There was no possibility of taking a walk that (November) day.

November is a dark and ominous month in Jane Eyre’s life.

Firstly, she is locked in the red room, as a child, at Gateshead. Secondly, she is lonely at Thornfield Hall, before Rochester’s arrival. Finally she is leading a solitary life in Morton, while her cousin, whom she doesn’t love, proposes to her.

Gateshead 

The first lines of Jane Eyre presents the reader with a gloomy November day:

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day…. the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.

The young girl, under ten years old, was confined to the house she detested. She had been taken in by a family who relegated her to the position of a homeless poor relative they despised. In the breakfast room, where she was expelled, away from the rest of the family, who were comfortably seated in the drawing-room, Jane observed:

…to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.’

Later that day, she was confined to the ghostly Red Room, after refusing to be bullied and beaten by her cousin John Reed.

Thornfield

Jane arrived at sombre Thornfield Hall  in October, but chilly November arrived fast, and Mrs, Fairfax informed Jane of what to expect from then on:

I’m sure last winter (it was a very severe one, if you recollect, and when it did not snow, it rained and blew), not a creature but the butcher and postman came to the house, from November till February; and I really got quite melancholy with sitting night after night alone.

Thornfield Hall was a vault-like, dreary place between November and February. On this occasion, Mr. Rochester returned in January, when he met Jane on the icy causeway, on her way to Hay.

Morton.

Shortly after moving to Morton, and recovering her health, in November, Jane set up a school, where she lived. She found both a job and lodgings. She describes the rudimentary building:

I had closed my shutter, laid a mat to the door to prevent the snow from blowing in under it, trimmed my fire, and after sitting nearly an hour on the hearth listening to the muffled fury of the tempest, I lit a candle, out of the frozen hurricane—the howling darkness.

Shortly after, still in November, she learnt of her uncle’s death and the fortune she had inherited. Months later, she returned to Thornfield Hall in search of Rochester.

November in Jane Eyre

November is the month of transition between the warmer and colder part of the year. It heralds a time of introversion and hard work in order to lay the foundations for the spring.

During those chilly autumn days at Thornfield, Jane more than teaches, she transforms Adele into a more docile pupil, and ears the respect of the rest of the staff who thought she was too frail for the job. By the time Rochester arrives she’s literally become the ruler of the roost. She sleeps upstairs with Mrs. Fairfax, very near the master’s room, she has got to know the house and the area, she has gained the respect of everyone, and she loves it at Thornfield. There is no-one to boss her around, until he arrives.

In Morton, she occupied her time drawing and reading, teaching, and gaining the respect of the locals as she worked as their teacher at the newly founded school, until she learnt of her new and improved situation.

The positive events in Jane Eyre occur in spring and summer, while winter is a time for introspection, loneliness, and hardship. Fortunately, spring and summer bring renewed hope and love to her life, as we have seen in other posts on this blog.

Emily Dickinson, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, also had a sad, cold,  and difficult view of November.

Charlotte Bronte would have loved this poem, which she probably never read.

How happy I was if I could forget
To remember how sad I am
Would be an easy adversity
But the recollecting of Bloom

Keeps making November difficult
Till I who was almost bold
Lose my way like a little Child
And perish of the cold.

 

The Books Jane Eyre Read. Part One: At Gateshead Hall.

The orphaned Jane Eyre, was taken in by her uncle’s widowed wife, Mrs. Reed, and her spiteful cousins, John, Eliza, and Georgina. She suffered greatly at their home, saying of John, who was 14 and four years older than her,

‘He bullied and punished me; not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice in the day, but continually: every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank when he came near.’

In the first two chapters, which take place in her aunt’s house, Gateshead Hall, Jane Eyre mentions three books she had read in her childhood, before the age of ten, which tell us a great deal about her remarkable character.

Beitish birds

The first one is Bewick’s History of British Birds, which she was reading when her cruel cousin bullied her for the umpteenth, but final time. This drastic event occurs right at the beginning of the novel, she was reading when her cousin reprimanded her:

‘“You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg.’

