Gothic art, architecture and literature was very popular during the late 18th century through to the end of the 19th century. This was because at this time society was governed by strict moral codes and people wanted to escape into a world of dark imaginings and passions. Gothic novels involve gothic settings, weather, characters and the supernatural. The main character is usually a beautiful innocent and very vulnerable heroin who is an orphan. Charlotte Bronte has not written a conventionally gothic novel. It however has many gothic features, which I will point out in this essay.
Settings in traditional gothic novels are dark, remote and forbidding. They involve isolated settings and places of mystery. Also confining and imprisoning places are mentioned. Charlotte Bronte uses many of these features in ‘Jane Eyre’ to create a gothic atmosphere.
In Chapter 1 Charlotte Bronte uses pathetic fallacy so the weather mirrors what Jane is feeling;Order now
‘Clouds so sombre and rain so penetrating’
There is threatening weather, which imprisons Jane in the confining Manor in Gateshead. The weather here is mirroring Jane’s emotions. She feels sad and entrapped so the weather mirrors this. Also in this chapter Charlotte Bronte introduces gothic colours. She talks about ‘red moreen curtains’ and ‘scarlet drapery’. She uses strong mysterious colours that are reminiscent of blood. The use of colour here creates a very gothic atmosphere.
As Jane is imprisoned in Gateshead her way of escape is through reading. Jane escapes into an exotic world away from the confining walls of Gateshead. The reader empathises with this because at this time they would have wanted to escape from their lifestyle. Charlotte Bronte refers ton ‘death white realms’. This reference id very gothic as it mentions death. Many of the colours and settings she uses in the book Jane is reading are reminiscent of death. Jane imagines magical characters, a ‘marine phantom’is mentioned which reminds us of the supernatural that is involved in Gothic novels.
The red room is one of the most gothic settings. It uses deep gothic colours especially reds and blacks;
‘ A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany’
Charlotte Bronte uses dark colours to create a spooky and gothic atmosphere. The room has a hint of secrecy. The blinds were ‘always drawn’. It is like the room holds a secret. The red room has a haunted element it seems as though there is a supernatural presence in the room;
‘I thought it like one of the tiny phantoms half fairy, half imp’
Jane sees her reflection as a ghostly creature. Charlotte Bronte does this to show the reader the gothic side to Jane.
Lowood is the second location in ‘Jane Eyre’. It is ver confining and restricting place. Mr. Brocklehurst speaks of many deaths happening at Lowood;
‘I buried a little child of 5 years old only a day or two since”
At Lowood Jane meets Helen who teaches Jane how to keep control of herself. Jane has a contrasting character, one side of her has a gothic imagination and the other side of her tries to control it so she can live and work in the real world. Helen teaches her to surpress her gothic imagination. Jane takes what she has learnt to Thornfield.
Jane Has a tour of the house. Mrs Fairfax shows her around and as they approached the top floor the rooms got smaller and darker, then completely out of the blue she says ‘if Thornfield had a ghost, perhaps it would sleep up here’. This obviously has been placed here for a reason. Jane generally likes Thornfield, but her gothic imagination does occasionally creep back;
‘A very chill and vault-like air pervaded the stairs’
It is cold which reflects what Jane thinks of Thornfield. Many of the descriptions refer to gothic colours and gothic atmospheres. There is also an element of secrecy as Jane keeps hearing a ‘formal, mirthless laugh’. This scares her but this temporal shock is ended when Grace Poole comes out of the place where the noise is coming from. The gothic mystery is spoiled when she thinks she finds out who makes the laugh.
Charlotte Bronte adds to the Gothic atmosphere by comparing the secrecy of Thornfield in Jane’s imagination to Bluebeards castle. The comparison is very effective because it makes the attic seem mysterious. It makes the reader think that this is a clue to what may happen in the book and it seems as though something like what happened at Bluebeards could happen at Thornfield.
The way Charlotte Bronte describes characters differs from the description of the conventional heroes and heroines. The heroin of this novel, like most gothic novels, is an orphan. Jane holds many qualities of the traditional gothic heroin, but she also differs greatly. Jane is cruelly bought up by her aunt and is frequently bullied by her cousins. However we see that Jane is not completely like the traditional character because we see her fight back in the first chapter. Charlotte Bronte uses strong fearful language to show Jane’s feelings toward John Reed;
‘And I came out immediately, for I trembled at the idea of being dragged forth by the said John’
Jane is so terrifies of John that ‘ every morsel of flesh on my bones shrank when he came near’. At first Jane resists and retreats in terror acting like the conventional heroin but then she decides to fight back. She physically fights him back and calls him a ‘wicked and cruel boy’.This action gains the respect of the reader as they begin to stand up for herself.
