#MothersDay ‘Jane Eyre’s Mother’ #MondayBlogs #CharlotteBronte

Jane Eyre is the most famous female, literary orphan in English literature, but what do we know about Jane Eyre’s mother?

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Surprisingly, for a character who doesn’t appear in the novel and is hardly mentioned, we know a great deal. We know her name and maiden surname, how and we she died, who and why she married, a few things about her family and some significant aspects of her personality.

The first time her mother is mentioned, Jane is at her uncle, Mr Reed’s house. Jane tells the reader:

I could not remember him (Mr Reed); but I knew that he was my own uncle—my mother’s brother— that he had taken me when a parentless infant to his house;

Consequently we know that her mother’s maiden name was Reed and that her husband’s surname was Eyre. We also learn that Jane has no memories of her father, her mother or her uncle, because she was an infant when they died.

Jane also tells us about the effect that the lack of loving parents or relatives affected her personality. Well before Freud identified and shared his theories regarding the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind, Jane Eyre was fully that her parents’ absence was affecting her moods and character were due to factors beyond her control, within her psyche.

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Ten year-old Jane tells Mr. Lloyd, an apothecary, called in by Mrs.
Reed when she fainted after being punished and locked in the red room:

I am unhappy,—very unhappy, for other things.’

‘What other things? Can you tell me some of them?’

How much I wished to reply fully to this question! How difficult it was to frame any answer! Children can feel, but they cannot analyse their feelings; and if the analysis is partially effected in thought, they know not how to express the result of the process in words. Fearful, however, of losing this first and only opportunity of  relieving my grief by imparting it, I, after a disturbed pause, contrived to frame a meagre, though, as far as it went, true response.

‘For one thing, I have no father or mother, brothers or sisters.’

Jane describes herself as unhappy because she is missing the family she doesn’t have. A contemporary psychologist might suggest that, as an orphan, Jane was vulnerable and predisposed to physical and psychological risks such as depression and antisocial behaviour, and would probably need counselling. Instead she was plunged into an unloving household, where she was demeaned, neglected and physically and psychologically abused. There could have been many outcomes to her future personality, she could have sunk into disruptive behaviour or swam to the surface as a stronger, fiercely independent, determined and kind person.

There were many real and literary orphans in Victorian Literature. Here’s some more information in two previous posts including information about orphans in Victorian England

Jane Eyre found out about her parents’ death and bad relationship with her maternal grandfather, Mr. Reed, from Bessie, a servant at her aunt’s house. Bessie in turn had learnt this information from another, older servant at the house, Miss Abbot.

“On that same occasion I learned, for the first time, from Miss Abbot’s communications to Bessie, that my father had been a poor clergyman; that my mother had married him against the wishes of her friends, who considered the match beneath her; that my grandfather Reed was so irritated at her disobedience, he cut her off without a shilling; that after my mother and father had been married a year, the latter caught the typhus fever while visiting among the poor of a large manufacturing town where his curacy was situated, and where that disease was then prevalent: that my mother took the infection from him, and both died within a month of each other.”

This passage informs us that her mother married a clergyman for love, against her family’s wishes. Jane was aware that her mother valued love over social convention or economic stability.

Nine years later, while Jane is working at Thornfield, she was called to visit her Aunt Reed, who was on her deathbed. Jane took the opportunity to ask her why her aunt hated her so much.

‘I had a dislike to her (Jane’s) mother always; for she was my husband’s only sister, and a great favourite with him: he opposed the family’s disowning her when she made her low marriage; and when news came of her death, he wept like a simpleton. He would send for the baby; though I entreated him rather to put it out to nurse and pay for its maintenance. I hated it (referring to Jane)  the first time I set my eyes on it…’

Thus Jane learns that her aunt had hated her mother and that she was jealous of her husband’s affection towards the helpless baby.

In summary, we know that Jane Eyre’s mother, Mrs Eyre, née Jane Reed, was beloved by her brother, Jane’s Uncle Reed, who had been a well-to-do magistrate, before his premature death. We also know she was estranged by her parents for marrying a clergyman, Mr Eyre, whom they considered was below her station. We know she married for love, that Jane was born nine months after their marriage and was a three-month old baby when her parents died, a year after marrying. Mrs Jane Reed Eyre died of typhus, a disease contracted by her husband first. We can infer that she was a passionate, independent and determined woman, who was prepared to turn her back on her family and material comforts, in order to marry the man she loved.

It surprises me that Jane only mentioned missing her mother once as a ten-year-old child and never mentioned her mother as an adult. Grown up Jane seemed to have completely wiped her mother out of her thoughts, perhaps because she had no memory or image to cling to. On the other hand, we can imagine her mother’s influence in Jane’s famous quote that she’d rather be happy than dignified. It definitely seemed to have been her mother’s motto too!

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I’d also like to remind you that today, 31st of March, is the anniversary of Charlotte Bronte’s premature death in 1855, at the ge of 38. She was pregnant when she and her unborn child died.

Her death certificate gives the cause of death as tuberculosis, but biographers, including Claire Harman, have suggested that she died from dehydration and malnutrition due to vomiting caused by severe morning sickness. Charlotte Brontë was buried in the family vault in the Church of St Michael and All Angels at Haworth in Yorkshire, UK.

Photo by Dave Green of St Michael and All Angel’s Church, Haworth (Wikipedia).

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P.S. If you haven’t read Jane Eyre, you’re missing out on one of the greatest novels ever written, and it’s almost free on amazon kindle, including the audiobook!

