Passion, Dreams, and the Supernatural in Jane Eyre

Eliza Brownell ’97 (English 61, Brown University, 1993)

Introspection, half-belief in the supernatural, conflicting emotions, gushing description appear throughout Jane Eyre. Rochester’s mention of prescience — both foreshadowing and premonition — come up again and again throughout the work. “I knew. . . you would do me good in some way . . . I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you,” Rochester tells Jane. Both he and she believe implicitly the things they read in eyes, in nature, in dreams. Jane has dreams which she considers unlucky, and sure enough, ill fortune befalls her or her kin. When she is in a garden which seems “Eden-like” and laden with “honey-dew”, the love of her life proposes to her. However, that very night the old horse-chestnut tree at the bottom of the garden is struck by lightning and split in half, hinting at the difficulties that lie in store for the couple.

The turbulent exploration of Jane’s emotions so characteristic of the text reveals some of Brontë’s most prevalent ideas — that judgment must always “warn passion,” and that the sweet “hills of Beulah” are found within oneself.

As Jane grows throughout the book, one of the most important things she learns is to rule her heart with her mind. When a child at Gateshead she becomes entirely swept up in an emotional tantrum, which proves to be the most painful memory of her childhood. At the pivotal point in the plot when Jane decides to leave Rochester, she puts her love for him second to the knowledge that she cannot ethically remain with him – the “counteracting breeze” once again preventing her from reaching paradise. Only when Rochester has become worthy of her, and judgment and passion move toward the same end, can she marry him and achieve complete happiness./

Charlotte Brontë, like her heroine, traveled to wondrous lands within the confines of her own head. While Jane, engrossed in Bewick’s History of British Birds, was mentally traversing “solitary rocks and promontories”, her creator might have been calling to mind memories of her own sojourns in imagined lands. By the time she was a teacher at the Roe Head school, Charlotte and her brother Branwell had been writing stories and poems about an African kingdom called Angria for many years. While she was away at the school, the fate of the inhabitants of the country lay in Branwell’s hands, which made her very nervous, as he was given to intrigue and violence. She was unhappy with her situation, loathing the available company and describing herself as “chained to this chair prisoned within these four bare walls,” and so her happiest hours were spent in the wild landscapes of her mind. “What I imagined grew morbidly vivid,” she says, and indeed her visions of Angria are almost more real to her than what is actually happening around her. “All this day I have been in a dream, half miserable and half ecstatic: miserable because I could not follow it out uninterruptedly; ecstatic because it shewed almost in the vivid light of reality the ongoings of the infernal world. (She sometimes referred to Angria as”infernal” or below.”) When pupils or fellow teachers interrupt her reveries she is furious, saying once, “But just then a dolt came up with a lesson. I thought I should have vomited.”

About 1839 Brontë finally left Angria, saying ‘still, I long to quit for a while that burning clime where we have sojourned too long . . . The mind would cease from excitement and turn now to a cooler region, where the dawn breaks grey and sober and the coming day, for a time at least, is subdued in clouds ” (all materials from the Norton critical edition of Jane Eyre). Though she did at last consent to leave her imaginary world behind, it played such a large part in her child and early adulthood that there is no doubt her recollections of time spent there affected Jane’s experience.