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n article about a Victorian charity school in the 1850 Illustrated London News helps the modern reader determine how accurately Jane Eyre depicts life at Lowood. The article suggests that Lowood might even portray the precise details of an existing school. According to "North Surrey District School, Penge, Near Norwood," which appeared in the issue of November 23, 1850, the school consists of

three large schools and classrooms with apartments for two school masters, two school mistresses, and for infant school master and mistress; also for trade master, steward, matron, other officers, and domestics, for examining and instructing the children, board room, work and store rooms, two receiving wards for the retention of children for twenty four hours (or until examined by medical officer), with baths, washing room, and rooms adjoining for the baking and deposit of the children's own clothes" (139).

The large building with separate rooms for different purposes seems characteristic of all schools of this sort.

Jane describes the large building and many rooms of the Lowood school in her account of her first day there. Her first impression of Lowood demonstrates an impersonal massiveness similar to the school in the article: "There was now visible a house or houses- for the building spread far- with many windows, and lights burning in some; we went up a broad pebbly path, splashing wet, and were admitted at a door. . . Led by her I passed from compartment to compartment, from passage to passage, of a large and irregular building". Jane's account of the many sections of Lowood also correspond with the facts in the article. She visits the receiving room, schoolroom, dormitory, refectory, sickroom, and garden. Jane's portrayal of Lowood confirms that it reflects the schools of the time.

The emphasis on health and sanitary conditions in the Illustrated London News provides the context for the epidemic at the Lowood school and the school's attentive reaction to illness. The article mentions considerations taken with regard to health several times, first when rules are being discussed: "No pauper officers or servants are allowed on the premises, this being important to prevent the contamination consequent on contact with paupers. There are also divisions for boys, for girls, and for infants." The description of the building mentions health precautions again with regard to the receiving rooms for sick children "for twenty-four hours (or until examined by medical officer), " and later the article mentions the "distinct airing grounds for invalid boys and girls".

Another passage from the article, which discusses the reason for the school's establishment. gives us an interesting insight into Jane Eyre. According to the Illustrated London News, "Children, by being brought up in a workhouse, look on it as their home, and, when put to work, have no dread of returning to it if otherwise than comfortable or if lazy when out; but children brought up in these schools will look on the workhouse as a degradation, and will not so readily go there, but endeavor to retain their places, to save themselves from the disgrace of the workhouse."

Although Lowood does not exactly match this description, similarities between the goals of the two schools exist. Helen Burns explains the nature of Lowood in her conversation with Jane:

"It is partly a charity school. You and I, and all the rest of us, are charity children. I suppose you are an orphan. Are not either your father or your mother dead?"

"Both died before I can remember."

"Well, all the girls here have lost either one or both parents, and this is called an Institution for educating orphans."

"Why do they call us charity children?"

"Because fifteen pounds is not enough for board and teaching, and the deficiency is supplied by subscription."

Helen tells us that Lowood depends of support from benefactors, not unlike the Norwood School. Mr.Brocklehurst hints at the similarity between Lowood and a reformatory school when he tells Miss Temple: "my plan in bringing up these girls is, not to custom them to habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient, self-denying. . .it ought to be improved to the spiritual edification of the pupils, by encouraging them to evince fortitude under the temporary privation." Although Lowood is not a reformatory school such as the school in the article, it is directed with the same strict attitude.

 


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Last modified 14 October 2002