When Jane begins to confront Mrs. Reed she gives the same imperative answers that she gives to Mr. Brocklehurst later in the book. She has a strong character and can forcefully put froward her opinions. Jane does not like always being the victim and she will stand up and fight in what she believes. This makes the 18th/19th-century reader like her as they would have liked to stand up and change the way they were governed. Jane who sometimes rejects self control, has an alter ego who embodies Bertha. Bertha is a mad gothic monster.
Another particularly gothic character in the novel, ‘Jane Eyre’ is Mr. Rochester who is seen as a good hearted but unrefined and apparently rough hero who can be redeemed by the heroine’s love. Rochester has rugged good looks. Jane and Rochester do not have a traditionally gothic relationship. He falls off his horse and Jane saves him she asks ‘can I do anything?’. This shows that she is not afraid to do her share.
The traditional gothic hero usually has a clean innocent background, but Rochester has something to hide which turns out to ruin everything for them. Jane and Rochester have a relationship where the conventional gothic roles are reversed. The weak woman seems to support the strong man. Jane takes the lead in the relationship but Rochester doesn’t want to depend on her because he wants to be the strong man which is not conventionally gothic. Rochester speaks in a kind loving way to Jane and he uses exaggerated language;
‘I saw it my eyes when I first beheld you’
Rochester acts adoringly towards Jane. Jane finds it too much and is uncomfortable being his fantasy because she wants to be practical. This is referring back to her contrasting character and she feels like her wild gothic side is taking over and wants to control herself and therefore can not accept being his fantasy.
Mr. Brocklehurst has one of the most gothic appearances in the novel. He has elements of the wicked male victim. He masquerades as a virtuous Christian but he is not. In chapter 4 Mr. Brocklehurst arrives for Jane and it is her chance to get away from Mrs. Reed and Gateshead so she can get a fresh start in a new place. It seems like a great place until Mr. Brocklehurst mentions death;
‘children younger than you die daily’
He casually talks about death and it suggests he doesn’t take very good care of children. Thornfield doesn’t seem as friendly when Jane hears this. All the features of Mr. Brocklehurst’s appearance are gothic;
‘A black pillarâ€¦â€¦ the straight narrow, sable-clad shapeâ€¦..the grim face’
‘Black pillar’ the colours used to describe him are dark and gothic. Mr. Brockelhurst doesn”t only have a gothic appearance, the language used to describe him by Charlotte Bronte is very gothic.
Many events in ‘Jane Eyre’ create a gothic atmosphere. Near the wedding of Jane and Rochester many of the previous strange events at Thornfield are explained. For example the person who has been making the strange laugh turns out not to be Grace Poole it is Bertha. Bertha is a gothic monster who had been creating a strange mystery in the house. Most of the gothic strange happenings are explained.
Throughout ‘Jane Eyre’ Jane experiences many dreams particularly in Thornfield. Charlotte Bronte uses these dreams to create suspense through foreboding warnings of impending events and to create a gothic, supernatural and mysterious atmosphere. When Bessie is called to the deathbed of her dying sister after Jane having dreams about infants the reader is drawn into a tense atmosphere where there is surely to be some impending event. The next night she is visited by Robert from Gateshead who informs her of the death of John Reed. These dreams of infants not only warn the reader of events to come but also allow Charlotte Bronte to establish a gothic mystery in the novel.
Dreams are constantly used to add a gothic atmosphere. Jane has a dream showing Thornfield. She dreams about a tree and also that Rochester is calling for her. She decides to go back to Thornfield after having this dream. She returns full of expectation but finds a blackened ruin. Gothic mystery is added when she asks an innkeeper questions. The inn keeper says that Mrs Rochester set fire to a bed and the house burnt down- Bertha died jumping fronm the roof and Rochester was blinded. She sees the lightening struck tree which represents Rochester because he has become the broken man. He calls her ‘my living Jane’. This suggests that he is dead and she is alive.
This is very gothic as death is mentioned. Then it becomes completely contrasting to the traditional gothic relationship as now Rochester needs to rely on Jane. This mirrors what happened when he fell off his horse and needed her. The whole of this is very gothic as it seems the gothic world is merging with the real world. Charlotte Bronte offers no explanation for Jane’s premintion of finding Rochester and it is left for the reader to believe that what happened was purely christian.
In ‘Jane Eyre’ there are many gothic features. The book follows Jane trying to control her gothic side. Gothic characters are used but they are usually not exactly like the traditional gothic character as this novel is not in every way conventionally gothic. Jane Eyre is like the traditional gothic heroine in many ways but she also is not as vulnerable as the usual heroine is. Settings, weather and the supernatural all add to the mysterious, gothic atmosphere. Charlotte Bronte did not try and write a gothic novel. The novel actually combines gothic, practical and christian features very effectively.