He then flung the book at her, hitting her head against the door, and cutting it:

‘The cut bled, the pain was sharp: my terror had passed its climax; other feelings succeeded.’

roman history

Jane retaliated by accusing him of being a wicked and cruel murderer, slave-driver, and Roman emperor, because she ‘had read Goldsmith’s History of Rome, and had formed my opinion of Nero, Caligula, &c. really saw in him a tyrant, a murderer.’ It must indeed have been a vicious attack because she ‘felt a drop or two of blood from my head trickle down my neck, and was sensible of somewhat pungent suffering:’ and she hit him I self-defense.

As a result, Jane was locked in the red-room, where her uncle had died, and had a fainting-fit, imagining she saw him.

The following day, she was pampered and looked after by Bessie, her aunt’s maid. However, Jane refused to eat, instead she begged her to fetch Gulliver’s Travels from the library.

Gullivers_travels

Regarding Berwick’s book, first printed in 1797, she was only concerned with the pictures and the travelling aspect:

‘I returned to my book–Bewick’s History of British Birds: the letterpress thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not pass quite as a blank….Nor could I pass unnoticed the suggestion of the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with “the vast sweep of the Arctic Zone.”

Jane is telling us she is interested in wildlife, travel, and the beauty of nature.

The second book she mentions is Goldsmith’s History of Rome. I suppose she is referring to Goldsmith’s Roman History Abridged for use in Schools, first printed in 1772, which was widely used in schools at the beginning of the 19th century. In this case we are implicitly being informed that Jane is a well read and intelligent child, who is able to understand ancient history, and project what she has read to her present reality.

Gulliver’s Travels, is by fat the most interesting of the three, It is a satirical novel by Irish writer and clergyman, Jonathan Swift, first published in 1726. Lemuel Gulliver’s an unfulfilled surgeon who sets out on his remarkable travels between 1699 and end in 1715. He is a gullible, honest man who is shipwrecked, abandoned, and attacked, throughout his travels. He constantly faces opposing forces he must deal with: big versus small, wise versus ignorant, good versus bad, etc.  When he finally returns to his home in England, he becomes a recluse who spends several hours a day speaking with the horses in his stables, and loosing his sanity, sadly the same fate which awaited Swift himself.

Gulliver is both a giant and a dwarf. He travels to distant lands where he is surrounded by tiny little people, and to a land where he is tiny compared to the giant-like people who live there. Gulliver is never with his own kind, and always feels out-of-place. When he finally does find a place he likes and is at home with the inhabitants, they reject him because they find him to be too much like the creatures that act as their servants.

Jane says it was a book she ‘had again and again perused with delight.’ She cherished the book and marveled at its pictures, because she had considered Lilliput as a real, solid place, instead of a mere fairy tale. She had imagined one day seeing, ‘the little fields, houses, and trees, the diminutive people, the tiny cows, sheep, and birds of the one realm; and the corn-fields forest-high, the mighty mastiffs, the monster cats, the tower-like men and women.’

However, when Bessie handed her the book and she turned the leaves, she failed to find the charm she had once succumbed to. Instead, Lilliput had become dreary, and the characters malevolent and fearful creatures. She now identified with a desolate Gulliver, who was wandering in dangerous regions. She then closed the book, fearfully, and left it on the table with a piece of ‘untasted’ tart, which reinforces the idea of loss of childhood, and innocence.

This identification with Gulliver’s plight casts the young child in the sad role of outsider. Jane is alienated at Gateshead, surrounded by people who do not accept her, or help her in any way. She is displaced and misplaced. She is not with her own kind. Her family considers her a subordinate, and on the other had she is lost having nowhere to go, belonging nowhere. Jane is like Gulliver, searching for companionship and acceptance.

The books Jane read tell us that she was a well-read, intelligent, and talented child, who was longing for love, affection, and acceptance. She knew about, and was interested in; history, nature, art, geography, and interpersonal relations, and struggles. She was aware that human injustice and evil were a reality, not a ploy in a children’s book.

