Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Charlotte Brontë decoded: Romantic, classical and 18th century influences in Jane Eyre

This will be part of a series of detective work on my favourite authors. The whole aim is to find allusions and see what they stand for. When I say allusions, I don't mean contemporary social issues, but literary and historical allusions. This will mean I shall have to outrule poor Trollope (who is Austen's Victorian equal, methinks, except he is sharply focused on certain aspects of relationships, whereas she prefers to depict everyone as they are as a whole. He however writes on social issues, which I like).



This time we're doing Jane Eyre. Before we start on Romantic influences on the work, observe its 18th century predecessor, Pamela by Samuel Richardson. Pamela is about a young servant whose employer dies. So the employer's son takes over and tries to rape and seduce her to no avail, because she refuses to be his mistress and insists on virtue. In the end he marries her. It sucks, I know, and Jane Eyre's insistence on being independent is nothing like it.  But there is a lot of Pamela in Jane Eyre.

In Pamela, the heroine meets a fortune teller who tells her her palm is too fine she can't read her future. In  Jane Eyre, Mr Rochester disguises as a gypsy fortune-teller who tells her the same thing.  In Pamela the heroine refers to the wicked seducer as her Master. Jane Eyre calls Mr Rochester her Master.  In Pamela the hero gets the heroine after numerous attempts to seduce or rape her. In Jane Eyre Mr Rochester tries to persuade Jane Eyre to be his mistress and when his wife dies, marries her in the end. Both men are rakes (except Mr Rochester is a reformed rake). Both heroines refuse to give their maidenhead before marriage. Both heroines are lower in rank than their suitors. In Charlotte Brontës time, giving your daughters Pamela to read would have been shocking, but Mr Brontë did not restrict his children's reading and they read what they saw. Oh, and Mr B. in Pamela has an illegitimate daughter, just as Adèle may be Mr Rochester's daughter.

When Jane arrives at Thornfield, she describes the drawing-room, with a Tyrian-dyed curtain, and the ceiling carved with white grapes and win-leaves, and Bohemian glass, ruby-red. In Keats' Ode to Psyche, her originally wrote "Syrian" but the publishers could not read it properly and wrote "Tyrian" which means purple. In Ode to Melancholy there is a reference to "ruby grape of Proserpine." The poem is about how joy  always comes with melancholy, and Keats elevates melancholy. In Jane's description the room is a play on ice and fire, coldness and warmth, possibly melancholy and joy.

During the charade, Mr Rochester dresses up as a highwayman, a theme common in Romantic fiction. See Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, where the highwayman is a hero. Bulwer-Lytton wrote silver-forks in the 1830's and outsold most authors. He is the man who composed "It was a dark and stormy night," now hackneyed. Another costume is that of an Eastern emir, the sort of thing Byron wrote about. This exotic setting was popular and swooned over in Romantic poetry. The Middle East features in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. There is in fact a portrait of Byron in costume.

After Mr Rochester reveals his gypsy disguise, Jane reflects:
Where was I? Did I wake or sleep? Had I been dreaming? Did I dream still?
From Keats' Ode to a Nightingale:
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades  75
  Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
    Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
          In the next valley-glades:
  Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
    Fled is that music:—do I wake or sleep?
Illustration of Ode to a Nightingale by W.J. Neatby

Keats has been wrapped up in his own thoughts he cannot tell whether the nightingale's song had been there or was a figment of his own imagination. Jane Eyre was under Rochester's spell temporarily, to tell him her ambitions, though she had been consciously cautious, part of her was let loose. And this is true, because she reproaches Rochester for deceiving her as to his identity. I suppose not knowing he was Rochester loosened her tongue to reveal a side of her she normally doesn't reveal (setting up her own school, which she never even told the reader before), her dreams, just as Keats indulged in his own dreams.

From the proposal scene in Jane Eyre:
A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away--away--to an indefinite distance--it died. The nightingale's song was then the only voice of the hour: in listening to it, I again wept. 
In Ode to a Nightingale:
 That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
 And with thee fade away into the forest dim:  20
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
  What thou among the leaves hast never known, ... 
 Away! away! for I will fly to thee,

Notice the wandering, dying and fading, all synonomous verbs? And "away - away" is quite outstanding. The wind could represent passion and change (Jane's marriage), the prospect of which is too far away in reality, and thus dies. It's an interesting re-interpretation of Keats' words, because Keats is more positive and dreamlike, whereas Jane forces herself to see reason.  But both are between a state of dream and wakefulness, and cannot tell whether what they hear is true.

