Today is the two-hundredth anniversary of Charlotte Bronte’s birthday!
She was an incredible author – her book Jane Eyre impresses itself upon a reader’s heart and remains there – it excites powerful, unexplainable, and in some cases unidentifiable emotions – it fills heart and soul with feeling – and the author who created it must have possessed an incredible gift – so honour her today, and think on the wonder of what she created.
I have written an article – or rather, as I have no real argument, but rather a few little ones, a piece of writing containing my thoughts – on Jane Eyre in honour of the occasion. It is very long, however – too long for anybody to read in one sitting – and for me to finish today. So I will publish it in parts from this day onwards – starting with her childhood.
Note: (in the following parts of this the plot will be given away – so do not read unless you have read the book. Besides, if you have not, you ought to be reading it right now straight away, and not wasting time reading anything else!)
Of these death-white realms I formed an idea of my own: shadowy, like all the half-comprehended notions that float dim through children’s brains, but strangely impressive. The words in these introductory pages connected themselves with the succeeding vignettes, and gave significance to the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray; to the broken boat stranded on a desolate coast; to the cold and ghastly moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.
I cannot tell what sentiment haunted the quite solitary churchyard, with its inscribed headstone; its gate, its two trees, its low horizon, girdled by a broken wall, and its newly-risen crescent, attesting the hour of eventide.
The two ships becalmed on a torpid sea, I believed to be marine phantoms.
The fiend pinning down the thief’s pack behind him, I passed over quickly: it was an object of terror.
So was the black horned thing seated aloof on a rock, surveying a distant crowd surrounding a gallows.
How very strongly is the coldness, the emptiness, the loneliness of her feelings conveyed in the manner with which she finds sympathy with the broken and the lonely objects in the pictures, ‘the cold and ghastly moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking’. She feels like the ‘broken boat, stranded on a desolate coast’ and like the rock, ‘standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray’. ‘Of these death-white realms I formed an idea of my own’. The ‘ghastly moon glancing through bars of cloud’ is intresting. The metephor ‘bars of cloud’ makes one think of prison bars – could the moon be in some way a personification of Mrs Reed – watching Jane’s wreck sink, behind, perhaps, the bars of a cruel nature? Or it might be the other half of Jane herself, behind the bars of timidity, of fear. For there is a feeling always that she needs to brake out of something. This might explain the feeling of most incredible relief, like the lifting of a heavy weight, when, a little later in the book, Jane expresses her hatred for Mrs Reed.
“…I had been trodden on severely, and must turn: but how?…I gathered my energies and launched them in this blunt sentence –
“I am not deceitful: if I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you…”
Mrs. Reed’s hands still lay on her work inactive: her eye of ice continued to dwell freezingly on mine.
“What more have you to say?” she asked, rather in the tone in which a person might address an opponent of adult age than such as is ordinarily used to a child…Shaking from head to foot, thrilled with ungovernable excitement, I continued –
“I am glad you are no relation of mine: I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty.”
“How dare you affirm that, Jane Eyre?”
“How dare I, Mrs. Reed? How dare I? Because it is the truth. You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity. I shall remember how you thrust me back—roughly and violently thrust me back — into the red-room, and locked me up there, to my dying day; though I was in agony; though I cried out, while suffocating with distress, ‘Have mercy! Have mercy, Aunt Reed!’ And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me—knocked me down for nothing. I will tell anybody who asks me questions, this exact tale. People think you a good woman, but you are bad, hard- hearted. You are deceitful!”
Is there not, in these lines, a wild joy of relief and revenge? You want to cheer her on. She expresses herself the feeling of it –
“Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty”
With Jane in this state of relieved triumph I will leave this section of the book – say a few words on her eight years at Lowood school, and then pass on to Thornfield.
The part of about Lowood may be slightly – or more than slightly – autobiographical. As a child she endured the hardships of a school much like Lowood – and two of her sisters died there. This may have been what gave the scene of Helen Burn’s death such tragedy – Charlotte knew what it was like.
I must move on – though I could write a novel’s worth about each part of this wonderful book, I have only so much time. The rest, however, will be saved for tomorrow – or for in a few days.