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Use Of Gothic Elements In Charlotte Bronte'S Jane Eyre

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Autor:  anton  09 December 2010
Tags:  Gothic,  Elements,  Charlotte,  Brontes
Words: 1686   |   Pages: 7
Views: 333

USE OF GOTHIC ELEMENTS IN CHARLOTTE BRONTE’S ‘JANE EYRE’

Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” was published in the middle of the nineteenth century. Bronte was greatly influenced by the Gothic novels that were in fashion before the time of Jane Eyre. The Gothic novel was popularised in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and was defined by its use of suspense, supernatural elements, and desolate locations to generate a gloomy or chilling mood. The protagonist of the novel would generally be female, and often face distressing or morbid circumstances.

Contextually, there was little freedom for middle-class women during the period of the Gothic novel, and this remained the case in the time of Charlotte. Marriage especially was often considered to be a mere bargain, whereby fortunes were secured by using the female figure exploitatively. However in “Jane Eyre,” Charlotte, and the characters she depicts, do not always conform to this conventionality. In fact the novel exhibits a number of autobiographical elements and Jane is seen as a projection of Charlotte Brontл herself, hence the element of controversy. In illustrating this idea further, consider the way in which the heroine in “Jane Eyre” in fact undergoes the trials that the hero is habitually supposed to undergo in a Gothic romance. Some critics have argued that “Jane Eyre” is not a Gothic novel but more an example of the use of ‘Gothic’ by nineteenth century novelists like Charlotte.

Within the novel there are several instances of Gothic that require analysis. The first such instance is seen in the red-room which is dark like blood. The room itself is described as a 'vault', the chair becomes a 'pale throne', and the bed is referred to as a 'tabernacle'. The prison like qualities do not go unnoticed. Outside it is raining, the wind blows against the moors, faint voices are heard. The room emits strange noises and has a large mirror that distorts Jane's appearance. Bronte appears to use the mirror as a symbol of Jane's inner self, as after she studies her reflection the tone of the narrative changes and becomes a critical examination of her situation and character, something she is forced to do throughout the novel. Jane also imagines that Mr. Reed’s ghost haunts the room, as his last wishes were unfulfilled. Jane's punishment by imprisonment within the Red Room is according to Mistry the first of a succession of metaphorical captivities, predominantly relating to Victorian society's attitudes towards gender, social class, and religion. The low ottoman, on which Jane is commanded to sit upon, can be seen as being representative of her standing in society. The use of suspense is another Gothic technique employed within this extract. The final paragraph of the extract begins with the short, simple sentence 'A singular notion dawned upon me', and then gradually the tension increases as Jane's imagination becomes progressively more frantic and superstitious. The use of long, complex sentences and lists interspersed with commas and semi-colons give the text a fast-paced and frenzied tone. The suspense continues to increase until finally the extract reaches its climax and Jane screams.

All of these elements--a dark and foreboding room where a family member died, the colour red, ghosts and phantoms, and the romantic gothic scene of rain on the moors--are Gothic and predict future Gothic locales and themes in the plot.

The next instance where gothic imagery is prevalent is when the incident on the third floor of Thornfield Hall occurs. Jane describes the decoration of Thornfield Hall as dark, old, laboured with the secrets and memories of the past. Immediately this sets Thornfield Hall off--the Gothic local of the old and mysterious castle or great manor, which has the potential to turn supernatural "strange, indeed, by the pallid gleam of moonlight." as Jane herself says.

”..the laugh was as tragic, as preternatural a laugh as any I ever heard; and, but that it was a high room, and that no circumstance of ghostliness accompanied the curious cachinnation, but that neither scene nor season favoured fear, I should have been superstitiously afraid."

Jane’s hearing of the strange and disturbingly curious laugh from the attic door enforces this introduction of locale. Mrs. Fairfax claims Grace Poole, one of the servants is responsible for the noise. But we know immediately that there is more to the story than this simply answer; the intuitive description of the odd laugh by Jane herself foreshadows a more complex and disturbing explanation to come in the future. When describing the third floor, Jane compares it to Bluebeard’s Castle.

"I lingered in the long passageway to which this led, separating the front and back rooms of the third story. …like a corridor in some Bluebeard's castle”

The reference to Bluebeard's Castle is also an important allusion; the French fairy tale referenced is a pre-Gothic account of a Duke who murders all his wives, locking their bodies in different closets, while forbidding each new wife to look inside each closet. When each bride breaks his commands, they find the dead wives, and are themselves, murdered. The Gothic plot is Romantic in the literary sense; the myth of Bluebeard is not. According to critics, “it is a dark drama/comedy in some interpretations--a didactic and frightening commentary of society in others.”