The punishment in the Red Room marked the end of her childhood, and the end of her stay at Gateshead, because she was soon to move on to the next adolescent stage in her life, and her new abode, Lowood Institution.

 

The Moon In Jane Eyre. Part I: At Gateshead And Lowood

Moon Image by Luc Viatour / http://www.Lucnix.be.

The moon is full this winter night;       Image

The stars are clear, though few;
And every window glistens bright,
With leaves of frozen dew.

The sweet moon through your lattice gleams
And lights your room like day;
And there you pass, in happy dreams,
The peaceful hours away!

From Honour’s Martyr by Anne Bronte

The following article will reflect upon the symbolic representations of the moon in Jane Eyre. For Victorians, the moon was a magical, mystical, and mysterious, celestial entity. Full moons especially were highly valued as useful providers of light in the long, winter darkness, and facilitators of enjoyment in the warm, winter nights.

There were also many superstitious beliefs surrounding the moon, such as the belief that during a full moon, a normal human being could transform into a big beastly wolf-like creature, the werewolf. Some also believed that acts of lunacy were favoured on such nights. Jane Eyre has no such superstitious exaggerations, however, as we are about to explore, the moon is present throughout Jane’s life, representing love, or absence of love, announcing significant events, or the arrival of important characters, and bringing light and insight in crucial moments throughout the narrative.

Throughout Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, Jane lives in five different dwellings: Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield, Moor House, and finally, Ferndean. Many authors have considered each abode as a stage representing a new phase in Jane’s experience and development.

Her early years as an orphan were spent at Gateshead Hall, where she was emotionally and physically abused by her uncaring aunt and cruel cousins.

Her aunt sends her to Lowood School, a harsh Institution for poor and orphaned girls, where she develops a resilient, disciplined character, as well as intellectual and creative skills.

The third stage is as governess at Thornfield Hall, where she meets and falls in love with Edward Rochester, thereby developing her emotional and affective persona.

The fourth stage occurs after leaving Thornfield, following her thwarted wedding to the bigamous Mr. Rochester. Jane is taken in by the Rivers siblings, Mary, Diana and St. John, at Moor House. Jane discovers a real, caring family in the Rivers, who were, in fact, her cousins. After Thornfield was burnt down and Bertha died, Jane returns to the widowed Mr. Rochester, who is now living at his Manor House, Ferndean.

Finally Jane has gained the financial security, family, and emotional stability, she did not have when she first arrived at Thornfield Hall.

The moon, which is a major symbol in Jane Eyre, is the largest and brightest object in the night sky, radiating mystery and magic and inspiring writers and artists. It has fascinated humankind since time immemorial due to its constantly changing cycle during which it grows, wanes, and vanishes every month. Consequently, it has become a symbol of time, change, and the unending cycle of life; birth and death, creation and destruction. Before any scientific knowledge of its origins, composition or function were available, it was venerated as a Goddess, and for centuries artists have drawn on her symbolism to convey numerous emotions from love to lunacy.

When Charlotte Bronte published Jane Eyre, Beer and Mädler had just printed a map of the moon, which was the first trigonometrically accurate study of lunar features, including the heights of more than a thousand mountains. Although scientific knowledge of the moon was not widespread during the 19th century, awareness of lunar phases was not only inevitable, it was also necessary. For the Victorians, the moon had three main practical uses: to tell the time, to establish location guiding people on their way, and most importantly, to provide light. The full moon is the most useful and fascinating of all the lunar phases because it radiates the strongest rays, and because it causes the highest tides, and therefore exerts the strongest influence on our planet and its inhabitants.

Darkness has always been a drawback for mankind. It has seriously limited activities, increasing the risk of accidents and leads to many hours of boredom. The full moon, providing the sky is cloudless, allows many activities to be carried out. Before electric lighting was installed in streets and houses, full-moon nights were important and welcome occasions for both work and play. Farmers depended on bright moonlight to extend the workday beyond sunset, especially when crops had to be harvested. The full moon closest to the autumnal equinox became the Harvest Moon, and it was always welcome. On the other hand, the full moon was a time of joy, especially in summer. One of the major events in upper class society was the dance. Dances were usually scheduled to correspond with the full moon, as most balls were held outdoors.

