“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”(Bronte, 303) Narrated by the protagonist after 10 years since the last incident and written in the period that no women could speak up for themselves and release their ideas, Jane Eyre is revolutionary. First published in 1847 under a male pen-name (Currer Bell), represents the ideas of Charlotte Bronte and even gives clues about her personal life with its autobiographical side. It is possible to see parallels between the plot of Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte’s life. So, we can conclude that she used some of her personal experience as the basis to her fictional world. For example, Clergy Daughters’ School in Lancashire in which Charlotte Bronte and her sisters were sent to by their fathers in 1824 was considered to be the correlation of Lowood School which was the one that Jane Eyre was sent to by her aunt.
Being a great example of bildungsroman, Jane Eyre is considered to be one of the leading novels of romanticism movement with its valuable sum of gothic features. What makes it such a great work is that it is a great mixture of oppositeness. Further explanation would be that both realism and romanticism are included in the novel which might be considered as the main contrast. Narrator’s depiction of the period matches with Victorian England; however, as story goes by, real world meets fantasy. Jane Eyre’s falling in love with her master and not being able to come together because of social class differences is a great example of realistic events. Yet, in the end, that is not what happens. That is one of the certain points of intersection where we see both realism and romanticism.
Jane’s journey from the beginning requires choices whether physical or spiritual. Differences between men and women, high class and lower class, earthly desires and morality… These are the major conflicts Jane struggles to figure out what to do or what to feel. We see it clearly in the relationship between Jane the governess and Mr. Rochester the master. Even though Jane tries to keep herself away from thinking such fantasies and tries to catch the balance, equality does not seem to come easy, especially in the Victorian England. Jane expresses her thoughts on the matter as:
Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex. (Bronte, 129)
At the end, even though no social rule is broken or bent, we understand that Jane feels much more comfortable and equal as she always wanted and expressed:
I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest–blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully is he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but a more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character–perfect concord is the result”.(Bronte, 546)
One of the most famous lines in the novel is undeniably the following one: “Reader, I married him.”(Bronte, 544) This might be the concluding sentence for the entire unbalanced situation. Instead of saying “he married me”, using “I” as an object reflects the equality between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester. Being a blind man, now Mr. Rochester is more destitute to Jane more than ever, who is now and independent woman after being left a legacy by her uncle.
What takes the story far beyond is the gothic touches in it. These are usually the moments when reader gets hit with the feeling of tension and excitement. With the definite gloomy and scary mood, it gives a different, deep aspect to the story. First gothic touch might be seen as the fear of an unloved child. Because of the pressure and unfairness in the house where Jane Eyre is living with her aunt and cousins, she feels oppressed and edgy. She describes this situation using these words:
I was a discord in Gateshead Hall: I was like nobody there; I had nothing in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her children, or her chosen vassalage. If they did not love me, in fact, as little did I love them. They were not bound to regard with affection a thing that could not sympathise with one amongst them; a heterogeneous thing, opposed to them in temperament, in capacity, in propensities; a useless thing, incapable of serving their interest, or adding to their pleasure; a noxious thing, cherishing the germs of indignation at their treatment, of contempt of their judgment. I know that had I been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child–though equally dependent and friendless–Mrs. Reed would have endured my presence more complacently; her children would have entertained for me more of the cordiality of fellow-feeling; the servants would have been less prone to make me the scapegoat of the nursery. (Bronte, 11)
When she is locked in the Red Room because of an unfair situation, readers also feel the heavy mood that she is in. Red Room is known to be the place where her uncle died nine years ago. It was described as:
The Red Room was a spare chamber, very seldom slept in: I might say never, indeed, unless when a chance influx of visitors at Gateshead Hall rendered it necessary to turn to account all the accommodation it contained: yet it was one of the largest and stateliest chambers in the mansion. (Bronte, 9)
Most breathtaking part is when Jane thinks she is seeing the ghost of her uncle, described as in the following:
Shaking my hair from my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly round the dark room: at this moment a light gleamed on the wall. Was it, I asked myself, a ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling and quivered over my head. I can now conjecture readily that this streak of light was, in all likelihood, a gleam from a lantern, carried by someone across the lawn: but then, prepared as my mind was for horror, shaken as my nerves were by agitation, I thought the swift-darting beam was a herald of some coming vision from another world. My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings: something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke down—I uttered a wild, involuntary cry—I rushed to the door and shook the lock in a desperate effort. (Bronte,13)
Another major gothic imagery in the plot is on the third floor of Thornfield Hall. The unnatural situation is sensed by the reader as Jane experiences is by hearing laughs. It is explained by Mr. Rochester as Grace Poole and Leah sewing. However, in the continuing parts, we learn that to be Mr. Rochester’s wife, Bertha, who is locked in because of her mental problems and being looked after by Grace Poole. Her attempt to set fire to Mr. Rochester’s room and scaring Jane in her room are other examples of Bertha Mason’s gloomy, dreadful mood.
