Jane Eyre – Chapters VIII, IX & X

Chapter VIII

As she decends from her punishment, Jane weeps tears of frustration at the persecution she has faced.  Helen attempts to comfort her, but when Jane shows a dramatic coveting of a love of other’s opinions, Helen admonishes her:

“Hush, Jane!  you think too much of the love of human beings, you are too impulsive, too vehement: the sovereign hand that created your frame, and put life into it, has provided you with other resources than your feeble self, or than creatures feeble as you.  Besides this earth, and besides the race of men, there is an invisible world and a kingdom of spirits: that world is round us, for it is everywhere; and those spirits in pain and shame, if scorn smote us on all sides, and hatred crushed us, angels see our tortures, recognize our innocence …. and God waits only the separation of spirit from flesh to crown us with a full reward.  Why, then, should we ever sink overwhelmed with distress, when life is so soon over, and death is so certain an entrance to happiness — to glory?”

They visit Miss Temple’s room, and she promises Jane absolution if she discovers Mr. Brocklehurst’s comments to be unjust, then gives the girls a sumptuous feast of tea, toast and seedcake.  The conversation between Helen and Miss Temple is at once informative, as well as profound.  Although the next morning Helen is made to wear the word “Slattern” around her neck for keeping messy drawers, she accepts the punishment, although Jane is indignant.  Miss Temple indeed absolves Jane of the accusations, and our heroine is beginning to learn that ‘Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.’  The hardships faced at Lowood among people who care about her are like gold, whereas the luxuries of Gateshead are like dross.

School Girl in Black (1908)
Helene Schjerfbeck
source Wikiart

Chapter IX

As spring arrives, some of the privations of the previous months are lessened and Jane begins to wander further than the walls of Lowood into the natural beauty of the forest-dell.  But the fog that surrounded the area brought typhus with it, and especially because of their lack of nutrition and physical weakness, many of the students succumb to the pestilence.  Jane is left with the other healthy students to ramble around the environs, as the teachers are busy dealing with the sick pupils.  But while Helen is absent, Jane does not realize that her illness is critical until she hears from one of the teachers that Helen’s life will soon be over.  Visiting Helen in her sick-bed, her friend imparts more words of her gentle wisdom before succumbing to the consumption that the reader had seen glimmers of since her first introduction.

“My Maker and yours, who will never destroy what he created.  I rely implicitly on his power, and confide wholly in his goodness.  I count the hours till that eventful one arrives which shall restore me to him, reveal him to me.”

With the Reeds cruelty and no other connections other than Bessie, Jane receives her religious instruction from this angelic girl who seems to have a wisdom from beyond the world.

Plague Hospital (1798-1800)
Francisco Goya
source Wikiart

Chapter X

The story is put in fast forward.  The disease at the school brings the attention of the public and an examination is held, which finds the conditions deplorable and positive changes are made.  Jane continued 8 years there as a student and two as a teacher, but when Mrs. Temple marries and departs, a wanderlust seizes Jane and she applies for a position of governess at Thornfield Hall.

Bessie arrives to reveal the scandals at Gateshead:  Georgianna’s attempt to run away with a Lord was prevented by her sister, Eliza, and John is living a debauched life of drink and women.  Her uncle, John Eyre, arrived, looking for Jane, but left for parts unknown.  And so Jane leaves for Thornfield Hall.

Young Girl Learning to Write
Camille Corot
source Wikiart

I don’t have much insight to add to these chapters.  We observe the development of Jane’s character in a positive way, which exemplifies the fluctuations in life and circumstance and enforces that adversity and hardship can be good for building inner strength of character, depending on how we choose to face it.

Yikes, I’ve fallen behind in the pace with my busy non-book schedule, so I need to catch up.  Wish me luck —– I’ll need lots of it!!!

