This essay is Part I of Alan Gordon's "Dreams in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea." The second part, which discusses Wide Sargasso Seae, resides on the Postcolonial Web.
Jane Eyre contains a number of significant dreams and day-dreams. Despite her distaste for fantasies and inefficiency, the eponymous narrator, Jane, is a frequent day-dreamer. Edward Rochester, Jane's employer at Thornfield, recounts observing her pace around in a day-dream. When the voice of a servant, Mrs. Fairfax, awakens Jane, Rochester imagines her thinking "My fine visions are all very well, but I must not forget they are absolutely unreal," and finding a task to complete to ensure she does not slip back into daydreaming (3.22).
This suppression of day-dreams reflects the trend of Jane learning to suppress her passions over the course of the novel. After a turbulent childhood, Jane fulfills a Victorian ideal of womanhood, and grows more graceful and composed as she completes her education. Despite her placid exterior, Jane still maintains a wild and active dream life According to Maurianne Adams, Jane even pays "inordinate attention to the details of her dream life" (85). Jane's dreams thus reveal the raw emotions she attempts to mask in order to be an ideal Victorian lady.
When Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield, Rochester takes interest in three watercolor imaginative landscapes she painted while at Lowood school. They reveal her great awareness for dreams. Jane describes the drawings as visions of her "spiritual eye" and notes, "The subjects had indeed risen vividly on my mind" (1.242). Rochester declares, "I daresay you did exist in a kind of artist's dreamland while you blent and arranged these" (1.244).
The first painting shows a ship's mast a bare hand, and a bracelet rising out of a turbulent green sea. The second painting is of a wind-rustled hill below a night sky in which a cosmic female form is visible. The third is a monumental bleak human head rising out of the ocean, supported by hands and resting on an iceberg. Adams argues that the pictures represent the scope of Jane's unconscious life. In the first two, the mast, arm, and the hill are Jane's consciousness, while the submerged ship and body and the faint cosmic woman are her consciousness. The third image, "depicts the ice-bound landscape of Jane's despair" (Adams 85). Jane's dream art may thus reveal the extent of her suppressed, passionate, unconscious.
Besides providing glimpses into the unconscious, dreams in Jane Eyre can also serve as "presentiments," or warnings of future events. As Homans notes, Charlotte Brontë often uses the gothic form of literalizing, or making some aspect of the dreams come true.
A dream in Jane Eyre can serve as a general symbol. Jane believes the superstition of her old governess Bessie, that "to dream of children was a sure sign of trouble, either to one's self or one's kin" (2.6). Indeed, the day after Bessie dreamt of a child, Bessie found out her sister was dead.
Dreams can also serve as complex representations for events in Jane's life. In volume two, chapter six, Jane herself begins having dreams about children. Gilbert and Gubar argue that these dreams correspond to the increasing apprehension Jane feels towards a romance with Rochester. After taking an idyllic walk around Thornfield with Rochester, Jane has an initial series of child dreams:
". . . during the past week scarcely a night had gone over my couch that had not brought with it a dream of an infant: which I sometimes hushed in my arms, sometimes dandled on my knee, sometimes watched playing with daisies on a lawn; or again, dabbling its hands in running water. It was a wailing child this night, and a laughing one the next: now it nestled close to me, and now it ran from me" (2.141).
In accordance with Bessie's beliefs, Jane's visions bring her trouble. Jane wakes up from one of her dreams to the murderous cry of Bertha Mason, Rochester's mad wife whom he keeps locked in the attic of Thornfield. The day after that, Jane finds out that her cousin John has died and her Aunt Reed lies on her deathbed.
After Jane and Rochester become engaged, Jane has another pair of child dreams. During the first, Jane experiences "a strange, regretful consciousness of some barrier" dividing Rochester and her (1.268). She dreams that she carries a bawling child on an unknown road, and Rochester walks ahead of her. She tries to catch up to him, but her entreaties are muffled and her steps slowed, and Rochester walks farther and farther away.
In the second dream, Jane images the destruction of Thornfield. She wanders around the ruined estate, clutching the child because she "might not lay it down anywhere, however tired were my arms however much its weight impeded my progress" (1.271). As she struggles to climb a wall to get a better view of Rochester, the child clings to her neck, nearly strangling her. When she reaches the summit of the wall, she glimpses Rochester as a vanishing speck. The wall crumbles and she and they baby fall away as she wakes.
These dreams may reflect a fear that Jane muffles from herself and others, namely that marrying Rochester will alter her identity. Homans suggests that the child of the dreams may represent Jane's love for Rochester, or "Mrs. Rochester," the new identity Jane will assume after marriage. Alternately, the dreams may represents Jane's orphan childhood, an alter-ego that Jane cannot free herself of, even with marriage to Rochester. In any case, the dreams give marriage-anxious Jane an uneasy "intimation of what it would be like to become other than herself" (Homans 155).
Again in accordance with Bessie's prophecy, the dreams of children bring trouble. Jane wakes from the second dream to discover Bertha Mason tearing her wedding dress. Shortly thereafter, Richard Mason will break up Jane and Rochester's attempted marriage with the news that Rochester is still legally married to Bertha.
The pair of dreams is also eventually literalized. The barrier separating Jane and Rochester in her dream represents Rochester's preexisting marriage to Bertha Mason, a force that stands between Jane's union with him. Rochester riding away from Jane in her dream forewarns of his imminent separation from Jane. The dream of the destruction of Thornfield comes true when Bertha Mason burns down the estate. In volume three, when Jane returns to Thornfield and finds it "a blackened ruin," she remarks that part of Thornfield looks "as I had once seen it in a dream" (3.254).
