Jane Eyre is often portrayed as two characters at any given time — the narrator and the narrated. The Jane who narrates is more mature than the self she describes, and her tone often does not match the emotions felt by the narrated Jane. Though the reader usually only receives a small glimpse of the character of Jane the narrator, ccasionally she converses with the reader. One such moment occurs at the beginning of chapter 11:
A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play; and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see a room in the George Inn at Millcote, with such large figured papering on the walls as inn rooms have; such a carpet, such furniture, such ornaments on the mantelpiece, such prints, including a portrait of George the Third, and another of the Prince of Wales, and a representation of the death of Wolfe. All this is visible to you by the light of an oil lamp hanging from the ceiling, and by that of an excellent fire, near which I sit in my cloak and bonnet; my muff and umbrella lie on the table, and I am warming away the numbness and chill contracted by sixteen hours' exposure to the rawness of an October day: I left Lowton at four o'clock a.m., and the Millcote town clock is now just striking eight.
Reader, though I look comfortably accommodated, I am not very tranquil in my mind. I thought when the coach stopped here there would be some one to meet me; I looked anxiously round as I descended the wooden steps the "boots" placed for my convenience, expecting to hear my name pronounced, and to see some description of carriage waiting to convey me to Thornfield. Nothing of the sort was visible; and when I asked a waiter if any one had been to inquire after a Miss Eyre, I was answered in the negative: so I had no resource but to request to be shown into a private room: and here I am waiting, while all sorts of doubts and fears are troubling my thoughts. It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted. The charm of adventure sweetens that sensation, the glow of pride warms it; but then the throb of fear disturbs it; and fear with me became predominant when half-an-hour elapsed and still I was alone. I bethought myself to ring the bell.
For a large portion of this passage, the scene is described in the present tense and, as Jane says, in the form of stage directions. By describing the scene like a stage set, the narration seems artificial, which underlines the idea that Jane is not at ease despite her apparent tranquility. The tone also highlights the contrast between Jane's apparent independence and her actual inexperience. The narrated scene makes it seem as if Jane is an independent woman who knows exactly where she is going and what she is doing, while in reality, she knows very little about where she is going and has stepped out into the world by herself for the first time.
This tableau also creates a sharp break in the narrative, which demonstrates that this is not only a new chapter in the novel, but a very different chapter in Jane's life. The novel will now move to a different setting, and Jane must now start her adult life by accepting full responsibility for her own wellbeing.
Notice that although Jane talks about being alone, she is in a room full of portraits. What does this image say about her isolation, a theme which persists throughout the novel?
The next chapter of Jane's life does not take place at the George Inn, and neither does the rest of the chapter. Why does Jane the narrator decide to describe this room? Why doesn't she start the chapter with a scene from Lowood directly before Jane's journey or with a scene from the carriage on the way to Thornfield?
In "Porphyria's Lover" the tense also changes to the present. The narrator says "And thus we sit together now/and all night long we have not stirred". How is the effect created by this change in tense different from that created in the passage above?
Later on in the chapter, the action of the narrative is paused again in order to describe the scene that Jane sees when she meets Mrs. Fairfax:
A snug small room; a round table by a cheerful fire; an arm-chair high-backed and old-fashioned, wherein sat the neatest imaginable little elderly lady, in widow's cap, black silk gown, and snowy muslin apron; exactly like what I had fancied Mrs. Fairfax, only less stately and milder looking. She was occupied in knitting; a large cat sat demurely at her feet; nothing in short was wanting to complete the beau-ideal of domestic comfort. A more reassuring introduction for a new governess could scarcely be conceived; there was no grandeur to overwhelm, no stateliness to embarrass; and then, as I entered, the old lady got up and promptly and kindly came forward to meet me.
How can one use the same ideas of artificiality and contrast established in the passage at the beginning of the chapter to analyze this description? What does Jane the narrator want to tell the reader by describing another cozy fire scene only pages later?
Why does Jane speak to the reader? How does Jane's recognition of the Reader change the way in which one views her character, both as the narrator and the narrated? Also, how does this affect the reader's view of reality?
Last modified 28 January 2009