From the very beginning of the novel, the reader is given to understand that Jane Eyre is no normal child, and indeed as her story progresses she becomes no normal young woman. Turbulent and head-strong as a young girl, Jane Eyre has, in her recollection, no qualms with letting readers know that she was considered "a mad cat" (69) and a "little toad" (84) by those who disdained her. Nor can the reader neglect to notice that despite her hatred for her niece, Mrs. Reed also, at one point, has some fear of her and stares at her not knowing if she sees a "child or a fiend" (86).
As time progresses, Jane's wild temperament calms, but her new acquaintances do not see her entirely as an average young woman, though they cast her in a different light than her former mistress. Having been properly introduced to Mr. Rochester, Jane promptly finds herself defending herself against claims of witchcraft, made in jest, but still adding to her mysterious nature. As he gains her confidence, Mr. Rochester takes to calling her at first "little friend" (299), then a "dream or a shade," an "elf" (329), adopting fairly-like names for her fitting to his initial description of her as a fairy having cast a spell for his horse to fall in the forest. Yet magic is not the only aspect of Jane's strange personality. For all her apparent calm and composure, she has a wild streak that runs within her, the same that led her to fits of rage as a child, the one that troubles her mind with dark, superstitious thoughts, as on the night after the day of her planned marriage:
That night I never thought to sleep: but a slumber fell on me as soon as I lay down in bed. I was transported in thought to the scenes of childhood: I dreamt I lay in the red-room at Gateshead; that the night was dark, and my mind impressed with strange gears. The light that long ago had struck me into syncope, recalled in this vision, seemed glidingly to mount the wall, and trembling to pause in the centre of the obscured ceiling. I lifted up my head to look: the roof resolved to clouds, high and dim; the gleam was such as the moon imparts to vapours she is about to sever. I watched her come- watched with the strangest anticipation as though some word of doom were to be written on her disk. 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: immeasurably distant was the tone, yet so near, it whispered in my heart —
"My daughter, flee temptation!"
"Mother, I will."
So I answered after I had waked from the trance-like dream. [410-11]
Thus Jane, in her visions and dreams, makes the reader question the stability of her own mind. As such dark, mad thoughts brew within her own spirit, the outside world seems to see within her still a trace of magic. Through the very end of the tale, when at last Mr. Rochester and Jane are reunited, Mr. Rochester continues to call her "my fairy" (538) and "mocking changeling — fairy-born and human-bred" (540). Whereas Jane's narrations, her superstitions and inner turmoil might create a sneaking doubt as to her sanity, her possible lunacy leads her nevertheless to good fortune, and thus the world sees in her ways only a strange sort of magic.
Is Jane Eyre a lucky madwoman, driven by terrible childhood experiences into a mental instability which causes her to act irrationally, yet always with the chance to find her way out of fixes and, through humility, impress others with her good traits? Or is she truly a unique being with some sort of providential spark of magic in her that guides her down unusual roads but always with some higher wisdom? What is the difference?
Although Charlotte Brontë writes the novel, it is Jane Eyre herself who narrates the story. What does each woman want to reader to understand by her use of magical beings in her description and the allusions to the supernatural and to madness?
Jane is not the only character to whom supernatural descriptions are given. Two other characters who certainly could fit the mold of "madmen" are Mr. Rochester, with his fits, his mysterious ways, and his goblin-like appearance, and Bertha Mason, the mad-woman, described by Jane as a vampire, who haunts the third floor at Thornfield. In which ways are each of these characters mad?
Charlotte Brontë mirrored some events in the novel after events in her own life, and indeed initially called the novel the autobiography of the fictitious Jane Eyre. Could she have been suffering from a sort of madness herself, through which she created a fantastical version of her own life? Did she herself believe in the sort of ghost stories she sprinkles into her own work?
From Helen to St. John, religious matters feature prominently in Jane's life, as she struggles to keep her moral compass properly oriented, that the Lord might grant upon her the ultimate approval which she so craves. Yet when she receives supernatural aid in her decisions, as in this particular passage, it comes more often from "mother" nature, who shelters and comforts her. How, then, does religion fit into her life and inform her decisions, especially in a tale so replete with spirits, omens and lunatics?
Last modified 25 January 2009