Jane has another symbolic dream the night she decides to leave Rochester and Thornfield. In this dream, she has returned to the red room of Gateshead. As she looks up at the ceiling, it turns into clouds. A human form reminiscent of the cosmic woman in Jane's imaginative watercolor painting appears. Jane recounts,
She broke forth as never moon yet burst from cloud: a hand first penetrated the sable folds and waved them away; then, not a moon, but a white human form shone in the azure, inclining a glorious brow earthward. It gazed and gazed on me. It spoke, to my spirit: immeasureably distant was the tone, yet so near, it whispered in my heart — "My daughter, flee temptation!" (3.43)
Again, Jane's emotions are reflected in her dream. Its decreased foreboding corresponds with Jane's release from marital apprehension as she decides to leave Thornfield. Again, the dream provides foreshadowing. The rising woman prefigures the spirit that later re-unites Jane and Rochester by inexplicably transmitting their messages, "Jane! Jane! Jane!" "I am coming: wait for me!" to each other over dozens of miles (3.300).
Jane's dreams can also directly depict her emotions. In Chapter 7 of volume 2, Jane hears that Rochester will marry Blanche Ingram, and she dreams of Blanche "closing the gates of Thornfield against me and pointing me out another road" while Rochester smiles sardonically (2.108). This dream reveals Jane's unhappiness at the prospect of Mr. Rochester marrying Blanche. In chapter 5 of volume 3, after her separation from Rochester, Jane recounts her recurring dreams
"dreams many coloured, agitated, full of the ideal, the stirring, the stormy &mdsh; dreams where, amidst unusual scenes, charged with adventure, with agitating risk and romantic chance, I still again and again met Mr. Rochester always at some exciting crisis; and then the sense of being in his arms, hearing his voice, meeting his eye, touching his hand and cheek, loving him, being loved by him &mdsh; the hope of passing a lifetime at his side, would be renewed, with all its first force and fire" (3.135).
These dreams reveal the love Jane maintains for Rochester, and prefigure her return and subsequent marriage to him.
While Jane has a vibrant dream life, she is usually able to differentiate distinctly between waking life and dreaming, even in ambiguous situations. Twice, Rochester and his servant Mrs. Fairfax unsuccessfully attempt to convince Jane that her sightings of Bertha Mason are dreams. One night, shortly before Jane discovers Rochester's room is ablaze, she hears a "demonic laugh" emanate from her keyhole (295). Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane that the laugh she perceived was not real by saying "you must have been dreaming" (2.4). Jane remains unconvinced and replies heatedly, "I was not dreaming" (2.4) Another night, Jane wakes to find Bertha tearing her wedding dress. Rochester assures her that her vision was "half dream, half reality," claiming that the woman Jane saw was Grace Poole and that her state "between sleeping and waking" caused her to envision the Grace in a hideous form (2.277). Jane outwardly accepts this reasoning, but reflects, "satisfied I was not (2.278)." Clearly, Jane can distinguish well between dream and reality.
Jane also emphasizes the distinction between dream and reality when she and Rochester first become engaged. Rochester becomes giddy at the prospect of marriage, and he speaks of his love for Jane in exuberant terms. "You are a beauty, in my eyes; and a beauty just after the desire of my heart, — delicate and aerial" (2.221). Jane quickly refutes him on the grounds that his statements belong in the dream world, not the world of reality. She rejects the idealized future he imagines for them, calling his musings "a fairy tale &mdsh; a day-dream" (2.220). She brushes off his compliments of her beauty, saying "You are dreaming, sir &mdsh; or you are sneering" (2.221).
Dreamlike states intrude upon Jane's waking life only on momentous occasions. When a gypsy fortune-teller who later proves to be Rochester in disguise demonstrates uncanny knowledge about her life, Jane loses her skepticism for the supernatural and falls into "a kind of dream" (2.98). After the gypsy woman analyzes Jane's physiognomy in a "rave of delirium," Jane wonders, "Where was I? Did I wake or sleep? Had I been dreaming? Did I dream still?" (2.102). In another instance of dream confusion, the day after Rochester asks Jane to marry him, Jane wonders "if it were a dream" (2.217). For Jane, confusing dream and wake requires an event of great magnitude.
Dreams in Jane Eyre thus serve several complex functions. They forewarn Jane of trouble or good fortune, and reveal Jane's passionate inner self to the reader. They can serve as general symbols, interpretive representations, or direct reflections of Jane's emotions. Despite their prevalence, Jane tries to separate her dreams from her waking life, and in her novel, Brontë maintains sturdy barriers between England and "dreamland."
Adams, Maurianne. "Charlotte Brontë." Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Laurie L. Harris, and Emily B. Tennyson. Detroit: Gale, 1985. 83-87.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 19 May 2004 [http://collections.chadwyck.com/ncf/htxview?template=basic.htx&content=frame set.htx].
Gilbert, Sandra M and Gubar, Susan. "Charlotte Brontë." Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Laurie L. Harris, and Emily B. Tennyson. Detroit: Gale, 1985. 87-93.
Homans, Margaret. "Dreaming of Children: Literalisation in Jane Eyre." Jane Eyre. Ed. Heather Glen. New York: St. Martin's P, 1997. 147-167.
Last modified 20 May 2004