I am a novice to the writings of the Brontes. I have come to Jane Eyre via the dramatization by Diederick Santer with Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre. Perhaps not the best way to be get the flavor of the novel but sufficient inducement to read the original as I found the dramatization confusing at parts and stylistically, visually, too Gothic. The dramatization is characterized as 'gothic novel about the passionate courtship between a governess and her tortured employer' and Wikipedia characterizes the novel as:' a classic romance novel -- and is one of the most famous British novels of all time.' As I have some problems with such definitions, I would like to discuss the novel with those who have been fortunate enough to be exposed to literature in college courses or even better have done a study on their own.
I will apologize in advance for the length of my posts. It has not been easy to grasp what Charlotte composed. Perhaps someone can do better.
Last edited by Newcomer; 02-04-2007 at 01:55 PM.
Is it the term 'Gothic' or the term 'Romance' that causes you to stumble. There are posts on both topics in the forums.
Thank you for your reply. I'll attempt to clarify my impressions of the novel if such are understood to be open to correction.
My quibble with such terms is incidental to the novel. I quibble because they may limit the reader to the scope of the composition, if you give them substance beyond recognition as commercial speak.
I would not characterize Jane Eyre as a Gothic novel if one refers to such examples as A. Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho or J. Austen's Northanger Abbey to name but two extremes. While Jane Eyre has elements of the Gothic novel, such as the Red Room, the mad woman and the supernatural communication between Jane and Mr. Rochester, it's theme is not the development of psychological terror but rather the evolution of character past the conventions of the day. Charlotte Brontė paints on a broader canvas than the classification of Gothic novel would suggest. I would suggest that the theme is even more complex than that of the Romantic novel but this is a separate subject.
Well in the early 19th century the Gothic novel was very popular amongst literate young women of a certain type. The features of Gothic literature found their way into the writing of those who were not strictly speaking Gothic, were not 'sensationalist'. So wroters like the Brontes used the Gothic for their own more serious purposes. Other writers parodied it to poke fun at the ideas, and at the readers - Austen etc.
A similar trend can be seen with science-fiction in the 20th century. Its heyday was in the forties to sixties and it tended to be a niche market. However it has gone beyond that narrow focus and has influenced mainstream writers in a whole variety of ways.
I agree that the novel appealed to a certain segment of the Victorian young women and this is confirmed by the second printing very soon after the publication. However I do not have any idea how the readership declined in the next two generations. Perhaps there is a superficial similarity in that now the novel is enshrined as a classic but read almost solely by young English majors, also a small segment of the educated females. This begs the question: is it's place solely in the Feminine, not to be confused with Feminist, literature or does it have a broader if historic significance. An interesting question for me.
Perhaps a partial answer lies if one can achieve an emotional understanding of the mind of the reader contemporary to the novel. This not only of the leisure of the upper middle class as well as the position of women vs. the privileged one of men. This difficulty applies to the works of J. Austen which are thematically much more compact than of Charlotte Bronte but especially to the Biblical allusions in Jane Eyre. For instance in the characterization of Rochester when he uses the allusion to Achan's transgression and in Jane's mind the similarity to hers transgression the will of God.
Who among the contemporary readers knows such Biblical references which were quite readily at hand for the Victorian reader? Is it because we lack the emotional response to such allusions that the character of Richardson comes across as not fully developed?
A more complex allusion is in chapter 13, Rochester’s comment in examining Jane’s pictures: ”Where did you see Latmos? For that is Latmos.” Charlotte here used symbolism to foreshadow the developing love of Jane for Rochester. In the Greek legend of Latmos, the goddess Selene, fell in love with Endymion, a mortal and asked Zeus to grant him eternal life so he would never leave her. Selene was a goddess of the moon, of silvery light, a daughter of Hyperion and Theia. In the Roman era, Selene evolved into Diana and Charlotte used this name for one of the found cousins in the second part of the novel. The connection with the moon is reinforced where Jane, in a moment of extreme stress, appeals to Mother, identified with the silvery light of the moon.