Jane Eyre – Chapters V, VI & VII

Chapter V

On the morning of January 19th, Jane leaves the Reed residence of Gateshead, after saying a goodbye to Bessie and proclaiming that Mrs. Reed has never been a friend to her.  Again the scene is set, a wet and misty dampness cloaking her travel until she arrives at Lowood Institution.  Discipline is immediately apparent at this charitable school, yet we also see the compassion of Miss Temple, the supervisor, at the treatment of the pupils, who are fed a diet lacking in nutritious food.  In spite of the rigidity of the place, there does seem a concern for health and well-being as far as it is possible within the structure of which it is run.  Jane meets Helen Burns for the first time and we get an initial impression of her maturity and sensibility.  And thus ended Jane’s first day at Lowood.

Again Brontë creates sympathy for Jane by referring to her long coach ride alone at such a tender age.    Our admiration is more fully developed by Jane facing her circumstances with a determination and resoluteness of someone twice her age.

While the school has a rigid code, we can see that there is flexibility among certain teachers.  The rigour is at first unfamiliar to Jane but the girl whom she meets (Helen) appears to accept them with an uncomplaining stoicism.  And again we see the importance of literary choices as foreshadowing, as Helen is reading Samuel Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia when Jane approaches her, its storyline being the futility of realizing human happiness.

Two Young Girls Reading (1891)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
source Wikiart

Chapter VI

Jane is a member of the fourth class of Lowood and is somewhat bewildered by the lessons and rules.  She is stunned by Helen’s quiet acceptance of Miss Scatcherd’s berating of her slovenly habits and later quizzes Helen as to how she could have born up under such abuse.  She learns a valuable lesson from her friend, as Helen encourages Jane to follow Christ’s example of love for others, and presses her to attempt to see the situation from another point of view.  Their conversation is very enlightening:

“But I feel this, Helen:  I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly.  It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved.”

“Heathens and savage tribes hold that doctrine; but Christians and civilised nations disown it.”

“How?  I don’t understand.”

“It is not violence that best overcomes hate —- nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury.”

“What then?”

“Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how he acts; make his word your rule, and his conduct your example.”

“What does he say?”

“Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you.”

“Then I should love Mrs. Reed, which I cannot do; I should bless her son John, which is impossible.”

…………..  “Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited?  Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs ……”

We have the impression that Jane is benefiting from Helen’s wisdom in a way that will serve her well in the future.

School for Peasants’ Children in Verkiai (1848)
Vasily Sadovnikov
source Wikiart

Chapter VII

The first quarter of January, February and March pass for Jane at Lowood, and we learn of the scarcity of food, as well as the tedious visits to Brocklebridge Church where Mr. Brocklehurt officiates.  Then one day their patron visits to grill the teachers on their extravagance of food, and the necessity of self-denial and hardship in order to save the students’ souls, a much more important issue than practicalities.  Jane is hoping to escape the notice of this implacable man, but she drops her slate and as hard as it comes down, all his displeasure falls upon her.  Made to stand on a stool in the middle of the room as she is categorized as an ungrateful liar by Brocklehurst, Jane can hardly bear the shame, however an angelic look from Helen buoys her spirits and she is able to endure.  She sees in Helen a quiet self-assurance and love that lifts her above the petty spite and unjust actions of Brocklehurst, and the notice of the teachers and students. Helen has an inner power that appears beyond the comprehension of most of those around her.

“Such is the imperfect nature of man!  such spots are there on the disc of the clearest planet: and eyes like Miss Scatcherd’s can only see those minute defects, and are blind to the full brightness of the orb.”

The Schoolmaster (1954)
Rene Magritte
source Wikiart

⇐ Chapters III & IV                                                Chapters VIII & IX 

Jane Eyre – Chapters III & IV

Chapter III

Jane awakes from her fit to find herself being attended by the apothecary.  After her fright, she is strangely unsettled, unable to find joy in things that previously made her happy.  When the apothecary returns, he asks Jane a number of insightful questions with regard to her feelings and state of mind.  He then recommends that she be sent off to school, which agrees mightily with Mrs. Reed.

