Romance Is In the Eyre – English Essay
When the title of the novel Jane Eyre is first heard by any reader, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Fairy tales, Gothicism, sociology? No, the answer is romanticism. Whether one thinks of romance or of the many smaller criterions that create the romantic genre, it is
apparent: Jane Eyre is a novel with an obvious theme of romanticism. After reading and fully understanding Jane Eyre, one is able to understand the different techniques and styles of writing that Charlotte Brontë used to create the romantic genre thread that is found throughout the entire novel.
In the novel, Jane Eyre, a high moral tone is evident in author Charlotte Brontë’s writing. The novel is set in the Victorian era, a time during which the Emotionalist Moral Philosophy was popular. Brontë, whose father was a reverend, expresses her own deeply religious views and morals through her writing, placing Jane Eyre in the romantic novel genre. Although seemingly insignificant at first glance, there are many religious references throughout this novel. The title character, Jane, follows a strict moral code and has a very religious (though hypocritical) upbringing at Lowood School. Mr. Rochester, her love interest, on the other hand, appears to have no concept of morality and chooses instead to ignore his problems and deny any religion. At the end of the novel, however, after Rochester is blinded in the fire, his physical disability causes him to have a spiritual and moral resurrection.
Early on in the novel, while Jane is at Lowood, she meets Helen Burns, a young woman with an extensive set of morals and a deep belief in God. Helen is strong and martyr-like, and teaches Jane to trust God and develop her own sense of Christianity. Even after Helen’s death from typhus, she remains a strong religious influence on Jane’s life.
In addition, social, personal, and religious integrity often depended upon a choice between sensuality (what feels good physically) and morality (what feels good emotionally). When Jane discovers that Rochester is already married to Bertha Mason, she chooses not to marry him because by doing so, she would render herself not his wife, but his mistress. Jane’s choice in this situation was a way for Brontë to add her own morals to the story. Choices like this throughout the novel make it obvious that Brontë’s writing is in a high moral tone.
Besides the criteria for romanticism of writing in a high moral tone, the focus of optimism helps to create the romantic genre. Author Ann Woodlief once wrote, “the 18th century left a heritage of optimism about man’s possibilities and perfectibility” (Woodlief, American Romanticism). Later in that article, entitled “American Romanticism,” Woodlief goes on to talk about optimism in all forms, faith in God, and joy amongst human beings. These examples of optimism are also evident in the novel Jane Eyre.
Jane was not originally an optimistic person. It was not until she met Helen Burns and came across another way of viewing life that she altered her outlook. Helen helped show Jane that it is okay to put her faith in God. As Helen lay dying, Jane was surprised to find her beloved friend not scared, but instead claiming to be “very happy Jane; and when you hear that I am dead, you must be sure not to grieve: there is nothing to grieve about…I have faith: I am going to God.” (Brontë 69)
Jane questioned Helen’s views, but eventually adapted them and took them as her own, using these views to guide herself through difficult times. Not only did Jane show optimism in her beliefs, but also in her emotions towards Mr. Rochester. Jane finally matures and grows attached to another human being. She sees him in the highest light and finds great joy in his presence. When Bessie, Jane’s old friend, comes to visit her in her new life at Thornfield, it is noted that since Mr. Rochester has been in the picture, Jane has “more life, more vivacity; because [she] had brighter hopes and keener enjoyments.” (Brontë 133) Jane has come to see that by the life and presence of someone else, she can feel utter happiness and see her relationships, God, and life in an optimistic light.
In this novel, as well as in other romantic novels, “actions speak louder than words.” This means that more action takes place than words of explanation and detail that simply describe scenes. Beginning as early as Jane’s childhood, Brontë employs this “actions over words” modus operandi. When Jane sees her cousin, John Reed, “lift and poise the book and stand in act to hurl it [at Jane]”(Brontë 8), Jane starts to bicker with John obnoxiously. Yet rather than just continuing with useless ranting, Jane and John begin to quarrel physically. As John “ran headlong at [Jane]… [She struck] a young gentleman”. (Brontë 9) The form of action instead of just description gives the reader a better sense of what happens in the novel. By having the actual physical drama of Jane and John fighting, the reader is able to understand the scene fully and create an image in their mind rather than just explaining that both children were mad at each other.
