This post is part of this year’s April Challenge to write a post a day. I’ve chosen to write about my greatest literary passion: Jane Eyre. Today it’s all about Jane Eyre’s Gardens. Jane will tell us all about the gardens in her life, in her own words.
The first garden I can remember was at my Aunt Reed’s house, Gateshead Hall. There was a glass-door in the breakfast-room, which led onto the shrubbery and the path leading to the gate and the fields, where the sheep fed on short, blanched grass. I remember it was almost leafless, so it must have been the end of autumn, because when I walked out further, there was another part of the plantation with leafless, silent trees, and falling fir-cones. I can see a few autumn, russet leaves swept by the winds. I spent nine springs and nine summers in that house, and yet I cannot recall ever seeing a single flower. No child should be forced to have such a colourless childhood.
When I first arrived at Lowood Institution, when I was ten years old, it was winter, and I did not enjoy being forced out to the garden for fresh air in the freezing, snow-covered garden, especially since our clothes were insufficient to protect us from the severe cold. We had no boots, and our shoes were soaked and our numbed hands covered in chilblains, as were our feet.
The garden was a wide enclosure, surrounded with high walls, and a covered verandah along one side. There were broad walks and a middle space divided into scores of little beds which these beds were assigned as gardens for the pupils to cultivate.
When April arrived, I had settled in. I had some friends and I had grown to enjoy the classes and the lessons. We could at last endure our daily hour in the garden, and when it was sunny, it was pleasant. I was overjoyed to plant in my garden the seeds we were given and some roots I had dug up in the forest.
The brown flower beds turned green, and flowers peeped out amongst the leaves: snow- drops, crocuses, purple auriculas, and golden-eyed pansies. The vegetation matured in May and Lowood became green and flowery, at last. The great elm, ash, and oak skeletons were restored to majestic life; woodland plants sprang up profusely.
It doesn’t seem possible, but I imagined it was the first time I had seen the sweet explosion of spring. The garden glowed with flowers: hollyhocks sprung up tall as trees, lilies opened, tulips and roses were in bloom; the borders of the little beds were gay with pink thrift and crimson double daisies.
In June, the flowers smelt so sweet as the dew fell. The evenings were so warm and serene, I knew this was where I had to be. Nevertheless, as the years passed, when I went upstairs to my room and opened the window and looked out, I yearned to travel beyond the hilly horizon, over those most remote peaks I longed to surmount. I hadn’t left Lowood in eight years and I longed to follow it farther, which I did when Miss Temple married and left.
Thornfield Hall didn’t have a garden, as such, it had a lawn in front of the building and grounds leading onto a great meadow, which was separated by a fence. Beyond there was an array of mighty old thorn trees, strong, knotty, and broad as oaks, at once explained the etymology of the mansion’s designation.
There was an Eden-like orchard, which was full of trees blooming 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. A winding walk, bordered with laurels and terminating in a giant horse- chestnut, led down to the fence At the bottom was the fence, and beyond, the fields and the winding path which led to Hay.
The orchard with gooseberry trees, large plums, and cherry trees, was my favourite place to wander unseen, and it was pleasantly shady in spring and summer. There was a delicious fragrance of sweet-briar and southernwood, jasmine, pink, and rose. It was here, one June evening, when trees laden with ripening fruit, that Mr. Rochester proposed to me, the first time, by the light of the rising moon.
After leaving Thornfield Hall, when it was discovered that Mr. Rochester had a wife, who was locked in his attic, I wandered about like a lost and starving dog, crossing fields on foot to get as far away from Thornfield as was possible, I knocked on a clergyman’s door. It was Moor House, in Morton, where the Mary, Diana, and St. John Rivers lived. It was a small grey, antique house with a low roof and latticed casements. The garden was dark with yew and holly and there were no flowers.
I stayed there until I recovered my strength and found a job as a teacher. My new home was a cottage with whitewashed walls and a sanded floor half hour from Morton. There was a small school room and a kitchen with had four painted chairs and a table, a clock, a cupboard. Above, there was a small chamber with a bedstead and chest of drawers. There was a tiny garden with a wicket, which shut me in from the meadow beyond. It looked very scanty when I arrived, but I was going to plant some roots in spring.
I was glad of this opportunity to make a living on my own as a school-teacher and when I looked at the quiet fields before my cottage, I knew I should be happy, but I cried of loneliness. I stayed at the school until the end of autumn, when I discovered I had inherited a small fortune from my Uncle John in Madeira, and that the Rivers were my cousins on my father’s side. So, I returned to Moor House to live with them, until one night I heard Edward calling me, and I returned to Thornfield Hall.
Thornfield had been burnt down by Mrs. Rochester, Bertha Mason. I eventually found Edward at his Manor House, Ferndean. It was an isolated and sombre place. There was no garden, there were no flowers, no garden-beds; only a broad gravel-walk girdling a grass-plat, and this set in the heavy frame of the forest. The house presented two pointed gables in its front; the windows were latticed and narrow, and the front door was narrow too.
When I found Edward, he was crippled and blind, and feeling rather sorry for himself. He said he was like the old lightning-struck chestnut tree in the Thornfield orchard, but I told him he it wasn’t true, to me he was as green and vigorous as the last time I had seen him.
The second time he proposed to me was also in the open air. I led him out of the wet and wild wood into some cheerful fields, which I described to him. They were brilliantly green with flowers and hedges and the sky was sparklingly blue. He sat in a hidden and lovely spot, on a dry stump of a tree, and I sat on his knee, while I told him about my travels since I had left Thornfield.
I told him I was an independent, rich woman and that I could build a house next to his. This house would have a beautiful garden, which he would one day be able to see when he recovered his eyesight. I think that might happen. I would call it Eyre Hall, in honour of my uncle, John Eyre.