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!
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)
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)
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.