Charlotte has embedded mythological references that for the knowledgeable Victorian reader, immeasurably enriched the reading of the novel.
Last edited by Newcomer; 02-19-2007 at 05:04 PM.
Reason: additional material
These are very interesting points and I'm sure that there are some Bronte fans out there and some with a wide grasp of mid-Victorian literature who could give you very interesting answers. I'm not sure if one can account simply for the vagaries of fashion in literature any more than in clothes. I feel without being in any way sure that as the century wore on a more serious climate of opinion would draw literate young women (and men) towards more serious literature. Gothic influence survives today of course.
I'm not sure the allusions are necessarily 'arcane'. Quite a few readers still will be aware of the references to fundamental texts. Probably fewer as time goes on. Most of the more intelligent comments on Austen and on Romance as a serious fictional genre seem to come from women. Lots of reasons for that perhaps. Someone said it was to do with the width of the brush employed by a writer: fine brush equals intimate detail thus more favoured by women; broad brush produces sweeping social generalisations and action thus more favoured by men. For my own reading that doesnt quite fit but I'm too independent for that anyway! or too dashed crotchety
Thank you ennison for your comments.
I wrote as much for my own clarification as to invite comment. You wrote “Most of the more intelligent comments on Austen and on Romance as a serious fictional genre seem to come from women.”, where are they? Just shy or moved on to Harlequin romances? I am more pessimistic than you “the century wore on a more serious climate of opinion would draw literate young women (and men) towards more serious literature.”, we are living in the visual age and our enjoyment comes from predigested dramatizations of the classics.
I am as guilty as the rest since I would not have read Jane Eyre had I not seen and been dissatisfied with the recent dramatization. However I am puzzled with comments from readers on the forum that analysis diminishes one's enjoyment. It would seem to enrich it as in reading the biography of the Bronte sisters gives greater appreciation of the first half of the book.
The Romantic Novel part1
Jane Eyre is sometimes categorized as a Romantic novel but the category is even more misleading than the arguments for the Gothic novel. The Gothic novel began with The Castle of Otranto (1764), peaked with Emily Brontė's Wuthering Heights (1847) and can be argued, ended with Dracula by Bram Stoker in 1897. The reign of Queen Victoria (1837—1901) encompasses the Victorian literature category while the Romantic novel is equated with Romanticism, the literary movement is somewhat imprecisely dated 1798 to 1832 in England. Therefore it can be shown by whatever themes one emphasizes that Charlotte was influenced by all these categories in the creation of Jane Eyre. But even a casual reader will note the themes of Romance and Religion in the character of Jane Eyre.
The Romantic genre as defined by a principal character, a heroine, focuses on romantic love and has an emotionally satisfying ending. A somewhat trite formula if adhered mechanically however it is in the mix how the chef prepares the bouillabaisse. Forgiver the French simile, it's but a nod to Adele in the novel.
Romance or specifically, love in Jane Eyre is a very complex emotion and is intertwined with Religion, specifically moral choice. and lies at the crux of Jane's evolving character. Both are so complex and intertwined that I can but treat them separately. It is simplistic to characterize the evolution of Jane's love by this single word, as it's connotation changes so drastically with the growth of Jane's character as sketched by Charlotte . In chapter 4, defying Mrs. Reed, Jane a child, speaks prophetically:“You think I have no feelings, and I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I can not live so; and you have no pity.”
In the hungry and cold halls of Lowood Jane finds a soul mate who's bearing under punishment for a minor transgression makes a lasting impression. “The punishment seemed to me in a high degree ignominious, especially for so great a girl – she looked thirteen or upwards. I expected she would show signs of great distress and shame; but to my surprise she neither wept nor blushed; composed, though grave, she stood, the central mark of all eyes. “How can she bear it so quietly – so firmly?” I asked of myself. “where I in her place, it seems to me I should wish the earth to open and swallow me up.” Jane can pour her heart out to Helen Burns and a love of a peer begins but is quenched by what Jane feels is an unjust and senseless death. “ - I must embrace her before she died, - I must give her one last kiss, exchange with her one last word.” At dawn Miss Temple “found me laid in the little crib; my face against Helen Burn's shoulder, my arms round her neck. I was asleep, and Helen was – dead.” Tragedy stalks Jane's search for love.
