The Two Meaning of Nature in Jane Eyre, a Novel by Charlotte Bronte

Categories: Jane Eyre

When a person first hears the word ‘nature’, they most likely think of the outdoors: trees, mountains, rivers, flowers, and other things found outside the walls of a building. However, the longer they ruminate on the word, they might come to realize that ‘nature’ has other meanings as well. ‘Nature’ can also mean a human’s personality, their tendencies and characteristics. Charlotte Brontë uses this multifunctional word, with both of these meanings, quite often in her novel Jane Eyre.

The character of Jane Eyre acts as a mediator of human nature and the Natural world throughout the novel.

Brontë seems to make this claim in the opening scenes where Jane is depicted looking into a Nature that seems so far away from her. As the narrative continues, the reader sees Jane moving from the indoors – separate from Nature – into the outdoors – becoming ‘one’ with her own nature and with the Natural world. The character Jane Eyre, and the novel as a whole, show the ultimate connection between Nature and human nature by allowing the reader to see how Jane interacts with both of them.

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The way Jane connects to the world of Nature is very obvious from the start of the novel. Brontë lets the reader know that “[t]here was no possibility of taking a walk that day” because of the storm, so Jane stayed inside to read a book about Nature to escape from reality and give her peace (Brontë 9). Jennifer Fuller says in her essay, that in this opening scene, “nature is intimately connected to Jane’s vision, even while its violence makes interaction impractical” (153).

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Jane’s use of the book at the beginning is two-fold. First, Jane cultivates a connection to the Natural world and experiences how “[e]ach picture told a story; mysterious often to [her] undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting” (Brontë 11). Second, she escapes from the cousins who treat her poorly, into the world of Nature where she feels safer. Jane learned to escape her cousins first through reading books and later by being sent closer to the Natural world at Lowood School when she was still a young girl.

Jane’s connection to Nature expands and flourishes when she is sent to Lowood School. There she cultivates a love for playing in Nature and spends time reading in the outdoors alongside Helen Burns. Even though she is in Nature, she does not have free reign over her actions in it. In fact, Mr Brocklehurst, and some of the other teachers at Lowood, make her “chance to interact with nature outside the pages of books…highly regulated” (Fuller 155). For Jane, however, it was a step in the right direction as she began to realize the importance of her connection to the Natural world.

When typhus falls on many girls at the school, Jane and the other healthier girls are allowed more time and freedom to play outside the walls of Lowood. Jane tells that she and the other girls were allowed to “ramble in the wood, like gipsies, from morning till night; we did what we liked, went where we liked: we lived better too” (Brontë 92). This “rambling” is favorable to all the girls, but especially to Jane. Through a time when she is forced out into the wood, she is consequently “strengthened by her time in nature” (Fuller 156). This is a strength Jane will carry with her through the rest of her journey.

Continuing her journey, Jane arrives at the estate of Thornfield. There is much Nature (moors and gardens) that surround the castle-like manor, which is good for the growing connection Jane has with the Natural world. So far, Jane has been able to observe Nature at Gateshead (her childhood home), then she begins to play in and learn about Nature at Lowood. Tracy Hayes has this to say about Jane’s stay at Thornfield: “It is when Jane sets out for Thornfield in the capacity of governess…that she matures” or comes to understand Nature the most (84). Jane is about to become a governess and must find harmony between herself and the more wild world of Nature in the country.

At Thornfield, Jane witnesses the power of freedom the Natural world has. It is this freedom that Jane desires, and it is because of this desire that Jane must have patience. For though Jane sees the power in Nature, she is not fully matured to truly be connected with it. During her time of maturation and “while [she] seeks a connection to the mythic “wildness” of England, she must balance this desire with the human need for protective boundaries and must learn to find harmony between liberty and safety” (Fuller 151). Societies expectations for her, or the “protective boundaries” Fuller mentions, are what keep Jane from becoming completely free from stone walls that keep her tied to the indoors. In order to free herself from the boundaries, Jane must first find harmony and strength within herself.