When Jane Eyre returns to Rochester after her Marsh End episode, he calls her his skylark. Charlotte was fond of Wordsworth, who wrote Ode to a Skylark. (So did Shelley, but we'll assume Wordsworth).
Ethereal minstrel! pilgrim of the sky!
Dost thou despise the earth where cares abound?
Or, while the wings aspire, are heart and eye
Both with thy nest upon the dewy ground?
Thy nest which thou canst drop into at will,
Those quivering wings composed, that music still!

Leave to the nightingale her shady wood;
A privacy of glorious light is thine;
Whence thou dost pour upon the world a flood
Of harmony, with instinct more divine;
Type of the wise who soar, but never roam;
True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home!

Notice he contrasts the skylark with the nightingale, who sings in the dark shade. The skylark comes out in the open sun, and represents light and happiness; the nightingale is darkness and melancholy. I don't know if Charlotte consciously incorporated this in her work, but in Phase the first, when Jane is governess at Thornfield, there's a lot of nightingales mentioned, especially when the garden and Mr Rochester is around.  Only after he is blinded and she comes back is she a skylark (no actual skylarks are mentioned, which means it may either be a nickname or a symbol, I think Skylark would be equivalent to Sunshine). This represents the dark uncertainty in their relationship now giving way to a bright, honest happiness. While Keats is thoughtful, perhaps melancholic, Wordsworth is exuberant.

After the proposal, the next morning Jane tells Rochester:
How stern you look now! Your eyebrows have become as thick as my finger, and your forehead resembles what, in some very astonishing poetry, I once saw styled ‘a blue-piled thunder-loft.’ That will be your married look, sir, I suppose?”
Penguin and Oxford World Classics have traced the poem as Demoniac by Thomas Aird (published 1830 in Blackwood's Magazine). It was a Tory magazine eagerly devoured for its silver-fork and adventure stories by Charlotte in her childhood.  Now 1830 was part of the Romantic era, and this vivid description of a forehead is very typically Romantic. By the way it was used to describe Christ's forehead in the poem. I am not suggesting Rochester is a stand-in for Christ, though.

From the proposal scene, which takes place in summer:
I went apart into the orchard. No nook in the grounds more sheltered and more Eden-like; it was full of trees, it bloomed with flowers: a very high wall shut it out from the court, on one side; on the other, a beech avenue screened it from the lawn. At the bottom was a sunk fence; its sole separation from lonely fields: a winding walk, bordered with laurels and terminating in a giant horse- chestnut, circled at the base by a seat, led down to the fence. Here one could wander unseen. While such honey-dew fell, such silence reigned, such gloaming gathered, I felt as if I could haunt such shade for ever; but in threading the flower and fruit parterres at the upper part of the enclosure, enticed there by the light the now rising moon cast on this more open quarter, my step is stayed-- not by sound, not by sight, but once more by a warning fragrance.
Sweet-briar and southernwood, jasmine, pink, and rose have long been yielding their evening sacrifice of incense: this new scent is neither of shrub nor flower; it is--I know it well--it is Mr. Rochester's cigar. I look round and I listen. I see trees laden with ripening fruit. I hear a nightingale warbling in a wood half a mile off ...
But no--eventide is as pleasant to him as to me, and this antique garden as attractive; and he strolls on, now lifting the gooseberry- tree branches to look at the fruit, large as plums, with which they are laden; now taking a ripe cherry from the wall; now stooping towards a knot of flowers, either to inhale their fragrance or to admire the dew-beads on their petals.
A scene of solitude, just as Keats the narrator is lost in his solitary thoughts, in Ode to a Nightingale. 
 But here there is no light,
  Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
    Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.  40
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
  Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmèd darkness, guess each sweet
  Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;  45
  White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
    Fast-fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
          And mid-May's eldest child,
  The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
    The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
Highlighted words are analogous to each other. The fragrant flowers and incense, and the summer evening are both there, so are the fruit-trees and the dew-flecked flowers. This is purely descriptive, and yet it reveals Charlotte's Romantic-pastoral influence. The lack of light in Keats is like the concealed hiding-place in Thornfield. Is it a coincidence they employ the same words? There is only a 30-year gap between both works, after all. Still, too many coincidences. The Eden-like state, to digress, is a forbidden garden of love.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades  75
  Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
    Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
          In the next valley-glades:
Yes, the nightingale in Thornfield is half a mile away, as the one in Keats is far away. Significant?
And why does Rochester ask her to listen to the nightingale singing? To point out the beauty of its song? Likely, though a possible symbolic reason is as follows:  The nightingale represents gloom and darkness, and this is forcing Jane to confront the sad reality of her life. Or possibly the nightingale is an allusion to the myth of Tereus and Philomela.
"Jane, do you hear that nightingale singing in the wood? Listen!"
In listening, I sobbed convulsively; for I could repress what I endured no longer; I was obliged to yield, and I was shaken from head to foot with acute distress. When I did speak, it was only to express an impetuous wish that I had never been born, or never come to Thornfield.
Why does she sob in hearing its song? Perhaps she will miss it, because it is part of Thornfield and she loves Thornfield.  In the myth, Tereus raped his sister-in-law Philomela and cut out her tongue so she couldn't tell. But she told her story in tapestry, and when Tereus wanted to kill her the gods turned her into a nightingale to escape his wrath (See Ovid's Metamorphoses which I am force-reading now). When Rochester embraces Jane he says she is liked a plumed bird trying to escape. Is she then a nightingale? While she is not raped, Jane longs to express what she cannot express, just like Philomela.  And being kissed against her will is a more decent version of rape, though arguably Jane enjoys it, and Rochester wouldn't rape her.
Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
  Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
  Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
This reflects part of Rochester. Rochester sees Jane as is the epitome of poetry and Romanticism, not as some mere pleasure like drinking (Bacchus is the god of wine).
 opening on the foam
    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
is somewhat reminiscent of Jane's fear of being sent to Ireland.
"You'll like Ireland, I think: they're such warm-hearted people there, they say." 
"It is a long way off, sir."
"No matter--a girl of your sense will not object to the voyage or
the distance."
"Not the voyage, but the distance:  and then the sea is a barrier--"
"From what, Jane?"
"From England and from Thornfield:  and--"
"Well?"
"From YOU, sir."
The thought of Mrs. O'Gall and Bitternutt Lodge struck cold to my heart; and colder the thought of all the brine and foam, destined, as it seemed, to rush between me and the master at whose side I now walked, and coldest the remembrance of the wider ocean--wealth, caste, custom intervened between me and what I naturally and inevitably loved.