The first part of the novel has the most naturalistic and vivid writing because it is based on Charlotte's experience of the deaths of her sisters in a religious school. It is impossible to understand Jane when she meets Rochester and the enfolding character of a young woman without the initial chapters where the character is formed.
In what I view as the second part of the novel Jane asks “Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain and little. I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! -- I have as much soul as you and fully as much heart”. Note the similarity to Jane's, at 8 years old, reproach to Mrs. Reed. The need to love has not diminished in the 10 years that Jane has grown into a young woman. But romantic love in Jane is embryonic. When she believes that he will marry Miss Ingram, Jane sees “the necessity of departure, and it is like looking on the necessity of death.” When Rochester assures her “ I summon you as my wife: it is you only I intend to marry.”. Jane's reaction is “I was silent: I thought he mocked me.”” When the proposal is repeated, Jane “Still I did not answer, and still writhed myself from his grasp: for I was still incredulous.” “”Do you doubt me Jane?””. “”Entirely.””
For Jane the acme of Romantic love is the continuous interchange of the roles of the lover and of the beloved. Emotionally she can not accept the equality that she desires. The love that she has been seeking, what appears to be in her grasp, Jane is unable to embrace. Nothing in her experience has prepared her for this. The storm that rages that night and splits the great horse-chestnut is a metaphor for the storm that rages inside Jane. When the wedding is aborted and throughout the explanations of Rochester's conduct and subsequent sexual wanderings, Jane is strangely passive. She understands but is emotionally disengaged. She resolves her dilemma by ascertaining a moral precept, not an emotional conviction, “I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principals received by me when I was sane, not mad as I am now … They have a worth - so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now it is because I am insane - quite insane: with my veins running fire and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.”
Romantic love remains an unresolved conflict in Jane. The cry “ You think ... I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I can not live so.”, is not answered. She has not entangled the Gordian not and has to seek an answer somewhere else.
With the death of her uncle Jane comes into her inheritance, not the twenty thousand but her kin and a home, Moor house. Jane reapplies to St. John's admonition of her newly gotten fortune, that she “neglected essentials to pursue trifles”, she replies “It may be of no moment to you; you have sisters, and don't care for a cousin; but I had nobody; now three relations”. Jane can indulge herself in the love of kin and home, she refurbishes the cottage and surrounds herself with the newly found kindred. “As our mutual happiness (i.e., Diana's, Mary's, and mine) settled into a quieter character and we resumed our usual habits and studies” However St. John's loveless proposal induces emotional turmoil indicating that her discovery of love is not at an end.
Similarly to the unearthly aid when Jane leaves Thornfield, Jane's dilemma is resolved by the voice in the night calling, “Jane, Jane, Jane”, “And it was the voice of a human being – a known, loved, well-remembered voice – that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain and woe, wildly, eerily, urgently.” and without hesitation she replies “”I am coming!” I cried. “Wait for me! Oh, I will come!””.
The epiphany is not by reasoned but an emotional transmutation. The previous moral dilemma, withers. Her response is emotional and it is very important to realize that at this moment she does not know of the fire at Thornfield and Bertha's death; that Rochester is free to marry. That that impediment no longer signifies.
Compare chapter 27's “”I must leave Adele and Thornfield. I must part with you for my whole life: I must begin a new existence amongst strange faces and strange scenes.” and closes with “”Farewell!” was the cry of my heart as I left him. Despair added, “Farewell, for ever!”. How far is the above from chapter's 37's ““And this her voice.” I added. “She is all here;her heart, too. God bless you, sir! I am glad to be so near you again.”” To Rochester doubt that she was not corporal and like his previous mirages she wold leave him, Jane replies “Which I will newer will, sir, from this day.”.