At Gateshead, Lowood, and Thornfield, Jane increases her connection with the Natural world. Not only does she seek “comfort in the embrace of a wild and untamed nature,” but she has the ability to understand it (Fuller 159). Jennifer Gribble helps the reader see that “Jane’s closeness to nature, her sensitivity to its signs, is linked with her tendency to visualize in order to understand” (290). This visualization Jane has of Nature occurs through her paintings. Though she may not see the way she portrays Nature in her art, Edward Rochester does. When he first sees Jane’s work he asks her, “who taught you to paint the wind?” (Brontë 148). This shows that she has such a strong connection with Nature that she can paint things such as the wind, which is invisible.

Justine Pizzo fixates on the correlation between Jane’s last name Eyre and what connection that may mean she has in relation to Nature. This connection may simply be her name, or it could be more symbolic, as seen in her paintings. Pizzo argues that “Jane’s imagination and artistry are synonymous with her bodily perception of and sensitivity to the aerial climate” (96). It is already known that Jane can draw inspiration to paint the invisible wind, but can she find peace and security through Nature in other areas of her life also?

Pizzo claims that Jane’s imagination is linked to Nature and to her sense of calmness as well. Throughout the novel, Jane is levelheaded when it comes to helping others. For example, when Rochester leaves her to care for his injured brother-in-law, Mr Mason, saying, “I shall leave you…for an hour, or perhaps two” she is calm the entire time she is close to the ‘mad woman in the attic’ as she is tending to Mason’s wounded arm (Brontë 242). Also, earlier in the novel when Rochester’s bed is set on fire Jane immediately thinks to douse the fire with the water basins. An explanation for these levelheaded acts would be that “Jane claims atmospheric sensitivity as an antidote to the symptoms of hysteria and neurosis” (Pizzo 89). Jane’s peace shows that she is not like the conventional Victorian girl who would have fainted during either of these scenes. Instead, Jane draws a sense of calm and composure from the Nature that is all around her.

Her dependence on Nature is plain to readers when she runs away from Thornfield and is alone on the moor. At this time, Jane says to herself, “[n]ature seemed to me benign and good; I thought she loved me, outcast as I was” (Brontë 372). Here again, we can see her seeking that comfort which she only seems to find in the Natural world. She has lost everything, is on her own, and the only thing she can turn to is Nature itself. We see Jane looking to Nature as a child looks to its mother. In fact, Jane calls herself Nature’s child saying, “My mother would lodge me without money and without price” (Brontë 372). This feminization of Nature here depicts a caring mother that wants its child to mature, which Jane most certainly experiences through her growth in understanding her own human nature.

Brontë created Jane Eyre is an incredible character when it comes to maturation. Something that helped shape her own personal nature was the Nature around her. Human nature is, as Richard Benvenuto states, “an individual’s right to question and probe moral duty and social custom for their justice” (624). For Jane, there was not much maturing at Gateshead, due to rude cousins and uncaring aunts; however, there was much maturation in her nature, or character, at Lowood because of the examples of Miss Temple and Mr Brocklehurst.

Upon her entrance of Lowood, all Jane wishes is to be is accepted by the students and teachers. She spent the beginning of her life being rejected by family and scorned for simply existing, therefore, it is safe to assume that she was excited for a new place where nobody knew her. After having some time to herself, shortly following her arrival, Jane says she felt “a strange excitement, and reckless and feverish, I wished the wind to howl more wildly” (Brontë 65). She was ready for something new in her life, and Lowood served as a springboard into her personal growth of character.

Jane’s first big leap in maturation happened when Mr Brocklehurst makes an appearance and calls attention to the accusation made by her aunt, that Jane is “a liar” (Brontë 79). This accusation makes Jane think that she has lost all hope of gaining friends at the school, especially after she is placed on a stool for everyone to notice. Because she thinks that no one will look at her anymore “standing on [her] natural feet in the middle of the room,” she is surprised by Helen who gives her a smile giving Jane the strength to endure the stool (80). This simple action allowed Jane to discover that other people did care for her despite negative things others had to say. By learning this, Jane was able to see the “imperfect nature of man[kind]” and rise above those like Mr Brocklehurst who would act only for their own interests (80).