Later in the novel, the night before the marriage of Jane and Mr. Rochester, action takes place as Bertha comes into Jane’s room and ruins Jane’s veil. The reader is informed that “[Bertha] removed [Jane’s] veil from its gaunt head, rent it in two parts, and flinging both on the floor, trampled on them.” (Brontë 242) While Brontë could have simply said that a bad omen had occurred when Jane woke the before her wedding, she decided to actually describe the events that had occurred that night.
In literature, and in Jane Eyre, the changing seasons and setting cause the character’s attitudes and feelings to shift. Jane’s outlook on life during the cold, dreary winter she spent at Lowood School was unenthusiastic and negative. Towards the beginning of the novel the temperature outside was frigid and their “clothing was insufficient to protect [us] from the severe cold.” (Brontë 50) No one at Lowood had warmed up to Jane at this time, since she was a new student and had no acquaintances. The iciness and cold outside was a parallel Jane’s inner thoughts as she faced the difficulties of fitting in and making friends. However, as the frosts of winter melted away, flowers began to bloom and flourish in the warm weather. Jane had found companions such as Helen and Mary Ann, and was feeling joyous and carefree as she observed the growth and beauty of the plants outdoors. “Lowood became all green, all flowery; its great elm, ash, and oak skeletons were restored to majestic life.” (Brontë 64) For the first time in her life, Jane had real friends and flourished in her schoolwork. For the first time, she was enjoying life. Summer and its accompanying warm weather was a hopeful time for Jane; the sunshine and heat lifted her spirits as she traveled back to Mr. Rochester’s house after her aunt’s death. She was cheered by the fact that she was going back to a permanent home to see the one she loved. As the warmth of summer gradually became the chilliness of autumn and Jane left Lowood to work at Thornfield, she felt uncomfortable and uncertain about her future. She was “warming away the numbness and chill contracted by sixteen hours’ exposure to the rawness of an October day” (Brontë 79) as she had second thoughts about coming to Thornfield. By using the setting and nature to reflect Jane’s thoughts and feelings in Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë sets the novel in the romantic genre.
Further proving that Jane Eyre is a romantic genre novel is the concept of the hero, Jane, struggling to attain an ideal. Jane strives for such things as freedom, love, social equality, education, and spiritual wholeness throughout the novel. In the beginning, when Jane is at Lowood School, she struggles to find spiritual wholeness. Jane comes across several models of religion, beginning with Helen Burns and Mr. Brocklehurst, and later on, St. John Rivers. Jane rejects Helen’s meek and passive interpretation of Christianity, Mr. Brocklehurst’s hypocritical and humiliating mode of Christianity, and St. John’s ambitious, self-righteous form of Christianity.
Jane also searches not just for romantic love, but also for a sense of being valued, of belonging. Towards the beginning of the novel, Jane she says to Helen, “to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest”. (Brontë 59) Jane eventually finds both love and social class equality when she marries Mr. Rochester after he is blinded in the fire. She feels as though she is now his equal and the “master vs. servant” roles are no longer in place. This struggle to attain an ideal is evidence of the romantic genre.
Throughout the course of the novel, Jane finds an escape from her troublesome life through the books that she cherishes, as well as other forms of artistic expression, such as her paintings. During her time living at Gateshead, Jane reads to get her mind off the poor treatment that she receives from her aunt and cousins. When she is at Lowood, painting is used as her getaway from the humdrum life in her current position. With arriving at Thornfield and discussing her artwork with Mr. Rochester, she states that she painted these works as an escape from her everyday life during the summer at Lowood. “I had nothing else to do, because it was the vacation, and I sat at them from morning till noon, and from noon till night: the length of the midsummer days favoured my inclination to apply.” (Brontë 108) The seemingly constant, although subtle, presence of the library at Thornfield creates an undertone emphasizing the importance of literature. In addition, Jane encounters her beloved books again when she befriends Diana and Mary Rivers, and the literature helps her cope with the coolness that St. John appears to have, as opposed to the warmth of Mary and Diana.
All of the aspects of a romantic genre novel are noticeably and clearly evident to the reader in Jane Eyre. A romantic novel is considered to be one with high moral tone, an optimistic outlook, focus on action rather than character development, setting and nature which reflect the feelings of the characters, heroes struggling to attain ideals, and reading providing an escape from the daily existence of the protagonist. Charlotte Brontë effectively utilizes each of these examples to convey a romantic theme in her novel Jane Eyre.
Charlotte Brontë: An Overview. 1 Jan. 06
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Third ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,
Woodlief, Ann. “American Romanticism.” September 18th, 2001.