The chamber looked such a bright little place to me as the sun shone in between the gay blue chintz window curtains, showing papered walls and a carpeted floor, so unlike the bare planks and stained plaster of Lowood, that my spirits rose at the view. Externals have a great effect on the young: I thought that a fairer era of life was beginning for me- one that was to have its flowers and pleasures, as well as its thorns and toils. My faculties, roused by the change of scene, the new field offered to hope, seemed all astir. I cannot precisely define what they expected, but it was something pleasant: not perhaps that day or that month, but at an indefinite future period.
Brontë here uses setting to communicate her main character's feelings and aspirations for the future. A reader remembers Jane's first move from one home to another and the awful description of Lowood, but here is a reassuring introduction to her "bright little place." The reader's spirits lighten as Jane's do before Brontë actually says, "my spirits rose at the view."
This passage from Jane Eyre offers clues to Jane's future at Thornfield, the place which she is describing. This is a "fairer era of life, [with] flowers and pleasures, as well as its thorns and toils...a new field offer[ing] hope." Brontë's wording not only foreshadows all that will come, but emphasizes the name she has chosen for this estate. Jane will have a fair life and the beauty of the flowering, English countryside and will know the pleasures of love. Yet her "field" will also be filled with thorns: a mad woman locked in the attic, a deceiving lover. The words "hope" and "indefinite" leave a reader with notions of something unexpected or unforseen. This, creating doubt or suspicion which pique a reader's curiosity, serves to drive the plot forward.
Similarly, Dickens uses this technique of revealing characters' emotions by means of describing their environments in order to evoke those same feelings in his readers.
The evening grew more dull every moment, and a melancholy wind sounded through the deserted fields, like a distant giant whistling for his house-dog. The sadness of the scene imparted a sombre tinge to the feelings of Mr. Winkle. He started as they passed the angle of the trench — it looked like a colossal grave. [98-99]
He, however, uses traditional metaphors such as the giant and the colossal grave to impart his character's reactions, whereas Brontë inserts her metaphor into one name, Thornfield, then proceeds to play with the language in her description in order to refer back to it. Brontë was in all probability attempting subtlety, hoping that the craftily woven feelings in her text would impress upon a reader's mind unknowingly. Unfortunately, she over-extended the metaphor, forcing subtlety into blatantly recognized technique which makes a reader suspicious and distrustful of the author. Dickens's use of simple and direct metaphor is more honest and therefore believable.
The above passage from The Pickwick Papers occurs in the middle of one of Mr. Winkle's comical crises. The impending gloom of his situation is last discussed in this paragraph before the whole matter of the borrowed coat is cleared up. This theme of redemption from the depths of despair is common both to Dickens and to Brontë. The two authors treat the despair very differently, though.
Brontë treats tragedy and resolution very seriously, whereas Dickens presents similar situations comically, though perhaps with some political satire. Mr. Winkle's spirits rise quite speedily when the misunderstanding is found out. So forgotten is the whole doom of the recently passed situation that "cordial farewells [are] exchanged" (102). Dickens's characters are mostly drunks who get themselves into all sorts of problems. They are regular alcoholics and somewhat irresponsible citizens. Yet, Dickens's tone is one of reassurance. Any depressed situation in The Pickwick Papers, is shared by fellow men, and responsibility, rather than weighing heavily on an individual, lies on everyone's shoulders. The communal aspect of these situations gives them a lighter tone allowing characters and audience to laugh. Problems are not dwelled upon; they resolve themselves in good time.
Jane's desperation, in contrast, is rooted in isolation that forces a reader to empathize with her. This isolation focuses despair in one character's consciousness. A reader feels her pain and becomes her character through the description of her experiences. Thus, resolution to and redemption from her "thorns" are a much greater relief. Unlike in Dickens's novel, a reader has no assurance that all will soon dissolve into merriment.
This isn't to say that losing a lover to a madwoman or living in a poorly run school is far worse than spending time in debtor's prison or being held at gun point for impoliteness and mistaken identity. Beneath Dickens's farcical representations, there is a depressed, political undertone that cannot be ignored. Brontë and Dickens both address poor conditions in Victorian England. The different approaches make one ask why?.
One reason may be that Dickens's early life was so painful that writing humour, however bitter at times, served as a catharsis. He was a new author at the time (The Pickwick Papers was his first published novel in 1836-7). It would certainly be wise to give a new audience hope by means of story rather than depressing them by means of Realism, although this he developed in his subsequent novels. As a child Dickens worked in the Warren Blacking Factory while his family lived in the Marshalsea Prison for debtors. The factory "scarred [him] psychologically" and was a hideous place from which his father had to "rescue him" (David Cody, "Dickens: A Brief Biography," Victorian Web). Brontë's life, though not without its tragedies, was much less scarring. Her mother and two of five siblings died while she was fairly young, but her childhood was spent with her three of her dear siblings with whom she "conceived of and began to write in great detail about an imaginary world...called Angria "(David Cody, "Charlotte Brontë: A Brief Biography," Victorian Web). She went on to become a governess and, with her sisters, a published writer. Brontë's life, although it had its losses, did not lurk in the urban depression as did Dickens's. Her life was more peaceful, tamer, and surrounded by family. Instead of working in the factories, she had a rich childhood experience at home. From then and throughout her life, Brontë found time to sit and dream up wonderful as well as horrid situations for herself and her characters without being so very attached to them. Her soul perhaps didn't need the relief of writing a comedy.
Last modified 1996