Jane slowly continues to grow, and learn her second lesson, when she becomes a teacher at Lowood and later as a governess to Adele at Thornfield. We do not see her take leaps in maturation again until the issue with Bertha surfaces and Jane is forced to choose whether to live as a mistress or to flee and make a life for herself elsewhere. Here, the temptation, stemming from her love for Rochester, to stay is almost too strong for Jane and she must again rely on Nature to help her overcome. In a dream, the moon appears to Jane and she says, “[i]t spoke to my spirit…it whispered in my heart – ‘My daughter, flee temptation.’ ‘Mother, I will’ (Brontë 367). After this encounter, Jane takes flight in the night, defeating the temptation. By doing so, she learned that she could fight the human nature’s urge to stay with the man she loved but could not have.

Jane’s third lesson, for her personal nature, came in the form of a proposal from Saint John. Here, Jane ultimately realizes that she has the power to control her own life. By this point in the novel, the reader also understand that “Jane’s conscience, her reason, and her feelings- the moral, intellectual, and emotional faculties that give Jane her specific nature and being” are her power (Benvenuto 634-35). Her natural self is what allows Jane to finally take control of making decisions, such as rejecting Saint John and going back to Thornfield to find Rochester.

These three lessons in Jane’s life helped her learn how to better control her human or personal nature to interact with natural Nature. They also allowed Jane to determine that it was all right to have a nature self that differed from others. Her nature was “a complete endorsement of her own personality, a recognition of her native self as its own absolute norm” (Benvenuto 631), meaning, Jane understood that even though she did not conform to the standards of people around her, she could still gain relationships and respect from those who were close to her.

Jane’s natural interaction with Rochester and Saint John’s sisters at the end of the novel display how much she has maturated since she began her journey as a child. She developed a strong connection with the Natural world from which she drew strength. That strength was what helped her face her relatives growing up, Brocklehurst at Lowood, and refuse marriage proposals. While Jane’s nature may not be what most Victorians would have thought of as conventional, she did conform her human nature in a way that did not compromise her relationship to the Natural world.

Through Jane’s display of a relationship between the Natural world and human nature, the reader may come to understand how their own interactions with the Natural world may be beneficial for their growth in human nature. The reader may understand that just like Jane was able to have Nature to rely upon, they can learn to take strength from Nature as well. Going into the future, readers of Jane Eyre will be able to better understand this relationship of nature and Nature if they themselves have the connection between the two just as Jane did. Not only would it enhance their understanding of Jane Eyre, but it would also give them a sense of stability in the world around them.

Works Cited

  1. Benvenuto, Richard. “The Child of Nature, the Child of Grace, and the Unresolved Conflict of Jane Eyre.” ELH 39.4 (1972): 620-38. Print.
  2. Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. England: Penguin Random House, 2006. Print.
  3. Fuller, Jennifer D. “Seeking Wild Eyre: Victorian Attitudes Towards Landscape and the Environment in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.” Ecozon 4.2 (2013): 150-65. Print.
  4. Gribble, Jennifer. “Jane Eyre’s Imagination.” Nineteenth-Century Ficiton 23.3 (1968): 279-93. Print.
  5. Hayes, Tracy. “Woman as Nature, Nature as Woman.” Rev. of Landscape and Gender in the Novels of Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy: The Body of Nature. PLL; Edwardsville 53.1 (2017): 82-90. Print.
  6. Pizzo, Justine. “Atmospheric Exceptionalism in Jane Eyre: Charlotte Brontë’s Weather Wisdom.” PMLA 131.1 (2016): 84-100. Print.

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The Two Meaning of Nature in Jane Eyre, a Novel by Charlotte Bronte. (2021, Sep 23). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-two-meaning-of-nature-in-jane-eyre-a-novel-by-charlotte-bronte-essay

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