This post contains spoilers through chapter 11 of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
How is the reading going? Fallen behind? Racing ahead? I won’t lie, I’m looking forward to this next week’s reading. Because reasons.
In case you missed it:
- The #EyreAlong tag right now is mostly me. Y’all need to step up your Twitter game or I’ll just keep live-tweeting Jane Eyre movies.
- Jane Eyre: Jedi Knight? on the blog.
Near the beginning of chapter 7, Jane is describing Sunday evenings at Lowood, and mentions that there is often an “enactment of the part of Eutychus by some half dozen of little girls”. In case you’ve forgotten, Eutychus was that guy who fell asleep while St. Paul was teaching and fell out of a window (Acts 20-7-12). Eutychus is brought back to life but still, Charlotte’s humor is kinda dark.
Mr. Brocklehurst is sure a piece of work. Young!Jane is terrified of him, but it’s fun to watch Jane-the-narrator put him in his place occasionally. For example, when he tries to shame the “vain” girls with long hair by putting them on display, he is completely ignorant of the fact that he can’t control their inner feelings and thoughts. If he was aware of their thoughts, “he would perhaps have felt that, whatever he might do with the outside of the cup and platter, the inside was further beyond his interference than he imagined” (chapter 7). Brocklehurst is really ignorant of A) what constitutes godly behavior and B) how godly behavior is produced or encouraged.
Enough of that guy, though. Let’s talk about Jane. Jane is absolutely killing me in these chapters. She is completely starved from friendship and love. Even worse, she is very self-aware of her own need for affection of any kind: “if others don’t love me, I would rather die than live–I cannot bear to be solitary and hated, Helen. Look here; to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest” (chapter 8). Helen doesn’t need other people to keep her happy, but she’s very introverted and focused on her own learning and improvement. It’s hard for her to understand Jane’s obsession with the validation of others around her.
When Mr. Brocklehurst accuses Jane in front of everyone, she is horrified by her certainty that Lowood will turn into another version of the Reeds, where everyone thinks badly of her or with indifference. Miss Temple’s effort to comfort her doesn’t help: “The kind whisper went to my heart like a dagger” (chapter 7), because Jane knows that soon even Miss Temple will hate her.
LET’S ALL TAKE A MOMENT TO HUG JANE.
Jane’s fears turn out to be unfounded, as Miss Temple tells her: “we shall think you what you prove yourself to be, my child” (chapter 8).
Of course, even with all her fears and insecurities, Jane is a fierce little badger, and knows it, too: “I was no Helen Burns” (chapter 7). I love the bit when she tears the sign off of Helen as soon as the teacher is gone: “the fury of which she was incapable had been burning in my soul all day” (chapter 8). I mean, let’s be honest, Jane needs to learn some chill, but her fierceness is endearing.
We see her fierceness temper a bit over the years at Lowood, but I’ll talk more about that below. Once Jane calms down a bit and gains the respect of her classmates and teachers, and the friendship of Helen and Miss Temple, Lowood becomes a sort of sanctuary for her. She hasn’t lived anywhere that lacked malice before. As she says, “I would not now have exchanged Lowood with all its privations, for Gateshead and its daily luxuries” (chapter 8).
In this section we see the last of Helen Burns, but not before Helen has had a huge impact on Jane. I don’t like the trope of the perfect-female-dying-of-consumption that is everywhere in Victorian fiction, , especially when the foreshadowing bludgeons you over the head, e.g.“her spirit seemed hastening to live within a very brief span as much as many live during a protracted existence” (chapter 8). Okay, book, she’s dying and you’re terrible, we get it.
Mr. Brocklehurst is obsessed (or at least claims to be) with the girls’ spiritual needs, but he completely neglects their physical needs. Jane has a grand time even though sickness had “transformed the seminary into an hospital” (chapter 9), because she can do whatever she wants. At this point, she’s free from the constraints of the Reeds and has no intention to bowing down to Brocklehurst’s restraints. Her frivolous friendship with Mary Ann Wilson doesn’t help either of them on any level (and doesn’t last long, we see), and contrasts nicely with her friendship with Helen Burns, where the two of them help each other see things that they otherwise wouldn’t.
Aside from their discussions, Helen’s sickness and death causes Jane to think of her spiritual future for the first time. When she realizes Helen is really sick, “my mind made its first earnest effort to comprehend what had been infused into it concerning heaven and hell” (chapter 9). Jane sneaks into Helen’s room at night, and when faced with Helen’s calm assurance of what will become of her, Jane demands, “Can you see? Do you know?” (chapter 9). Jane has never been bothered about her future before, but mostly concerned with the opinions of the people currently around her. I think Helen’s friendship and loss expands Jane’s perspective so that, while she is still the same person, she also has some inkling of Helen’s views and beliefs.
