Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: Ch. 1

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Chapter I

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.d  We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubberyw an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined earlyh) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.

I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.

The said Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mama in the drawing-room:d she lay reclined on a sofa by the fireside, and with her darlings about her (for the time neither quarrelling nor crying) looked perfectly happy.  Me, she had dispensed from joining the group;(d) saying, “She regretted to be under the necessity of keeping me at a distance; but that until she heard from Bessie, and could discover by her own observation, that I was endeavouring in good earnest to acquire a more sociable and childlikew disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner—something lighter, franker, more natural,d as it were—she really must exclude me from privileges intended only for contented, happy, little children.”

“What does Bessie say I have done?” I asked.

“Jane, I don’t like cavillersw or questioners; besides, there is something truly forbidding in a child taking upw her elders in that manner.  Be seated somewhere; and until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent.”

A breakfast-roomh adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there.  It contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures.  I mounted into the window-seat:(d) gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreenw curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.

Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day.  At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon.  Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

I returned to my book—Bewick’s History of British Birdsh: the letterpress thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not pass quite as a blank.  They were those which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of “the solitary rocks and promontories” by them only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape—

Whereh the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked, melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides.”

Nor could I pass unnoticed the suggestion of the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with “the vast sweep of the Arctic Zone, and those forlorn regions of dreary space,—that reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights above heights, surround the pole, and concentre the multiplied rigours of extreme cold.”  Of these death-white realms I formed an idea of my own: shadowy, like all the half-comprehended notions that float dim through children’s brains, but strangely impressive.  The words in these introductory pages connected themselves with the succeeding vignettes,w and gave significance to the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray; to the broken boat stranded on a desolate coast; to the cold and ghastly moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.

X [d] There was no possibility of taking a walk tha…

Writing & Reading

The substance and tone announce Jane's confined, denied life, the inclement weather reinforcing the conditions inside, which we'll shortly learn about, to prevent the narrator from feeling welcome, no less at home in the world.

The novel is in part about Jane's need to secure a place—a "room of her own," to quote Virginia Woolf—without forfeiting morality, dignity, and self-respect.  

X [w] shrubbery

The shrubbery, ubiquitous in Austen, describes an area of bushes and small walks, with benches, that surround in this case a significant manor house. The area is a favored place for the inhabitants, especially the women, to get some exercise.  

X [h] dined early

Daily Life

After four and before 6. This is the Midlands, and the sun will have set in November in Yorkshire between 4 and 5 (if it ever rose).

X [d] The said Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now …

Writing & Reading

The "said" typifies Jane's often formal, mincing tone. The style can be an odd, self-conscious mix of archaicisms, twisted sentence structure, rhetorical fustiness, punctuated at times by a rap on the reader's knuckles, "Reader, I...." From the opening sentence's "There was no possibilitty" to "nipped fingers and toes" to the "said," the tone is squeezed and unhappy, combining the voice of mature remembrance, filtered through the formality of a precocious child. 


X [(d)] Me, she had dispensed from joining the group;


X [w] childlike

In the sense of meek.

X [d] franker, more natural,

We'll see that Jane is in fact behaving frankly and naturally, according to her nature, and that what Mrs. Reed is asking for is the appearance, however inauthentic, of sweet obedience.

X [w] cavillers

quarrelsome, quibbling, disputatious people.

X [w] taking up


X [h] breakfast-room

Daily Life

The architectural feature of a breakfast-room became in the early 19th  c. a fashionable addition that signified the wealth of the country house. 

X [(d)] I mounted into the window-seat:


X [w] moreen

"[A] strong ribbed worsted fabric with a watered finish, used esp. for making curtains and furnishings in the 18th and 19th centuries" (OED).

X [h] History of British Birds

Writing & Reading

Birds! From real to the mythical, such as the gigantic roc in The Arabian Nights; from small, darting field birds to large raptors. Birds' wings, eyes, and song figure prominently in the novel.

Brontë absorbs from the Romantic tradition the use of birds to express a range of desires and fears: birds are earthly creatures yet, like the imagination or spirit bound in the body, they soar into the empyrean. The Romantic poets wrote a great many bird poems, from Coleridge's …

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X [h] Where

Writing & Reading

Bewick quotes James Thomson's poem long poem The Seasons, "Autumn," 862-65.

Thomson (Search) had a huge impact on British literature and culture, doing much to define what came to be called "loco-descriptive" poetry—poetry that seeks to capture the meaning and spirit of a spot or place in nature. Wordsworth's early poem "An Evening Walk," a somewhat later one, "Descriptive Sketches…

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X [w] vignettes,


She is using the word precisely. A vignette is an "ornamental or decorative design on a blank space in a book or among printed matter, esp. at the beginning or end of a chapter or other division, usually one of small size or occupying a small proportion of the space; …

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