The journey of discovery, from the child's insistence of the right to love, to that of the young girl's love of a companion, to the awakening romantic love of a young woman, to the discovery of love for kin and home, is complete. Jane has found a selfless love without conflict , not thought but discovered through emotional experience.
Last edited by Newcomer; 03-09-2007 at 11:00 AM.
The Romantic Novel part 2
The conclusion of Jane Eyre must have been very troublesome for the Victorian reader. While enclosing love in the custom of a family and a repentant Rochester, Charlotte finishes the sketch of Jane's character with themes that would have belonged in a novel by Thomas Hardy or D.H. Lawrence., and were an anathema to the majority of Victorians.
Before she flees Thornfield and utters these word “Mr. Rochester, I will not be yours”, we have a glimse into Jane's mind in the following: to Rochester's question “What do you anticipate of me?” Jane answers “For a little while you will perhaps be as you are now – but when you get used to me, you will perhaps like me again, - like me, I say, not love me. I suppose your love will effervesce in six months, or less. I have observed in books written by men, that period assigned as the farthest to which a husband's ardour extends.”
A year latter Jane responds to Rochester seeking assurance that she was not an illusion - “and felt that she loved me, and trusted that she would not leave me.”
“Which I newer will, sir from this day.”
And to Rochester's - “but you cannot always be my nurse, Janet: you are young – you must marry one day.”
“I don't care about being married.”
Is this an affirmation of a Platonic love? How to reconcile the explicit sensuality in “I sought a seat for him in a hidden and lovely spot: a dry stump of a tree; nor did I refuse to let him, when seated, place me on his knee: why should I, when both he and I were happier near than apart?” When Rochester from jealousy asks “Why do you remain pertinaciously perched on my knee, when I have given you notice quit?”
“Because I am comfortable there.”
Not only is there's humor in Charlotte's description but an explicit indication of a profound change in Jane's character. Jane is at ease with both the spiritual and physical parts of love. Her love has matured and feels no contradictions.
Charlotte ends Jane Eyre not with thoughts of love of Jane or Rochester, the heroine and hero of the novel but of the secondary male character St. John. Not with a meditation on the happiness of marriage as required by the Romantic novel's emotionally satisfying ending but on death of a religious fanatic. Consequently if one accepts the definition of the Romantic novel then Jane Eyre does not fit. We are left with the Victorian novel, with contradictions in the novel that reflected the unsettling changes in a social order evolving from an agricultural to industrial society.
The aborted wedding at Thornfield permitted Charlotte to avoid the discussion of sexuality which was integral to the planed honeymoon. She begins the ultimate chapter with “Reader I married him.” and a few pages further “I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth.” A page latter, when discussing the partially restored sight of her husband, Charlotte writes “When his first-born was put into his arms he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes, as once were – large brilliant and black.” Again Charlotte avoids the subject of sexuality. This is quite in line with the repressive sexual values of a small but morally influential Victorian class.
Last edited by Newcomer; 03-09-2007 at 11:02 AM.
May I copy this and keep it, there are a number of ideas I'd like to think over in there.
Reply to ennison
I am pleased that you found it interesting. Please use it anyway you like.
Thank you. I find reading off a screen for long hard on my eyes. I've saved it into Word and printed it off.
As a digressive by the way, are you aware of the novel 'Wide Sargasso Sea' which, if you haven't read, I'm sure you would find of interest.
This is a fascinating discussion. Forgive the intrusion, but a point of clarification:
Although Jane Eyre can be described (a moot point here) as a romance novel, this is no way infers that it is romantic, that is, a product of English Romanticism. You are right that the period can be defined roughly 1798 to 1832, and it may be an interesting study to investigate how the concerns of Romanticism may have informed the 1840's composition of Jane Eyre. However, the English Romantics were not primarily concerned with romantic love, and so it may be less confusing not to attempt a bridge between two literatry genres that don't really mix.
