Decorative Initial J

ane Eyre and Through the Looking-Glass both take the form of coming-of-age stories wherein youthful naiveté hinders the protagonists in their struggle to understand the uncharmed underpinnings of human nature. The contradiction between naive moral faith and gloomy uncertainty frequently occurred in nineteenth-century society. Such a disjunction in ethos appears in representations of contemporary Victorian life itself. Robert F. Jordan points out that

popular notions of Victorian life as cozy and picturesque hardly fit the hurly burly of Victorian reality: That earnest world of Tractarian parsons and Oxford common-rooms, that world of Hardy's peasants buried deep in English shires, did really exist. Of course it did. But it was not very important. By and large Victorian England was a tremendously virile and very terrible affair. ["The Reality of Victorianism"]

The characters Jane and Alice have not yet experienced such a loss of innocence. Charlotte Brontëand Lewis Carroll, however, clearly suffer from no such similar illusions of human perfection. Alice tries hard to invoke the ethos of Christian charity to find redeemable qualities in the Walrus and the Carpenter. Yet, Tweedledee and Tweedledum quickly dispense with such simplistic, idealized notions of morality. That Alice is puzzled suggests that she herself is not entirely oblivious: at least she sees a disjunction between her perception and theirs.

On the other hand, Jane alternates between being entirely unaware and ruthlessly critical. After her first betrothal to Edward Rochester, she retires for the evening, a storm raging outside. Rochester himself apparently has trouble nestling in for the evening, for Jane comments, "Mr. Rochester came thrice to my door in the course of it [the storm], to ask if I was safe and tranquil: and that was comfort, that was strength for anything." Never mind that Jane, with her demonstrated proclivity for superstition, does not notice the ominous portent of the raging storm. The real extent of her naiveté about human motivation is evident when she fails to consider that Rochester may have had less platonic comforts in mind.


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Content last modified May 1994