Gothic novel Essay
The novel ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte has been categorised as both romantic and gothic by scholars and literary critics. The plot entails the exploration of a woman’s domestic trap, a common Victorian theme, with her subjection to patriarchal authority and her dangerous attempts to escape from such restrictions and the consequences. There is a mixture of mysterious events, moonlit natural environment, beautiful dream-like landscapes, enigmatic characters. Jane is represented as the heroine of the story, the virginal Christian female character.
In opposition to her is the character of Bertha who is insane and is hidden in the attic of Thornfield Hall, representing Rochester’s torment and his terrible secret. It can be argued that the plot has many entwined characteristics of both genres and it is very difficult to think of it as of one kind. The essay will discuss the way in which the novel accords with the characteristics of a romantic novel and a Gothic novel and evaluates whether it may be possible to assign it with one of the two labels. Romantic novels emphasize imagination and feeling, they focus on nature’s ability to free humans from society’s judgments and limitations.
English romance narrates exotic and unusual stories, they are concerned with chivalric deeds (as in the stories of King Arthur), recalling themes of romantic medieval literature. The latter results from a period in English history when society was in search for of order and the approach was that everything had to be explained rationally and scientifically, hence often being referred to as the Age of Reason. However, the romantics’ themes are in opposition to such a way of thinking and rebelled against such established norms and conventions.
The characters in romantic novels place the self at the centre of his/her own existence, this is achieved by focusing on his/her thoughts rather than actions. The theme or romantic love as opposed to passionate love is explored too and the consequences the latter would bring. Another narrative style which emerged was the Gothic novel. The background setting has a dim and imposing mansion or castle, as a backdrop to the atmosphere of mystery and suspense, where the character’s fears are explored beneath the surface of the “enlightened” psyche.
Other features of a gothic tale is the presence of omens, portents and visions. There is usually a suffering, tormented woman who needs to be rescued from a controlling and lustful guardian, and in the process displays an array of extreme sentiments and reactions, such as swooning, crying and sorrow. She is usually often commanded to marry someone she does not love or commit some moral or actual crime. Supernatural events may be used to explain coincidences and many scenes evoke terror through the depiction of physical and psychological violence.
So I would like to examine how Jane Eyre would seem to be typical of the romantic novel that was so popular in Victorian England, while at the same time having, in my opinion, all the ingredients for a gothic novel. The plot recalls a fairy tale ‘… when you came upon me last night I thought unaccountably of fairy tales’; as Bronte writes in chapter 13. However, Bronte skilfully uses it as a frame, to give a clear picture of her great feminine consciousness, expressed in Jane Eyre’s persona. This is conveyed through the use of a first-person narration, that depicts the world around her and the others in relation to her and her point of view.
In the romantic novel the individual stands at the centre of romantic fiction relating facts and experiences. In the following passage, Jane demonstrates her fervid romantic imagination, as she explains to Adele that she and Mr Rochester are going to get married and utters ‘Here is a talisman will remove all difficulties;” (chapter 24) Jane metaphorically evokes the theme of natural forces which come to her aid when she is most in need for comfort. The passage continues with, a fairy that ‘… held out a pretty gold ring….. and I am yours, and you are mine; and we shall leave earth and make our heaven yonder'(chapter 24).
The latter depicts the traditions of dream and oral tales which was much loved by the romantics. However, these are also elements which can be found in Gothic novels, where enchantment and fear are closely related. There is much about Jane and Rochester’s introspection, their belief in the supernatural, and conflicting emotions. Jane fights against the wicked spirits of Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield, Manor Hall, and Marsh End at the end, these supernatural elements take the form of moral choices that force her into reflecting upon righteousness.
For instance, the striking of the chestnut tree by lightening, under which Rochester had proposed to Jane (chapter 22), is a portent of their imminent separation and the dangers that lie ahead. It is a perfect Gothic symbol, as nature predicts human fate. Moreover, Bronte is able to convey and juxtapose different tones in the same passage, it can change from a playful and romantic tone to an enigmatic and harsh one. For instance, when Rochester is trying to convince Jane to dine with him and she refuses, his mood changes immediately .
He is upset by her answer and asks Jane if she supposes whether he eats as ‘an ogre or a ghoul’ (chapter 24). Here, Gothic elements are used metaphorically to convey the degenerating tone of such a conversation. Recalling the Bluebeard tales themes, which underlines the novel. The supernatural elements conceal emotions and have been used to symbolise the child which resides in all of us and comes out in moments of loss of consciousness and fear, and at the same time heightening the readers awareness of the fragility of the heroine/hero.
As when Jane describes the red room, with its noises and mirrors, where she was secluded as a punishment, everything in the room becomes fearful to her eyes. The mere colour ‘red’ conjures up images of blood and being locked in either literally or in a moral sense is an abhorrent idea to most (it recalls also the theme of trap) (chapter 2). Another important aspect of the novel is the exotic. Romantics, in their novels, often alluded to distant places. In the story, Rochester has a house in Spain, where he wishes to take Jane once married, considering it as a more relaxed country, colourful and sensual place.