However, much has been written about the tension that exists in the novel between realism and romance, and the oscilliation between the genres. Robyn R. Warhol's 1996 article 'Double Gender, Double Genre in Jane Eyre and Villette' in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 Vol. 36, No. 4, Nineteenth Century. (Autumn, 1996), pp. 857-875 explores the binary nature of the novel, and in it she argues that there is a mode of interpretation which can unravel the opposing forces within the novel; 'narratological analysis is a means of making visible women authors' activism in exposing and complication oppressive binary categories within culture.'
Other studies have explored the powerful erotic suggestions and the female will in Jane Eyre. Here are a couple of suggested articles.
'A Patriarch of One's Own: Jane Eyre and Romantic Love' by Jean Wyatt in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature Vol. 4, No. 2 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 199-216
'Girl Talk: "Jane Eyre" and the Romance of Women's Narration' by Carla Kaplan in NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction Vol. 30, No. 1 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 5-31
Last edited by rintrah; 02-07-2007 at 04:56 AM.
Thank you rintrah,
The references are much appreciated. I hope to get access and expand my understanding of the novel. As to the distinction of romance vs Romanticism, I quite agree, just that to dwell in the essay was not a priority. I hope I did not add to the confusion.
Jane nearly looses her self in her struggle with romantic love. The strength of self is very evident from the earliest pages of Jane Eyre. Thus the question arises why does Jean go to pieces when the self is so strong? Is the dilemma for the young woman just an unresolvable conflict between love and Victorian morality?
In the very first chapter we come to the example: John Reed “bullied and punished me;.... every nerve I had feared him, every morsel of flesh on my bones shrank when he came near.” When John flung the book at her and falling against a door she cuts her head. Jean's cry of ““Wicked and cruel boy”I said ”you are like a murderer” This causes “He ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair and shoulder: he had closed with a desperate thing.” In fury she gets the better of him. ”I was conscious that a moment's mutiny had already rendered me liable to strange penalties and like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths.”
When Rochester attempts to show his love in the conventional way by bestowing the Thornfield jewels on Jane, she objects: “Oh, sir! - never mind jewels! I don't like to hear them spoken of. Jewels for Jane Eyre sound unnatural and stage; I would rather not have them.”
“I ask only this: don't send for the jewels and don't crown me with roses: you might as well put a border of gold lace round that plain pocket-handkerchief you have there.”
When he insists that she have six new dresses, she accepts two. He insists that he choose the colors and settles on “a rich silk of the most brilliant amethyst dye and a superb pink satin”. From the language it is apparent that Jane admires the silks, yet with infinite patience she persuades him, on a sober black satin and a pearl-grey silk. Jane has a strong self-image of her own worth and is not easily mailable.
Rochester has to accept this image: “I might as well 'gild refined gold'. I know it”
Charlotte grew up in a parsonage where her religious beliefs were formed. She composed Jane Eyre under the influence religious beliefs as much as under an exploration of emotions as a basis for love and there was a critical intelligence that mediated between the two.
The 18th. century, Age Of Reason, was succeed by the dislocations of traditional values of class, family and faith. It may help in understanding this turmoil that only 10 years after the publication of Jane Eyre, On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. A cataclysmic dislocation of faith that even 150 years has not found a salve. In religion the Anglican dogma was being challenged by Evangelism. It's popularity was based on the premise that salvation was to be found in direct emotional experience while at the same time maintaining, that the Bible was literally true, and a civic morality that repressed all sexual feelings especially in women. An austere Calvinism prevailed in the north of England, and very probably among a minority of Catholics an otherworldly faith of divine forgiveness, contended as explanations for good and evil.