Jane’s ability to forgive is astounding.  While musing on her treatment by Mrs. Reed she says:  “Yes, Mrs. Reed, to you I owe some fearful pangs of mental suffering.  But I ought to forgive you, for you knew not what you did: while rending my heart-strings, you thought you were only uprooting my bad propensities.”  The power of Jane’s words elevate her over Mrs. Reed.  With her capacity for compassion, she can see intention through application, and her magnanimity shows her superiority over her tormentor. However, as the words spoken appear to be from an adult Jane, perhaps it took some time for her to learn this charity.
Bessie and Abbott once again meditate on Jane’s looks, saying if she were pretty like Miss Georgianna, it would be much easier to be kind to her.  Again, outward appearance is valued above good character.
Girl At A Window (1907)
Walter Sickert
source Wikiart

Chapter IV

Jane waits impatiently for a change, but none comes and she is relegated to an invisibility by the Reed household, which is both painful and cruel.  Made to stay in the nursery and have little contact with her cousins, one day a carriage arrives.  When Jane is called to the breakfast room, she meets Mr. Brocklehurst of Lowood School, a harsh, imposing man who has a single-minded religious fervour.  Mrs. Reed relates Jane’s faults, emphasizing her tendency to deceit, and the master leaves, promising to take Jane on as a pupil.  Incensed at the unfair characterization, Jane berates Mrs. Reed, startling her benefactress with her intensity and articulation.

“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!”

Jane and Bessie have an exchange, where Jane admits regret at leaving Bessie, and Bessie is struck by Jane’s new-found confidence.

In spite of the cruelty she’s suffered under, we see Jane’s character expand and grow, and it is a comforting thought that one can build good character in the midst of persecution and uncertainty.

The Schoolmaster (1826)
George Harvey
source Wikiart

Chapters I & II                                                Chapters V, VI & VII

Jane Eyre – Chapters I & II

And we’re off!  The Edge of the Precipice’s Jane Eyre read-along is off to a great start. It’s been a good number of years since I read this work last, and it’s certainly one of my favourites.  With a reasonably adequate background to the book, I’m looking forward to digging deeper into its pages.  My last Charlotte Brontë read, Villette, was less than thrilling (in fact, I could hardly believe it was the same author), so it will be refreshing to revisit her masterpiece.  So without further ado, let the reading begin!

Chapter I

In which we are introduced to Jane, who is a ward of Mrs. Reed who has three children, Eliza, John and Georgianna.  Jane is treated as not much better than a servant and is tormented unceasingly the the three children of the house.  Finally, persecuted beyond bearing when Master John Reed throws her book at her, cutting her head, Jane reacts with a vehemence, hurling insults at him.  Of course, Jane gets punished for her behaviour, while John Reed is given only sympathy from his mother.  Poor Jane is taken to the red-room and locked there.

Right away Brontë masterfully crafts the mood, describing a gloomy and melancholy setting, with “clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating …”, “chilly afternoons,” and “nipped fingers.”  The reader is able to immediately get an inkling of the tone of the upcoming chapters.

We understand Jane’s isolation not only from descriptions of her situation, but from parallels to her physical surroundings.  From the bleakness of the winter season, the leafless trees, the cold, unfriendly, biting wind and the slow interminable passing of the hours, we feel her rejection and her solitude just as Jane experiences it.  Even her reading of Bewick’s ‘History of British Birds’ echos her aloneness, as she describes from it the “bleak shores” of far of countries, the desolate realms there and the remoteness. As we read of the physical isolation, we certainly get a strong sense of Jane’s social isolation.

By Jane shutting herself away on the window-seat using the red curtain, which is later called “scarlet drapery”, we are reminded of a scarlet woman, or in this case, a scarlet child, where the person is ostracized because their behaviour does not meet societal standards.

Quite interestingly, Jane also mentions listening to the novel, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, which is a story of a servant who marries her employer.  A little foreshadowing here, perhaps?