Jane says she grieves to leave Thornfield.

 I have known you, Mr. Rochester; and it strikes me with terror and anguish to feel I absolutely must be torn from you for ever.  I see the necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of death."
 In Keats:
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
  I have been half in love with easeful Death,

There's a trace of Endymion in Jane Eyre, or perhaps Charlotte got it directly from the Greek mythology. It is about Diana (or Selene) goddess of the moon (more accurately Selene, but by the 19th century many thought it was Diana and mixed up the two) who falls in love with the human shepherd Endymion who lies on Mount Latmos. When Jane shows her paintings to Rochester he recognises one of them as Latmos. As for the moon-goddess, Diana is thought of as a moon-goddess and of chastity, and the presence of the moon at romantic hours seems to serve as a directive to Jane to guard her virtue.  Selene vows to protect Endymion forever, just as Jane's virtue is protected at these lunar moments. (Some crazy scholar may even argue of werewolves. I hope it doesn't come to that). When the moon is in the shadows at the proposal scene, it not only symbolises darkness, Rochester's concealments from her, but also Jane's impetuous passion and danger of losing her virtue (becoming a mistress). When the moon appears blood-red later, it is frightening and seems to be death or a wound. Red does that to you. It might even be passion. Is it the death of Jane's innocence? To be fair I doubt Charlotte was conscious as she wrote this. Sarah at Frigate to Utopia suggests that when Rochester makes up a fairytale of wanting to live with Jane on the moon it symbolises the
"impossibility of purity when he is refusing to acknowledge her autonomy by treating her like a seraglio slave".
Since the moon represents purity, and you can't really live on the moon, and wanting her to be on the moon only with him is making her his slave, because as Adele wisely points out it would make her bored.
Adele heard him, and asked if she was to go to school 'sans mademoiselle?'
'Yes,' he replied, 'absolutely sans mademoiselle; for I am to take mademoiselle to the moon, and there I shall seek a cave in one of the white valleys among the volcano-tops, and mademoiselle shall live with me there, and only me.'
'She will have nothing to eat: you will starve her,' observed Adele.
'I shall gather manna for her morning and night: the plains and hillsides in the moon are bleached with manna, Adele.'
'She will want to warm herself: what will she do for a fire?'
'Fire rises out of the lunar mountains: when she is cold, I'll carry her up to a peak, and lay her down on the edge of a crater.'
'Oh, qu' elle y sera mal--peu comfortable! And her clothes, they will wear out: how can she get new ones?'
Mr. Rochester professed to be puzzled. 'Hem!' said he. 'What would you do, Adele? Cudgel your brains for an expedient. How would a white or a pink cloud answer for a gown, do you think? And one could cut a pretty enough scarf out of a rainbow.'
'She is far better as she is,' concluded Adele, after musing some time: 'besides, she would get tired of living with only you in the moon. If I were mademoiselle, I would never consent to go with you.'
'She has consented: she has pledged her word.'
'But you can't get her there; there is no road to the moon: it is all air; and neither you nor she can fly.'
There is no road to that summit of purity and bliss, Adèle seems to be saying. But assuming this habitable moon is Selene, then putting Jane on the moon is elevating her to a moon-goddess. This makes sense, as later Rochester says Jane is a fairy. He keeps on calling her a fairy, not of this world.

