Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: Ch. 1

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I cannot tell what sentiment haunted the quite solitary churchyard, with its inscribed headstone; its gate, its two trees, its low horizon, girdled by a broken wall, and its newly-risen crescent, attesting the hour of eventide.

The two ships becalmed on a torpid sea, I believed to be marine phantoms.

The fiend pinning down the thief’s pack behind him, I passed over quickly: it was an object of terror.

So was the black horned thing seated aloof on a rock, surveying a distant crowd surrounding a gallows.

Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting: as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evenings, when she chanced to be in good humour; and when, having brought her ironing-table to the nursery hearth, she allowed us to sit about it, and while she got up Mrs. Reed’s lace frills, and crimped her nightcap borders, fed our eager attention with passages of love and adventure taken from old fairy tales and other ballads; or (as at a later period I discovered) from the pages of Pamela, and Henry, Earl of Moreland.d

With Bewick on my knee, I was then happy: happy at least in my way.  I feared nothing but interruption, and that came too soon.  The breakfast-room door opened.

“Boh!  Madam Mope!” cried the voice of John Reed; then he paused: he found the room apparently empty.

“Where the dickens is she!” he continued.  “Lizzy!  Georgy! (calling to his sisters) Joand is not here: tell mama she is run out into the rain—bad animal!”

“It is well I drew the curtain,” thought I; and I wished fervently he might not discover my hiding-place: nor would John Reed have found it out himself; he was not quick either of vision or conception; but Eliza just put her head in at the door, and said at once—

“She is in the window-seat, to be sure, Jack.”

And I came out immediately, for I trembled at the idea of being dragged forth by the said Jack.

“What do you want?” I asked, with awkward diffidence.w

“Say, ‘What do you want, Master Reed?’” was the answer.  “I want you to come here;” and seating himself in an arm-chair, he intimated by a gesture that I was to approach and stand before him.

John Reed was a schoolboy of fourteen years old; four years older than I, for I was but ten: large and stout for his age, with a dingy and unwholesome skin;d thick lineaments in a spacious visage, heavy limbs and large extremities.  He gorged himself habitually at table, which made him bilious, and gave him a dim and bleared eye and flabby cheeks.  He ought now to have been at school; but his mama had taken him home for a month or two, “on account of his delicate health.”  Mr. Miles, the master, affirmed that he would do very well if he had fewer cakes and sweetmeats sent him from home; but the mother’s heart turned from an opinion so harsh, and inclined rather to the more refined idea that John’s sallowness was owing to over-application and, perhaps, to pining after home.

John had not much affection for his mother and sisters, and an antipathy to me.  He bullied and punished me;d not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice in the day, but continually: every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank when he came near.  There were moments when I was bewildered by the terror he inspired, because I had no appeal whatever against either his menaces or his inflictions; the servants did not like to offend their young master by taking my part against him, and Mrs. Reed was blind and deaf on the subject: she never saw him strike or heard him abuse me, though he did both now and then in her very presence, more frequently, however, behind her back.

X [d] Pamela, and Henry, Earl of Moreland.

Writing & Reading

Many readers of Jane Eyre will find the possibility of titillating correspondences and some clear differences with Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) by Samuel Richardson (Search), a landmark in the history of the English novel. Pamela's master, a nobleman, becomes obsessed with her, in part owing to her beauty, in part to her uncalculating innocence. His social status precludes his…

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X [d] Joan

Writing & Reading

Jane and Janet, the diminutive, which Jane is also called at times, were versions of Joan. 

Jane is addressed by several different names and epithets throughout the novel. The variety indicates the difficulty she has of acquiring and maintaining a self-defined self. The reason is that the employers of a worker or servant commonly re-named the person if there were more than one by that name. For instance, in Austen's …

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X [w] diffidence.

Hesitation; shyness, often indicative of a lack of confidence.

X [d] with a dingy and unwholesome skin;

Body

Later in the century the dingy, sallow skin and bleary eye will sometimes indicate a person who indulges in "self-abuse" (doctors and moralists link blindness with masturbation). John Reed's behavior in the next few moments reinforces the suspicion of engorged adolescent sexuality.  

X [d] He bullied and punished me;

Gender

The paragraph announces a central theme in the novel, the intrinsic power—the mastery—that men have over women through physical strength and then through the privileges of the patriarchy.

John Reed is "the young master," something of which she is persistently reminded, and Jane herself will use "master" as a frequent term of address or reference in other contexts. The word occurs with rhythmic regularity in the novel—97 times. Masters have historically and routinely tyrannized over maids, as …

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