Given the examples and biblical references cited in emotional crisis in Jane Eyre, Charlotte's religious foundations were deep if at the same time tempered by intellectual skepticism and above all the observed hypocrisy in conduct. Mr. Brocklehurst, is described as “the black marble clergyman”. When asked by Rochester whether the girls at Lowood worshiped their director, Jane replied ““I disliked Mr. Brocklehurst; and I was not alone in the feeing. He is a harsh man; at once pompous and meddling: he cut off our hair”, “He starved us””. Brocklehurst's Evangelical God is of the Old Testament, jealous and vengeful. The young Jane had to hear scripture readings for eight years but these injunction had to contend with Jane's ingrained search for love. A more profound influence was Helen Burn's faith in the God of New Testament, a God of love and forgiveness. But the young Jane questions: “Where is God? What is God?” .... You are sure, then Helen, that there is such a place as heaven, and our souls can get to it we die?” Nor can she reconcile herself to Helen's “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that despitefully use you.”
Young Jane answers “Then I should love Mrs. Reed, which I can not do; I should bless her son John, which is impossible.” An ingrained stubbornness. Jane's experience of good and evil is at odds with such a doctrinaire morality. Yet the injunctions of the Old and of the New Testaments leave a mark on young Jane that only at the end of the novel is she able to resolve.
For the young woman in the turmoil of romantic love, the dilemma is phrased in religious idiom. “Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better than I was loved and him who thus loved me I absolutely worshiped"
“My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world; almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for his creature: of whom made an idol.”
As the nuptials turn into an exposition of a tragedy, Charlotte poetically phrases the melancholy state as “Jane Eyre, who had been an ardent, expectant woman – almost a bride – was a cold, solitary girl again:”
In despair the wandering mind seek help “remembrance of God;it begot a muttered prayer: these words went up and down in my rayless mind”
“Be not far from me, for trouble is near: there is none to help.”
“ The whole consciousness of my life lorn, my love lost, my hope quenched, my faith death-struck, swayed full and mighty above me in one sullen mass. That bitter hour cannot be described: in truth, “the waters came into my soul; I sank in deep mire: I felt no standing; I came into deep waters; the floods overflowed me.”” The language is explicitly religious, biblical, but there is no answer to Jane's appeal.
“”Farewell” was the cry of my heart as I left him. Despair added,”Farewell, for ever!”” The afore sought help comes, note the gender: “She broke forth as never moon yet burst from cloud: a hand first penetrated the sable folds and waved them away; then, not a moon, but a white human form shone in the azure, inclining a glorious brow earthward. It gazed and gazed on me. It spoke to my spirit: immeasurably distant was the tone, yet so near, it whispered in my heart -
"My daughter, flee temptation."
"Mother, I will."
Not the God of Abraham but she, the Mother, answers Jean's cry. Charlotte does a somersault in religious imagery. This totally unexpected yet it is not accidental as Morton parish episode shows where Jane discovers her cousins. Charlotte choses names for the two sisters as Diana and Mary: names of goddesses from pagan and Christian mythology. I suspect that to a careful Victorian reader this was more unsettling than the implied sensuality in the reunion of Jane and Rochester.
Charlotte begins the last chapter with “I married him”. Note the verb used, it is active, not passive. A Victorian woman would have said – I was married. This simple, direct statement is an indication of a profound change in Jane's mind. It is confirmed by the style of language Charlotte uses in the last chapter. The turmoil of the romantic love, alternating between passion and despair and using religious analogies and metaphors of violent nature to describe Jane's feelings, is replaced by a prosaic chronology. The dichotomy between lover and beloved has vanished. Had Charlotte chosen to describe the nuptial bed, no more apt sentence of Jane's feelings could be had than “Because I am comfortable there.” Jane has transcended the limits of the Victorian society. She has become a post Victorian woman.
The astonishing fact is that Jane, the fictional woman, transcends the author. Charlotte was and died bound by Victorian morality. She married without love, was tormented by doubt as to her talent, lack of beauty, and very probably in a God that had taken her sisters and brother before their time. What was the burning ember in Charlotte's imagination that allowed this transcendental leap?