t one point in her autobiography, Jane Eyre, like Alice, imagines herself in a fairy tale. Of her first encounters with Rochester, Jane writes: "I remembered certain of Bessie's tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit, called a 'Gytrash,' which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon travellers, as this horse was now coming upon me" (p. 98). This passage and the passage in which Alice grows too large to fit in the White Rabbit's house bear a striking resemblance: in each, reality suddenly becomes distorted, and this distortion reveals new truths about the respective characters and their surroundings.
When Alice becomes too large, for example, this fantastic change helps explain how this little girl, and how most children, view growing up. For them, maturation is purely physical. Alice says to herself, "But I'm grown up now," because at this early stage she does not discern the difference between physical and mental growth. Perhaps this moment provides her with the first clue: even though Alice has become so much bigger, she still does not possess the ability to write her own fairy tale. The imagery of this scene certainly emphasizes ideas of initiation. The overgrown Alice pressed against all four walls of a house to small to contain her evokes an image of pregnancy. When Alice leaves the house — is "born" into the world of Wonderland — she experience adventures that cause her to rethink her preconceived notions of maturity. Likewise, when she says, "There ought to be a book written about me," Alice's fantasy takes on a new dimension, a sort of meta-reality for the reader.
Just as Alice reconsiders her ideas of adulthood, the reader should reconsider his or her conceptions of fairy tales. Carroll, after all, supplants the "traditional kind of children's story," which enforces "lessons of obedience and prudence" with his own style of anecdote (Donald J. Gray, in Alice in Wonderland, 11). The traditional children's books popular before Carroll's time got their morals across by having impudent children suffer all sorts of catastrophes. In Carroll's world, the children know better than the adults.
Similarly, Jane Eyre distinguishes between childhood and adulthood when explaining her momentary fantasy. When the memories of nursery stories — pure "rubbish," as she calls them — rush into Jane's head, they take on a new and horrible face "with a vigour and vividness beyond what childhood could give" (p. 98). This image now brings more fright into Jane's heart than it ever did in her childhood. By recognizing this fact, Jane inverts children's and adult's values in the same way Carroll does in Alice. A child, we expect, would find fairy tales more horrible than adults. Since the reverse holds true for Jane, the reader infers that she still possesses a fanciful, girlish nature. The imagery here also gives us a clue of her immaturity. In spite of the immediate equation she makes between Rochester and the evil-spirited Gytrash, Jane still does not see Rochester's beastliness until much later. An appearance of a human figure breaks the "spell" (p. 98). A more experienced adult, however, would know that a human being can possess qualities more frightening than those of any fairy tale monster.
Content last modified May 1994