Before meeting Jane, Rochester had travelled around the world in search of a foreign wife (Chapter 27). Yet, Bronte condemns such behaviour and makes Rochester feel reckless with disappointment to the point he utters that ‘I tried dissipation – never debauchery: that I hated, and hate. That was my Messalina’s attribute’ (Chapter 27). Jane rejects such exoticism and is ‘not forming a very favourable opinion’ on him, he is perceived by her as ‘an unfeeling, loose-principled rake’.
What Bronte is trying to emphasise is that if romantic love was to be perceived in such a superficial light – as being just for sexual pleasure – then it together with passion, would mean a loss of the self morally and ethically. Moreover, the idea of the character who travels towards unknown distant places, against wicked and unpredictable forces (these are represented by the several lovers he mentions, throughout his journey, and finally by Bertha, his insane wife segregated in the attic of Thornfield Hall).
Thus, Gothic elements are used to create a sense of loss and psychological violence, just like what Mr. Rochester experienced throughout his journeys. Bronte demonstrates an attitude towards natural forces, which ‘gravely offered… help’ to such a ‘reckless’ man. In fact, he was not able to fall in love with a ‘womankind’, but with a natural ‘slender creature’ who is personified by Jane (Chapter 27). Thus, the novel entails many elements which are characteristic of fairy tales. Jane is repeatedly described as looking like a spirit, a tiny phantom, “half fairy, half imp. “. Such an association permits an author to use less words to express deeper ideas, by adding powerful images through an apt use of wondrous language.
The imaginary is at the heart of both narrative genres, however under many aspects Gothicism emerges to create suspense and conveys the characters’ inner torments, such as “the striking of the chestnut tree’, ‘the red room’. These contrast with the romantic descriptions of the outdoor scenes, such as when Jane runs across the countryside, are nevertheless described in a vivid and detailed manner as if Jane Eyre were painting a realistic picture of the scene in all its shades. This imagery suggests her characters’ moral condition and state of mind, therefore the mood of the story is immediately conveyed.
There are numerous symbolic references to weather and to the sky, in the form of storms, rain, clouds, and sun. At the very opening of the novel, Jane sets the scene by mentioning that “the cold winter wind” had brought with it “clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating. ” There is a full moon on the night when Bertha attacks her brother, as there is on the night when Jane runs away from Thornfield. Nature is presented as the “mother” of all creatures, which connotes Jane’s romantic side and her fragility.
The scenes that are a set for Rochester and Jane Eyre’s passion take place in natural surroundings. After their wedding is interrupted, “the woods which twelve hours since waved leafy and fragrant/now spread, waste, wild and white as pine-forests in wintry Norway. ” Here, Bronte adds Gothic elements, which changes the mood to one of tormented state of mind, thus anticipating Jane’s future struggles. At the end, when reunited, Rochester tells Jane that “I am no better than the old lightening-struck chestnut-tree in Thornfield orchard.
” The theme of nature seems to be treated in both a romantic as well as a gothic way, due to the atmosphere which at times evokes joyful and comforting images, while at other times horrific images and death. In chapter 35, the personification of the ‘wind’ effectively suggests the way in which the mood can be created by nature. Bronte uses it as the means by which she received the message from Mr Rochester, in fact she follows it throughout ‘the passage’ until she finds her way out of that situation.
This manifestation of the voice perceived in her spirit and mind, and not externally, could be construed in a gothic light i. e. as a portent or a supernatural event. There is, however, a romantic and passionate image of the voice which contrasts with the Gothic setting. The passage ‘I am coming! … hush’ (chapter 37) is extremely descriptive with many adjectives ‘dark’, ‘void’ and nouns such as ‘loneliness’ and ‘hush’. The combination of this with short sentences creates an immediacy, dramatic impact and mystic atmosphere, characteristic of Gothic novels.
In conclusion, by writing from an individual point of view, by creating characters who are possessed of strong feelings, fiery passions and some extraordinary personalities, by using some elements of horror and mystery, Jane Eyre is able to recreate life in a fantastic romantic way. The vividness of her subjective narration, especially the heroine who is contrary to the Victorians’ expectations, the presentation of the economical, social background of the time give her works a never dying popularity.
The eerie atmosphere with supernatural associations can recall the characteristics of Gothic novels and are used in some way to justify what is inexplicable (as the voice of Mr. Rochester calling her or striking of the chestnut tree). All in all, I consider gothic as a subgenre of the romantic novel, both require drama and high emotional intensity which are elements that can be definitely found in Jane Eyre, one cannot exclude the other, it would be a great mistake to try and categorize such a masterpiece under one genre.