Village Street in Winter (1865-70)
Gustave Corbet
source Wikiart

Chapter II

Jane fights her jailors, Bessie, the nurse and Miss Abbott, before promising not to move if they do not tie her to the chair as they plan.  Apparently she had never behaved so before, although Miss Abbott remarks that she’d always had it in her, which perhaps gives more illumination to Miss Abbott’s character than Jane Eyre’s.  After painful reminders of her station as a “less than a servant” by Bessie, and threats with regard to the state of her soul by Miss Abbott, Jane is left alone.  Now a rather Gothic twist is brought on by her fear of the ghost of Mr. Reed, who died in this red-room nine years ago.  As she thinks about his death, she sees herself in the looking-glass, appearing small and impish, like a tiny phantom.  As she stews on all the injustices that she has had to face from the family, she also recognizes that her own character is in some way responsible for her fate.  As daylight fades from the room, her imagination takes her away, as she muses that if Mr. Reed were alive, he would take her part, and wishes his ghost would return to haunt his family and put things to right.  Seeing a streak of light on the wall, she imagines a coming spirit and attempts to escape, making enough noise that her jailors come running, however Mrs. Reed appears and, in spite of Jane’s frantic condition, orders her back to the room, where she faints.

Young Girl with Long Hair (1942)
Moise Kisling
source Wikiart

This was a curious chapter with much to ponder.  We see it as a turning point: whereas before it appears that Jane’s resistance to her treatment was all mental, finally it becomes physical as Bessie remarks, “she never did so before.”

There is also descriptions of what is commendable in the Reed household, and what is unacceptable.  It appears that vice, bad manners, and cruelty is lauded, whereas patient suffering, obedience and compassion is disparaged.

The Gothic imaginings of the ghost is a curious insertion, but it does serve to reinforce Jane’s predicament, her isolation, and sets up the scene with Mrs. Reed, further emphasizing the woman’s cold-hearted cruelty.

All these scenes enhance our pity for Jane, and our wish for her to escape her hardships.  An excellent introduction!!

Note:  I’m still wondering about the significance of the colour red in these chapters.

Jane Eyre Read-along                                         Chapters III & IV

The Jane Eyre Read-Along

Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice is hosting one of her excellent read-alongs, this time on the most wonderful classic, Jane Eyre.

If you haven’t participated in one of Hamlette’s read-alongs before, you are in for a treat. They progress at such a slow pace, that it allow the reader time to read deeply, mull over what they have read, and come up with insights that would have perhaps been missed with a quicker read.  When you finish, you feel like you know the book backwards, forwards, and upside-down.  They are so beneficial!

This read-along will begin on May 29th and proceed through the summer until we finish. Having just read Brönte’s Villette and being less than thrilled with it, I’m looking forward to re-visiting one of my all-time favourites.

Please visit this page if you want to see how Hamlette’s read alongs work, and then please join us May 29th.  It’s an experience not to be missed!

Villette by Charlotte Brönte

“My godmother lived in a handsome house in the clean and ancient town of Bretton.”

What on earth have I just read?  This book simply cannot be written by the same author who wrote Jane Eyre!  The mind rebels!  The heart rebels!  It cannot be!  Am I sounding very dramatic and flourishing and vocal?  That’s because I’ve spent 572 pages being lulled catatonic.  What happened …..??

Brönte begins with introducing the reader to Lucy Snowe, an unassuming educated young woman, who is left alone after the death of her family, with only her godmother, Mrs. Bretton as a familiar contact.  In the house of her godmother, she knows her son, Graham Bretton, and on one visit meets a lodger, a little girl named Polly who is quick-witted, yet bordering on rude and displays an unusual attachment to the Bretton son.