In another episode, the whole incident of meeting Mr. Rochester on the road, against the pallid moon-lit hills and vales, introduces the tortured yet romantic character of the male hero, against a backdrop which is particularly Gothic and contrasting to bringing forth his intense nature. At Jane's first meeting with Mr. Rochester, she notices his "dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow." He turns out to be a man with a past and his immoral life in Paris adds to mystery that is Mr Rochester. He is further marked in the following pages and chapters, by dark red, purple or fire imagery given to dйcor, nature or the sky.

Following this, the next encounter with Rochester when we are led to believe that 'Grace Poole' sets Rochester's bedclothes on fire, introduces more dangerous and foreboding elements related to the secret creature that resides upstairs. No information is given here, except that Jane's description of Rochester belies that there is more to the story than simply Grace Poole; also the presence of the violence and destructiveness of fire foreshadows a dark side and violence to come from this secret. Quoting from a study on Gothic imagery, “the apparent contrast would be Jane, whose imagery is always based off the colour white, black or very cool imagery and descriptions.”

As the novel proceeds, the striking of the chestnut tree, under which Jane and Rochester had just sat when he proposed the previous night, is foreshadowing of impending separation, disaster and danger for Jane and Rochester. It is a frequently used Gothic symbol, nature predicting human fate to come. Interestingly, the first meeting of Jane and Rochester is set in the nighttime, using the same symbolism, an uncertain future between the two evident.

The dramatic introduction of Bertha Mason, the deranged wife of Rochester on the wedding day is interesting as this character is a stark contrast to Jane. The mysterious occurrences like the ripping of the veil, the ‘demonic laugh’, and other such earlier unexplainable events now fall into place. It is revealed that Bertha Mason had been locked up in the attic due to her condition and kept hidden from the world. She also appears to be responsible for the violent occurrences in the text; the injuries to Mr. Mason, setting fire to Rochester’s bed, the visit to Jane’s room etc. This solution of the seemingly supernatural proceedings is proof of Bronte’s distinctive gothic implications. The more fantastic romantic aspects; the coincidences; the secrets; the supernatural occurrences, are balanced by the realism. Commenting on the Bronte sisters’ use of gothic elements, critics have remarked--- “The Gothic, sinister tone that the writers adopt is bad enough for the Brontл's protagonists, but the really horrifying occurrences have prosaic explanations. For the Brontлs, hell really was, by definition, rooted in other people.”

Here it is pertinent to mention the use of the supernatural in the novel, which is a component of the gothic-romance novel. The mention of ghosts, goblins, demons, monsters right to the telepathic communication to Jane towards the end of the novel. It is thus a requisite to mention the several instances speaking of the supernatural elements in the novel.

In the beginning, the moment of supernatural communication between Jane and Rochester when she hears his voice calling her across the misty heath from miles and miles away; and Jane’s mistaking Rochester’s dog, Pilot, for a “Gytrash,” a spirit of North England that manifests itself as a horse or dog is a prime example The supernatural elements in the passage describing the Red Room, such as the 'rushing of wings' that fills Jane's ears and her vision of the 'herald of some coming vision from another world', are the most noticeably Gothic. When describing the third storey, critics’ mention that she speaks of the “mystic cells,” of “a pale and bloody spectacle,” of a mystery that breaks out “now in fire and now in blood, at the deadest hours of night,” creating a “web of horror.” Her portrait of the grim cabinet depicting the twelve apostles, on whom she imagines Judas “gathering life and threatening a revelation of Satan himself,” suggests a devilish, supernatural evil. Next, according to Susanne Becker “Jane’s refusal to compromise, her departure from Rochester and Thornfield after the encounter with Bertha, is virtually initiated by the mother as a ghost, in a beautiful Gothic scene:”

Thus an analysis of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” clearly exhibits the use of gothic elements. Ian Gregor is of the opinion that “ in various ways Charlotte Bronte manages to make patently gothic more than a stereotype”. In doing so she addresses “a new dimension of Gothic.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

• “Gothic forms of feminine fictions.” By Susanne Becker (1999)

• “The Brontлs, a collection of critical essays” Edited by Ian Gregor (1970)

• Charlotte Brontл’s “Jane Eyre” and Emily Brontл’s “Wuthering Heights" --Supernatural, Spiritual and

Spectral Gothicism– Alicia Mistry, Internet sources



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