In Jane Eyre, from a practical standpoint, the moon is an indicator of the time of day, and a giver of light. The moon is mostly a positive omen, and the lack of moon, leading to darkness is a negative omen. Symbolically, it announces positive events for Jane, and it guides her path, and helps her make important decisions. Part I of this article will discuss the symbolism of the moon in Jane Eyre during Jane’s early years and her stay in Gateshead and Lowood.

The first time the moon appears in the novel is on the fourth page. On a cold and rainy November night, while Jane is reading a vignette in Bewick’s History of British Birds in the breakfast room, after her aunt, the severe Mrs. Reed, had “excluded her from the privileges intended only for contented, happy little children,” because she had supposedly misbehaved. In the vignette she saw a “cold and ghastly moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.”

This is the only negative appearance of the moon as Jane views it. The moon in the picture overviews a disaster, as a dark omen, in spite of its apparent brightness. The shipwreck is a metaphor for her own unhappy, friendless life at Gateshead, and the ghastly moon indicates the lack of love.

The second time she mentions the moon is while she was convalescing in bed after having been locked in the ominous red-room, for defending herself from abuse and bullying from her cousin John Reed. She imagined she had seen her deceased uncle’s ghost. Jane had a fit, fainted and woke up in her bed. Bessie, her aunt’s maid, sang a sad ballad, “Soon will the twilight close moonless and dreary”, which saddened Jane. There was no moon at Gateshead where she was so unhappy. Lack of moon is once more a negative omen.

The morning she left her aunt’s house to go to Lowood, Jane had washed her face, and dressed “by the light of a half-moon just setting, whose rays streamed through the narrow window,” Later as she left Gateshead, “The moon was set, and it was very dark” so Bessie had to carry a lantern. Although the moonlight allowed her to wash and dress, as she left the house, there was no moon. Gateshead was dark once more denoting an absence of love, as she leaves the house for a new destination.

The first positive event in the novel occurs in Lowood after Jane is accused by Mr. Brocklehurst, the director, of being an evil liar, who should be shunned and avoided by the other residents. Her friend, Helen, consoled her. Then, while the two girls were embraced, the moon makes its first positive appearance announcing Miss Temple’s visit. “Some heavy clouds, swept from the sky by a rising wind, had left the moon bare; and her light, streaming in through a window near, shone full both on us and on the approaching figure, which we at once recognised as Miss Temple.” Miss Temple is the kind superintendent of Lowood School, who treats her students with respect and compassion. She gave Jane the chance to explain herself, and helps clear Jane of Mr. Brocklehurst’s false accusation of deceit.

The moon announced Miss Temple’s visit which brought protection and honesty to Jane’s life. Miss Temple encouraged Jane to apply herself to her education and was an important role-model for the young Jane.

Some time later, while Jane’s friend Helen was sick in bed, Jane had gone out for a walk, and returned after moonrise. On hearing that Helen was poorly, she decided to visit her in Miss Temple’s room, where she was being looked after. The moon led the way to her friend’s bedside. Jane crept from her apartment, “and set off in quest of Miss Temple’s room. It was quite at the other end of the house; but I knew my way; and the light of the unclouded summer moon, entering here and there at passage windows, enabled me to find it without difficulty.” The moon led her to her ailing friend, thereby lighting the way to love and friendship. Unfortunately, it also heralded Helen’s death. She died that very moonlit night in Jane’s arms.

In this first part, we have witnessed how the moon has evolved from being a “ghastly” onlooker of Jane’s unhappiness, to announcing the arrival of the first positive influence in her life, Miss Temple, and allowing her to assist her best friend, Helen, in her final moments. The moon will continue to be a key symbol during her stay at Thornfield Hall, which will be addressed in Part II.

The Moon in Jane Eyre Part Two: Thornfield Hall has been published.