He goes on to say on the summer day after making hay, Jane came to him like a fairy.
'It was a fairy, and come from Elf-land, it said; and its errand was to make me happy: I must go with it out of the common world to a lonely place--such as the moon, for instance--and it nodded its head towards her horn, rising over Hay-hill: it told me of the alabaster cave and silver vale where we might live. I said I should like to go; but reminded it, as you did me, that I had no wings to fly.
''Oh,' returned the fairy, 'that does not signify! Here is a talisman will remove all difficulties;' and she held out a pretty gold ring. 'Put it,' she said, 'on the fourth finger of my left hand, and I am yours, and you are mine; and we shall leave earth, and make our own heaven yonder.' She nodded again at the moon. 

Myth and legends are Romantic, and the fairy's promise to take him to the moon reminds you of Selene. Jane taking Rochester to the moon - I can envision that as Selene guarding Endymion. For rakish Rochester sees the pure Jane is his reformer, an idol to worship, and Jane says, before leaving him "God bless you, sir!"  Anyway I don't know if Charlotte was thinking of this (maybe not, because fairies are so common things in Victorian fiction) but a fairy features in Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Unlike Jane Eyre, the fairy is cruel and deceitful, but certain elements seem to be in Jane Eyre.
VI.

I set her on my pacing steed,
  And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
  A faery’s song.
VII.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
        25
  And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
  “I love thee true.”
VIII.

She took me to her elfin grot,
  And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore,        30
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
  With kisses four.

The fairy gives the knight manna, just as Rochester says he will gather manna. The pacing steed also reminds me of the scene when Jane and Rochester meet for the first time, he is on a horse, and thought of her as a fairy.  The alabaster cave on the moon is like the elfin grot the fairy takes the knight to. (Grot means cave).  The harvest in the poem is done so it could be autumn, and the Jane's courtship is in summer, not long before autumn. But hay-harvesting in the novel reminds you of the poem.

I can imagine Charlotte enjoying the romances in Keats. I probably exaggerate but even Jane entering Rochester's room to put out the fire reminds me of Eve of St Agnes. Someone is entering someone's bedroom, which isn't a very Victorian thing. Still, Charlotte may have thought it up herself. I have no idea whether she read the Eve of St Agnes. But while it is in that poem Madeline and Porphyro fulfil their love for the first time, it is also when Jane first realises the extent of which she feels of Rochester. She is awakened from her calm innocence, just as Madeline is deflowered. (Obviously no defloration takes place in Jane Eyre).
Friedrich Schiller

When Jane runs away from Thornfield and sees the Rivers sisters reading by the window, it is from a passage from Schiller's Die Räuber that they are reading aloud. Schiller is one of the most important German literary figures of the 18th century, apart from Goethe. His works came out in the late 18th century, which would be Weimar classicism and Romanticism. I don't know the difference between Weimar classicism and Romanticism, because they seem to cover a similar time period, and Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, supposed to start Romanticism, was during the era of Weimar classicism. It is possible that Goethe was the Trope Maker, as those people at TV Tropes would say. Anyway Weimar classicism has characteristics of the Enlightenment (known also as the era of classical art) and Romanticism. Critical of the dullness of the Enlightenment and the excesses of the Romantics, the Weimar classicists sought to enlighten and liberate the human reason, to find out who he is, and to question things. Their motives were certainly classical, but this emphasis on the individual is Romantic. The Romantics, while less appreciative of reason, inherited the radical tendency to question governments, which is why they are known as reformists. In Schiller's play it is about two brothers and their father, the brothers symbolising what would happen to the state if excess of reason or feelings were to occur. Charlotte put that in the show how cultivated the Rivers are.