It is not possible to understand the value of good without the bad. To understand Jane and her feelings even better, it is crucial to understand the nature of her acquaintances, the people whose paths had crossed with Jane’s. It is impossible not to see the parallel between Reeds and Rivers family. They are almost two opposite sides of what family should mean. On one side, Reeds family, who showed no affection to Jane since her childhood while just the contrary was charged to Mrs. Reed by her dying husband Mr. Reed and on the other side, Rivers family, who took care of Jane when she was desperate for help. It was a great miracle to be discovered as cousins after helping her and showing her great deal of love. They were the family she always had the blank in her heart.
Another major character, Bertha Mason, is to be compared with Jane Eyre. While Jane represents the sane and decent side, wife of Mr. Rochester seems to have lost her sanity completely. Prone to violence and dangerous for the residences of Thornfield Hall, Bertha is the opposite of harmless Jane but also what she wants to become; wife of Edward Rochester. Where we see Jane and Bertha in front of each other is the clearest moment of their being so different yet so similar. They are similar in terms of being oppressed by the authority of men. Bertha’s being locked might represent all women’s situation in that period and when Jane escapes that is also a symbolic clue that her character seeks independence. In this case, it is highly possible to confirm that Bertha is the higher yet secret self of Jane Eyre that she both wants to run away from and stay and conjoin.
Last matter to develop on is the adaptations of Jane Eyre. Such critical work’s influence on other areas of art and literature is nearly out of question. Many works of television drama and movie have been about Jane Eyre from 1900’s to this very day. Starting with Italian silent movies in 1909, many other examples have followed one another. The one released in 2011 is undoubtedly one of the bests which cast Mia Wasikowska as Jane (best known with her performance in Alice in Wonderland as Alice) and Michael Fassbender (well-known with works such as Macbeth, X-men, 12 Years a Slave, Shame). Plot of the movie matches well with the book even though some parts are not given that much importance compared with the book which is a general problem according to the short time span of movies. However, some dialogues are exactly the same with the ones in the book and that closes the gap caused by the timing. Another good side of this specific movie about Jane Eyre is that it does not only focus on the love between Jane and Mr. Rochester. It reflects the picture of “coming of age” novel in its best form with the help of including the story as a whole, starting from Jane’s childhood. What made the movie so special for me is the technique used in it. Instead of narrating the story from the beginning till the end, it starts from somewhere close to middle/end where Jane escapes from Thornfield Hall, seeks help and finally finds it in the Moor House. We don’t know where she escapes from till we learn it with the flashbacks, while Jane is either narrating or remembering them.
Other than movies, many radio adaptations and theatre plays including musicals have been made but it would not be wrong to claim that theatre has been the most involved place with Jane Eyre since many versions of it took place on the stage from 1848 to 2011.
Many literary works took inspiration or mentioned Jane Eyre. Some includes different perspectives, taking another character as a narrator. Some are personal answers to a character or to the book including poetry. Examples of such would be: Wide Saragossa Sea, Mr. Rochester: A Sequel to Jane Eyre, A Breath of Eyre and so on.
Even though no analysis can be wide enough for Jane Eyre, the urge for uttering ideas about it is inevitable. It is the story of trying to find the balance in love while struggling among manners of society, approach of families and above all, gateways to ourselves. The reason why Jane Eyre is so relatable is because she is human and she is like all of us; yet, so different from us. She is both a road to our inner selves and a quest to another world. Acknowledging a new period of time and new social rules, it also gives the reader the opportunity to witness an eternal and unforgettable love of Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre.