Jane Eyre by Charlotte

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Notes on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. This set of Tower Notes is 108 pages long and is sold as a fully illustrated PDF file with footnotes and references.

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A free sample, text only, is provided below drawn from some of the opening, middle and later chapters of the book.

Introduction: Narrative Structures in Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre stands alongside Wuthering Heights as one of the most significant moments in the development of English fiction. Specifically, it brought about a widening of the structural and symbolic possibilities open to the novel, as well as, to an extent, redefining its subject matter. Whereas Emily Brontë’s novel, however, is a complex weave of different narratives, drawn from differing perspectives and points of view, Charlotte’s novel has an apparently simple ‘autobiographical’ structure. In fact, this disguises an equally complex narrative base, in which the author constantly mixes genres and employs several different story archetypes, upon which Jane’s first-person narration is founded.
These archetypes are not only signalled by clearly recognisable structural devices (the gothic manor house, for example, or the use of symbolic names for the novel’s key locations), but they also inform such textual detail as the description of Jane’s walk out into the moors at Whitcross:

I struck straight into the heath; I held on to the hollow I saw deeply furrowing the brown moorside; I waded kneedeep in its dark growth; I turned with its turnings, and finding a moss-blackened granite crag in a hidden angle, I sat down under it. (Chapter 28, p349 – all page references are to the
Penguin English Library edition).

The alliterative rhythms here alert the reader to an important passage: the determination on exile in Jane’s heart at this moment in the book (‘I struck straight…’); her tenacity of purpose (‘I held on…’) and the sense of ordeal implied by ‘I waded kneedeep…’ all subtly point to a style and genre of writing dependent on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress which is one of the most important points of reference in Jane Eyre . Here Brontë is recalling both the style and content of the earlier work’s opening:

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream.

The influence of Bunyan obviously provides the gently allegorical place names that help to give form to the novel, such as ‘Gateshead’ and ‘Thornfield’, which have been frequently remarked upon. Nowhere is his shadow more in evidence than in this section of the novel, however, when Jane is fleeing from Thornfield, which has become her ‘City of Destruction.’ Indeed, she will never live again in this place, but she does return to find it a burnt-out ruin, destroyed, symbolically, by that ‘fire from heaven’ that Bunyan’s Christian expects to overtake his own home, and from which he runs towards a ‘shining light,’ and passes through a ‘wicket gate,’ as does Jane upon the moors, just a few pages further on the book.

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