As Lucy returns home, this story is left hanging and we follow Lucy to a job as a companion and then, at the death of her employer, Lucy decides to set out for the country of Labassecour (thought to be modelled on Belgium, where Brönte herself taught at a girl’s school) to search for work.  Miraculously, she is immediately taken on as a teacher at a respectable school in the town of Villette.  Through Lucy’s eyes only, we meet the headmistresses, Madame Beck; teachers at the school, in particular the fiery M. Paul Emmanuel; Polly’s cousin, Ginevra; and finally an astounding secret about the local doctor, Dr. John, is discovered.  Coincidence piles up on coincidence, until one no longer puzzles but simply must move on.  Two important relationships occur in Lucy’s life, yet nothing seems to truly touch her as she remains the passive and faithful narrator, except when it comes to the collision of Catholicism and Protestantism, one of which she attacks with a vitriolic vehemence and the other which she lauds as the only way to heaven.

School for Peasant’s Children in Verkiai(1848)
Vasily Sadovnikov
source Wikiart

The writing meanders all over the place and the characters appear chiselled with a hacksaw.  Polly who is mean-spirited and selfish as a child, suddenly appears, not only in a completely different city but in a different country and, as a young woman, is now pleasing and thoughtful and wise.  And she has developed this warm and winning character in spite of having a father who is rather petty, obtuse and slightly vindictive. Her great love for him appears to be the only explanation as to her transformation. Characters are often described by Lucy as having certain traits and then later are bestowed with either oppositie traits, or the original ones are highly magnified in melodramatic fashion to serve authorial purposes.  The process is problematic, to say the least.

Astraea, the virgin goddess of
Innocence and Purity (1665)
Salvator Rosa
source Wikipedia

Lucy herself is our greatest conundrum. She is like a wraithful spirit who hovers over the drama in the story and participates in narration and judgement but barely with action.  Like the Greek goddess Astraea, she pronounces moral, religious and ethical judgement on each character, yet in her zeal, often appears to forget that she is on the same level as those around her.  Nevertheless, she is a complex character and while her sentences can often be harsh, we also at times sense a softening of her manner and a deeper generosity in her character.

Brönte does display some fine writing in parts of the novel and there is a peculiar weaving of a wild, melodramatic narrative into a character who is quiet, aloof, reserved, and very nearly lifeless.  Brönte also employs contrasting themes but I would have enjoyed them more if I felt that they came from superior writing aptitude instead of displayed prejudices.  I also was irritated with her penchant to play with the reader.  She seemed to be saying, “oh, so you’d like to see this scenario play out?  Well, too bad, I’m deliberately going to give you this.”  Quite frankly, I finished feeling rather offended, as if someone had just been rude or discourteous.  An excuse for her approach may be found in the successive deaths of three members of her family within eight short months, five years before Villette was published, and there is some suggestion that Brönte was struggling with depression. With this fact in mind, I honestly tried to stick with this novel and find some sort of redeeming feature, but the inconsistencies and coincidences were simply too insurmountable, and the meek yet God-like character of Lucy too unpalatable.  Certain reviews claim that this book is a psychological masterpiece, and as I said, Brönte certainly seems to play with psychological aspects of both the characters and the readers’ perceptions of them.  Yet this experiment is conducted in an unnatural way, one that is ripe with preposterous manipulations and improbable fluctuations in both personalities and circumstances.  I was psychologically exhausted after finishing the novel, not for its fine crafting, but in an effort to grasp its implausibilities.  If that brand of psychology is admirable, I would rather treasure the simplicities of Jane Eyre.

Woman Reading (1894)
Henri Matisse
source Wikiart

I must say the only benefit gained from reading Villette is perhaps the personal insight it gives into Wuthering Heights.  The raw, wild, startling prose of the latter, while not necessarily obvious in the former, exists in echoes, while the ghostly apparition and the darkness in the souls of men stand out in stark relief.  Villette was an unsettling novel certainly, but more importantly it was unsatisfying, and I was left with a sense of emptiness and time wasted.  Fortunately there are rumours of read-along of Jane Eyre coming up at the end of May, hosted by Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice.  Thank heavens!  I will be able to cleanse my palate with one of my all-time favourite novels and hopefully regain some of the deep respect I had for its author.

Further Reading: