Monday, September 29, 2014

The 2014 Jane Eyre Read-Along: Week 2

Welcome to the second week of 
the 2014 Jane Eyre Read-Along,
brought to you by

Introduction:  "a black pillar!"

The most striking scene for this reader was Jane's hesitation upon entering the breakfast-room where she had been summoned.  As she turns the handle of the door what should she see besides the familiar visage of Mrs. Reed?
"passing through, and curtseying low, I looked up at -- a black pillar!  -- such, at least, appeared to me, at first sight, the straight, narrow, sable-clad shape standing erect on the rug;  the grim face at the top was like a curved mask, placed above the shaft by way of capital."
This was the eminent Mr. Brocklehurst whose institution would be taking over the care of young Jane for the foreseeable future.

Week 2  Discussion Questions:
Chapters 1 - 5
(Questions provided by
A Night's Dream of Books)

1.) The novel opens on a very dreary, rainy November afternoon. How do you think this contributes to the general mood of the first chapter?

The first sentence declares that taking a walk was not a "possibility" that day, leading the reader to an expectation of why this might be that is immediately answered in the second sentence.  This not only establishes the mood of the story but provides a foundation for Jane's tale of woe at the hands and minds of the Reed family.  Beginning the novel in November suggests the idea of death in nature with the trees and bushes losing their leaves and the wind howling.  The mood is underscored by Jane's description of the "pale blank of mist and cloud" and "ceaseless rain".  Another aspect of the dreary opening description is to provide contrast with Jane when she engages in her solitary activities such as daydreaming and reading her bird book.

2.) What literary function do curtains and draperies have in the opening chapters?

Along with other aspects of the story such as the dreary condition of the weather on the opening pages these items are metaphors for certain ideas that we will likely continue to encounter as the story progresses.  They can be seen standing for the separation between Jane and the Reed family, but more importantly as a symbol of death along with the color red.  I am reminded of Poe's Masque of the Red Death where he uses similar motifs in a much more horrific setting.  It also isolates Jane, not just from the family, but also from nature and any source of goodness and hope.  The blinds in the "Red Room" are already drawn but the "red" curtains add to the separation.  One cannot fail to note the Freudian overtones of the red damask curtains around the bed that make it seem like a "tabernacle". Overall they add to the majesty of the room (it sounds like something out of a museum), but note that Jane describes it as a "vacant" majesty.  This may suggest simple unreality or something more sinister like the supernatural.  

4.) Bessie's attitude toward Jane is inconsistent; at times, she's kind toward the child, while at others, she scolds her unfairly. Why do you think she acts this way?

I believe that the inconsistency of Bessie's attitude toward Jane is a bit of realism in this very Romantic novel.  Given her position vis a vis Mrs. Reed she may find it difficult to contradict her employer.  In spite of that I believe her true nature shines through with certain acts of kindness that lead to the reconcilement in chapter IV that I discuss below.

5.) Jane speaks more like an adult than a child, especially in the scene with Mrs. Reed, after Brocklehurst leaves. Do you think this is because she's a very intelligent, precocious child, or is this simply an unrealistic part of the novel?

I believe this is intentional on the part of the author.  Jane is a first person narrator and, while we enter her story on a  somber day dominated by a "cold winter wind", she appears from the beginning to be an adult looking back at her life and telling her story beginning when she was a ten-year-old girl.  While she is undoubtedly more intelligent than the Reeds give her credit for I find this a reasonable way for the author to  present the young Jane to the reader.  What I find more interesting is her psychological development:  We see her on the first two pages shutting herself away from the "ceaseless rain" outside, but also shutting herself away from the physical attacks of young John Reed and the psychological torture of Mrs. Reed.  By chapter IV she has summoned the internal energy to speak up to Mrs. Reed saying "I am not deceitful: if I were I should say I loved you;  but I declare I do not love you:  I dislike you the worst of anybody in the the world except John Reed;"  
We see further evidence of her psychological growth as she reconciles with Bessie, the only person in the household who had shown Jane true kindness.   And on  the following page there is one of the most pleasant moments in the first five chapters when Jane closes chapter IV with the following, "and in the evening Bessie told me some of her most enchanting stories, and sang me some of her sweetest songs.  Even for me life had its gleams of sunshine."  



Maria Behar said...

Great, thought-provoking answers, James!

I should have mentioned the "black pillar" myself; it certainly is an overwhelming image, when one considers it from a child's perspective.

The weather certainly mirrors the tale of Jane's unfortunate circumstances as a shunned member of the Reed household. And you're right, it also provides a contrast to the sanctuary offered by the draperies behind which she hides in order to read her book.

Regarding the metaphoric function of the drapes, I agree with your point that they serve to isolate Jane from the Reed family. In the Red Room, they are of course a symbol of death, as I pointed out myself in my own answer. Interesting that you should also reference Poe's "Masque of the Red Death"; this is definitely a great comparison!

We also agree on why Bessie was not always kind to Jane. The upper classes had a lot of power in those days! They still do, but now we have laws to protect the rights of those who work for them (although these laws are not always easy to apply).

As far as the way Jane speaks as a child, I, too, think that, since she's narrating the story as an adult, she gave adult words to her child self. On the other hand, I also think that Brian's point about Jane being a very special, very intelligent child is a valid one. Thus, she might very well have spoken this way as a child.

Thanks for participating in this read-along! This novel certainly offers readers a rich source of meanings, and all of us who are enjoying it have varied and interesting takes on it!! : )

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks so much for participating James.

It is really interesting to read how we all agreed on certain commonalities while approaching them form slightly different angles.

I missed the entire meaning of the color red which I think that you and Maria are correct on.

You have imparted a desire in me to read Masque of the Red Death soon!

James said...


I agree with your observation about commonalities. It is somewhat like a book group discussion where each member brings his or her own perspective.

I would highly recommend Poe's short story. Like all of his work it is deeply imbued with layers of meaning.

Maria Behar said...

I, too, thought that the allusion to Poe's story was interesting. Although I haven't read his story, I'm sure that, when I do, I'll be remembering "Jane Eyre".

Your other answers were also thought-provoking.

Thanks for participating in the read-along with us!! : )

James said...


Thanks for your helpful comments. I agree that Jane is a very special child of above-average intelligence -- with both a sensitive mind and acute powers of observation.

As I mentioned to Brian this read-along reminds me of a book group discussion with the delight of sharing different perspectives on a great novel.