If you have read Jane Eyre, perhaps you’ve wondered what happened after Jane and Rochester married, so have I, that’s why I wrote The Eyre Hall Trilogy, on special offer at the moment.

Christmas in Jane Eyre

I’d like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and hope you can spend some time with people you love.

Thank you for reading my posts, commenting, and liking. You are my greatest incentive.

Today, I’ve prepared a special post about Christmas celebrations and symbolism in Jane Eyre.

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Some of Jane Eyre’s happiest and saddest moments occur at Christmas.

Firstly, at Gateshead, her Aunt Reed’s prosperous household, Christmas was celebrated with elaborate dinners, parties, and presents:

‘Christmas and the New Year had been celebrated at Gateshead with the usual festive cheer; presents had been interchanged, dinners and evening parties given.’

However, Jane Eyre, was treated as an unwanted and unloved intruder by her aunt and cousins. She tells us:

‘From every enjoyment I was, of course, excluded: my share of the gaiety consisted in witnessing the daily apparelling of Eliza and Georgiana, and seeing them descend to the drawing-room, dressed out in thin muslin frocks and scarlet sashes, with hair elaborately ringletted; and afterwards, in listening to the sound of the piano or the harp played below, to the passing to and fro of the butler and footman, to the jingling of glass and china as refreshments were handed, to the broken hum of conversation as the drawing-room door opened and closed. When tired of this occupation, I would retire from the stairhead to the solitary and silent nursery.’

Christmas at Gateshead simply exaggerated her isolation and loveless existence.

No mention is made of Christmas during her miserable years at Lowood School. We can imagine that there are no pleasant or noteworthy memories attached to this time of year for the young Jane Eyre.

We next read about Christmas while Jane is at Thornfield Hall. When Rochester received guests, Mrs. Fairfax informed Jane that Lord Ingram’s daughters, Blanche and Mary, had attended seven years previously.

‘She (Blanche Ingram) came here to a Christmas ball and party Mr. Rochester gave. You should have seen the dining-room that day—how richly it was decorated, how brilliantly lit up!’

Blanche’s merry Christmas contrasts with dreary Lowood where Jane was living at that time.

The next mention of Christmas is a metaphorical allusion by Jane after her marriage was interrupted and she discovered Rochester was already married. She retired to her room once more, her world had crumbled, and her expectant summer wedding turned into a desolate wintry night:

A Christmas frost had come at midsummer; a white December storm had whirled over June; ice glazed the ripe apples, drifts crushed the blowing roses; on hayfield and cornfield lay a frozen shroud: lanes which last night blushed full of flowers, today were pathless with untrodden snow; and the woods…’

Frost, ice, and storm have taken over her hopes for happiness. She no longer has a future as the road ahead is pathless with untrodden snow. Jane is a destitute and lonely orphan once again.

Finally, it was just before the following Christmas when Jane discovered that the family who had taken her in and looked after her after she left Thornfield Hall, Mary, Diana, and St. John Rivers were in fact her cousins, and that she had inherited 20,000 pounds from her uncle, John Eyre, who had died unmarried and childless in Madeira.

‘My uncle John was your uncle John? You, Diana, and
Mary are his sister’s children, as I am his brother’s child?’
‘Undeniably.’
‘You three, then, are my cousins; half our blood on
each side flows from the same source?’
‘We are cousins; yes.’

Consequently, Jane decided she would leave her humble abode at the Parish school and live at Moor House with her cousins Mary and Diana, with whom she planned to share her inheritance.

Jane also tells St. John that she will leave her full-time employment at the Parish school after Christmas, although she promised her pupils she would visit them once a week to teach them for an hour.

Meanwhile, she is determined to spend a merry and splendid Christmas, for the first time in her life. She plans to: ‘clean down Moor House from chamber to cellar…till it glitters again,..’ She also plans to make sure the house is warm, ‘… afterwards I shall go near to ruin you in coals and peat to keep up good fires in every room;’ Finally she will make sure they have the best food to eat, ‘… and lastly, the two days preceding that on which your sisters are expected will be devoted by Hannah and me to such a beating of eggs, sorting of currants, grating of spices, compounding of Christmas cakes, chopping up of materials for mince-pies, and solemnising of other culinary rites…’ 

She also refurnished the house to its previous grandeur with ‘Dark handsome new carpets and curtains, an arrangement of some carefully selected antique ornaments in porcelain and bronze, new coverings, and mirrors, and dressing-cases, for the toilet tables, answered the end: they looked fresh without being glaring. A spare parlour and bedroom I refurnished entirely, with old mahogany and crimson upholstery.’

Jane’s first Merry Christmas was spent at glittering Moor House with her cousins, Mary and Diana. Jane tells us:

‘It was Christmas week: we took to no settled employment, but spent it in a sort of merry domestic dissipation. The air of the moors, the freedom of home, the dawn of prosperity, acted on Diana and Mary’s spirits like some life-giving elixir: they were gay from morning till noon, and from noon till night.’

Jane is still missing Rochester, and although it is ‘they’ who were ‘happy from morning till night’, she was also content because she had found a home, a family, and financial stability at last. Jane was warm and comfortable, had plenty of food, and enjoyed the company of her loving cousins. A sharp contrast to her hapless situation at the beginning of the novel.

This Christmas with her newfound family is undoubtedly Jane’s most peaceful and joyous moment in the novel.

Even if you are missing someone, as most of us are, I hope you all have a joyous and peaceful Christmas. The best is still to come.

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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.