a contradiction there).
    The contradiction is not there; it means "his face was set in an expression of defiance."
     

    Sparky Malarky

    Moderator
    English - US
    His whole face was colourless rock: his eye was both spark and flint.

    I would like to ask one question too.
    Why was eye used instead of eyes please ?
    Thanks
    This is common when we are referring to the expression on someone's face.

    Jenny has blue eyes. (color)
    The baby has her mother's nose and her father's eyes. (shape)

    Bob had a cold look in his eye. (expression)
    The president tried to put on a pleasant expression, but you could see by the look in his eye that he was furious. (expression)
     

    Irelia20150604

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I've found a sentence below the text below my quotation:

    His eye, as I have often said, was a black eye: it had now a tawny, nay, a bloody light in its gloom (when Mr. Mason appeared).

    "Flint" is often "black", and "bloody light" here might symbolize the fire which the spark ignite.

    So I guess "his eye was both spark and flint" ≈ "a bloody spark in the gloom (of his eyes)". And then the idea is, I suppose, "a bloody, passionate spark in the back, hard flint"

    blood light.png

    This is the image I've formed for Mr. R's eyes.

    Anyway, no matter what the idea is, I've learned much in the great discussion. :D

    Cross-posted with PaulQ
     
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    Jher

    Member
    Chinese - Singapore
    This is common when we are referring to the expression on someone's face.

    Jenny has blue eyes. (color)
    The baby has her mother's nose and her father's eyes. (shape)

    Bob had a cold look in his eye. (expression)
    The president tried to put on a pleasant expression, but you could see by the look in his eye that he was furious. (expression)
    I see.
    Thank you !
     

    apotegma

    Member
    Spanish - Spain
    hahaha cool one Irelia! :thumbsup:

    I don't think there is an "absolute answer" to this dilemma of ours. There's a good deal of poetry in the description, Brönte is merely emphasizing two seemingly opposite qualities (the "rock" and the "flame", the hard and the volatile) to show the tension the character is undergoing. I think it's both the hardness and the spark, even if they're not "complete" or "fully-developed" ideas (steel is missing...) but just impressions the reader get almost subliminally (unless he or she makes a dissection of the sentence just as we've done above), so the expression of Mr. R seems to appear in his/her mind naturally...
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think Andy above, did himself a bit of a disservice with
    You misunderstood. You need the whole sentence
    He is showing no emotion, but his expression is firm and defiant (a bit of a contradiction there).
    I don't mind a writer suggesting that it is possible to show firmness and defiance by eye while having a stony face, but in the real world firmness and defiance is shown by the movement and posture of the whole face, not by eyes alone in an expressionless face.
    Brönte is merely emphasizing two seemingly opposite qualities (the "rock" and the "flame", the hard and the volatile) to show the tension the character is undergoing.
    I agree.
     
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