From Helen’s death on, there is a transitional period in the book, as Jane grows up at Lowood and then moves on to Thornfield. In this section are a few significant places where the narrator breaks through the fourth wall for the reader (or maybe just peers over it). For example, after Helen’s death we are told “for fifteen years after her death it was only covered by a grassy mound; but now a grey marble tablet marks the spot, inscribed with her name, and the word “Resurgam”” (chapter 9). By this we know that at some point adult Jane will return and do that for her friend, and she will be capable of paying for it. So we know she will turn out all right, at least financially. It doesn’t break the suspense as we already know future!Jane is alive and telling the story for us, but it does foreshadow a change in her status.
At the beginning of chapter 10 told we are told “this is not to be a regular autobiography” because she is going to skim over a few years, which is sort of hilarious because novels do this sort of time-jump all of the time, but the narrator refuses to acknowledge that she is in a novel. “A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play” opens chapter 11. Chapter 11 is where the story moves to Thornfield, so it’s a new “act” as well.
Jane has been very sheltered by Lowood over the years. It’s an academic, religious, and class bubble. Jane has to make an active choice to leave her bubble, which on the one hand is very brave of her, but then again Miss Temple, her surrogate mother, and Helen, her surrogate sister, are both gone. Jane needs people to love her, and so it is no surprise that “I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon” (chapter 10).
Even so, she doesn’t expect much by leaving. Her prayer is only “grant me at least a new servitude” (chapter 10), because servitude is “not like such words as Liberty, Excitement, Enjoyment: delightful sounds truly; but no more than sounds for me”. She hasn’t known any life but servitude, and a change is all she wants. Boy does she get one.
The interlude where Bessie visits Jane is a very useful scene in several ways. It provides some closure to the first part of Jane’s life, as she cuts all ties with the Reeds. Bessie observes to Jane that “You look like a lady, and it is as much as ever I expected of you” (chapter 10), showing us through another character’s eyes that Jane has grown up and evolved over the years since Gateshead. We also learn a bit more about the Eyres from Bessie:”they may be poor; but I believe they are as much gentry as the Reeds are” (chapter 10). Take into account that Bessie is working off of her observations of the Eyre relative only, and no knowledge besides Mrs. Reed’s skewed account. More on them later, probably.
I really love the paragraph in chapter 11 that begins, “It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world” , while Jane is sitting alone at the inn and waiting for her cab, so to speak. It’s a pretty real description of going off into the world for the first time. Jane’s rumination that “it is a pity that doing one’s best does not always answer” (chapter 11) sums up her life so far pretty well. She knows she has to make plans in case her best isn’t enough, or if her new employers simply don’t like her.
Jane reaches Thornfield, her new place of employment, and experiences a classic misunderstanding at a new job – and hears her first mention of Mr. Rochester: “I had never heard of him before; but the old lady seemed to regard his existence as a universally understood fact, with which everybody must be acquainted by instinct” (chapter 11). “Wait, you’re not my boss? My boss is some OTHER random???”
Mrs. Fairfax, who “is all English” as little Adele says (chapter 11), treats Jane kindly and as an equal, which Jane has never really experienced before. Yay! Grace Poole is the only exception to Jane getting along with everyone in her new home, but Jane sets herself to learning as much as she can about the place and its inhabitants. She notes that Adele has a lack of education in core subjects but has really weird song and dance training: “The subject seemed strangely chosen for an infant singer” and Jane feels it is “in bad taste” (chapter 11). However, Jane’s efforts to learn about Mr. Rochester are pointless because Mrs. Fairfax isn’t very curious or observant: “There are people who seem to have no notion of sketching a character, or observing and describing salient points, either in persons or things: the good lady obviously belonged to this class; my queries puzzled, but did not draw her out” (chapter 11).
Jane Eyre opened with Jane’s terrifying experience in the red room, where she feared the ghost of her uncle appearing. Now, at Thornfield, the book tries again to get a good ghost story vibe going, or at least gets us to wonder what kind of genre we’ve wandered into. Mrs. Fairfax warns her, although jokingly, that “one would almost say that, if there were a ghost at Thornfield Hall, this would be its haunt” (chapter 11) while touring the third floor. Once Jane is alone, “the last sound I expected to hear in so still a region, a laugh, struck my ear. It was a curious laugh; distinct, formal, mirthless” (chapter 11). Jane fears reprisals from beyond the grave, both as a child in the red room and as an adult at Thornfield. Jane, now that she’s older, tries to stay practical even with all the creepiness going on at her new house. We’ll see how well she succeeds in future chapters.
PS: I recommend reading The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, another Victorian story featuring a governess in a creepy old house. It’s interesting to compare the two.
Cool Jane Eyre website of the week: Jane Eyre Concordance. It features a lot of short posts that explain various references and allusions, including Mr. Brocklehurst’s allusion to Brahma and Juggernaut, Hindu gods, while criticizing Jane’s status as a liar.