Interestingly, observe the scene when St John Rivers brings Jane a copy of Marmion of Sir Walter Scott. Published first in 1808, the publishers paid 1000 guineas to Scott for the copyright. A new edition came out in 1830, and this must be when the scene is set.
he laid on the table a new publication—a poem: one of those genuine productions so often vouchsafed to the fortunate public of those days—the golden age of modern literature. Alas! the readers of our era are less favored. But, courage! I will not pause either to accuse or repine. I know poetry is not dead, nor genius lost; nor has Mammon gained power over either, to bind or slay: they will both assert their existence, their presence, their liberty and strength again one day. Powerful angels, safe in heaven! they smile when sordid souls triumph, and feeble ones weep over their destruction. Poetry destroyed? Genius banished? No! Mediocrity, no: do not let envy prompt you to the thought. No; they not only live, but reign, and redeem: and without their divine influence spread everywhere, you would be in hell—the hell of your own meanness.
Charlotte expresses her own opinion on how she misses the Romantic era. Wikipedia says Mammon is associated with greed and materialism. No doubt Charlotte felt that Victorian poetry was over-dependent on what sales demanded, it being an industrial and commercial age. In later life she and Mrs Gaskell were to have a friendly argument on their favourite poets. Charlotte liked Wordsworth, Mrs Gaskell Tennyson. Charlotte found Tennyson less true and therefore contemptible.  Ironically just as he gives Jane Marmion, a romance of old times, St John studies her portrait of Rosamond and has a battle between his reason and desire. In the end, reason wins: he resolves not to marry Rosamond. I sometimes think St John represents the Evangelicals who made the Anglican uneasy in the 1830's and the early Victorian era, because the Anglicans were seen as too lax, compared to the severity of the former.

There's a quotation from Scott's The Lay of the Last Minstrel right after Jane describes her new home, the teacher's house, and thanks God for preserving her virtue and letting her be independent.
The air was mild; the dew was balm.
Here's the stanza.
So pass'd the day - the evening fell,







'Twas near the time of curfew bell;
The air was mild, the wind was calm,
The stream was smooth, the dew was balm;
E'en the rude watchman, on the tower,
Enjoy'd and bless'd the lovely hour.
Far more fair Margaret loved and bless'd
The hour of silence and of rest.
On the high turret sitting lone,
She waked at times the lute's soft tone;
Touch'd a wild note, and all between
Thought of the bower of hawthorns green.
Her golden hair stream'd free of band,
Her fair cheek rested on her hand,
Her blue eyes sought the west afar,
For lovers love the western star.
It's not hard to think that Jane is envisioning herself as a Romantic heroine looking at the star. The heroine of the poem, Lady Margaret, is thinking of her forbidden lover, as Jane thinks of Rochester, forbidden to her as he is married. Jane is swelling with pride and agony that she refused to become Rochester's mistress, as Lady Margaret's mother refuses to let her daughter marry the family enemy's son out of pride. 
While I looked, I thought myself happy, and was surprised to find myself ere long weeping--and why? For the doom which had reft me from adhesion to my master: for him I was no more to see; for the desperate grief and fatal fury--consequences of my departure--which might now, perhaps, be dragging him from the path of right, too far to leave hope of ultimate restoration thither. At this thought, I turned my face aside from the lovely sky of eve and lonely vale of Morton--I say LONELY, for in that bend of it visible to me there was no building apparent save the church and the parsonage, half-hid in trees, and, quite at the extremity, the roof of Vale Hall, where the rich Mr. Oliver and his daughter lived.
engraving from Lay of the Last Minstrel

When he tells her about his love for Rosamond,
Reserved people often really need the frank discussion of their sentiments and griefs more than the expansive…to “burst” with boldness and good-will into “the silent sea” of their souls is often to confer on them the first of obligations
it is a quotation from Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. There is no significance in the choice of words.
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

The day St John tells Jane about her legacy she is reading Marmion.
"Day set on Norham's castled steep, 
And Tweed's fair river, broad and deep, 
And Cheviot's mountains lone; 

The battled towers. the Donjon Keep, 
The loopholes grates, where captives weep, 
The flanking walls that round it sweep, 
In yellow lustre shone. 
In the poem, Lord Marmion has designs on an heiress, Clara de Clare, and seeks to separate her from her fiance, Sir Ralph de Witton. Ironically St John is in love with an heiress, Rosamond Oliver, but will not speak of his love - a total contrast to Lord Marmion.

When St John proposes to Jane we get yet another quotation from the Lay of the Last Minstrel.
Turning from me, he once more - "Looked to river, looked to hill.
It is when the mother of Margaret acknowledges that her daughter's lover is not their enemy, and resigns to their marriage.  Jane refuses to marry St John and makes him hate her, and he is resigned to the fact she will not love him, though he does persist in proposing marriage to her.

When Jane returns to Thornfield, she finds it a blackened ruin and compares it to a lover finding his mistress (mistress doesn't mean what it does now, it can mean female lover) dead.
A lover finds his mistress asleep on a mossy bank; he wishes to catch a glimpse of her fair face without waking her. He steals softly over the grass, careful to make no sound; he pauses — fancying she has stirred: he withdraws: not for worlds would he be seen. All is still: he again advances: he bends above her; a light veil rests on her features: he lifts it, bends lower; now his eyes anticipate the vision of beauty — warm, and blooming, and lovely, in rest. How hurried was their first glance! But how they fix! How he starts! How he suddenly and vehemently clasps in both arms the form he dared not, a moment since, touch with his finger! How he calls aloud a name, and drops his burden, and gazes on it wildly! He thus grasps and cries, and gazes, because he no longer fears to waken by any sound he can utter — by any movement he can make. He thought his love slept sweetly: he finds she is stone dead.
 Could it possibly be an extension of Wordsworth Lucy poems? In one of them, Strange fits of passion I have known the lover rides to Lucy's house and wonders what if she were dead. In another poem she is dead. In another, Wordsworth says after being abroad with unknown men he now loves England more, and cherishes Lucy who reminds him of happy days. Curiously Lucy lived a solitary life, and was united with nature.
by J.W. Waterhouse

Death of a lover, or a lover's dream - it makes me think of Keats' Lamia, when Lycius calls out her name, and finds she is vanished, after she is revealed to be a snake. There is no evidence, however, that Lamia influenced this passage, and the image of a dead lover is so common in the 19th century.

Then we must come to the question of questions. Why does Rochester persist in calling Jane a fairy? She is changeling-born and human-bred he says, not of this world. When they first speak in Thornfield, he asks whether she was waiting for her fellow little green men? (not aliens, leprechauns I presume). Indeed she is not of this world. She is purer, more independent and thoughtful than the ladies Rochester typically encounters. We must think of Charlotte's intentions, however, because Rochester is Charlotte's mouthpiece. Jane does not feel at home anywhere except with Rochester up till then, feeling like an interloper at Gateshead and disliking the society of great people. Even Charlotte had that feeling throughout her life. She could not cope with the pressures of London literary society when she went there to see her publisher. Jane is supposed to promote the notion that a girl who cannot fit into this society can be good, genteel and cultivated. Charlotte wanted a heroine who wasn't courted by society, but an individual of her own right. Still, a fairy instead of a bluestocking ... I suppose the naïve sincere qualities make her almost mythical and beloved by Rochester. It is a much more interesting manner of presenting a reserved person. Why not elusive instead of reserved? Charlotte told her sisters that she would have a plain heroine who could be interesting. Indeed she is. But most adaptations fail to do justice to Jane, because the character is naturally quiet and uninteresting to most people. If you or I were to meet Jane we would not be captivated by her easily. Her personality is not attractive at first sight. The fact certain actresses make Jane a bit too quiet and dull is correct - she is quiet and dull to most people. Unless you know what she is thinking you will think nothing of her. Today's attractive, thrilling heroines are not Jane Eyre at all - Jane is not a typically captivating person. Make Jane too interesting, and you have destroyed the essence of Jane Eyre. The best interpretation was from the 1973 version starring Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston. Sorcha has too few expressions it is complained but Jane herself would try not to express her feelings on her face. She is also nervous and inexperienced, so naturally she would force her face into certain expressions. Unlike Zelah Clarke (who is also relatively faithful to the original) Sorcha is merry with Rochester, and nothing much with other people. The actors go very well together. She also has the air of a country girl, unlike the pretty sophistication of the other Janes. And she has far more chemistry with her costar than the rest, and I don't mean heavy snogging, I mean chemistry as they speak. Other adaptations emphasise the physical aspect too much, making you think Jane Eyre is shallow after all. You can see why Jane wouldn't be considered a sophisticated lady, at at the same time she is lovable, with her large eyes being her only real beauty. Sorcha may not be beautiful but that is faithful to the original.

Is it too much to say that Charlotte intended Jane Eyre to be a celebration of that era she loved? I don't think so.

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