Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: Ch. 1

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Habitually obedient to John, I came up to his chair: he spent some three minutesd in thrusting out his tongue at me as far as he could without damaging the roots: I knew he would soon strike, and while dreading the blow, I mused on the disgusting and ugly appearance of him who would presently deal it.  I wonder if he read that notion in my face; for, all at once, without speaking, he struck suddenly and strongly.  I tottered, and on regaining my equilibrium retired back a step or two from his chair.

“That is for your impudence in answering mama awhile since,” said he, “and for your sneaking way of getting behind curtains, and for the look you had in your eyes two minutes since, you rat!”d

Accustomed to John Reed’s abuse, I never had an idea of replying to it; my care was how to endure the blow which would certainly follow the insult.

“What were you doing behind the curtain?” he asked.

“I was reading.”

“Show the book.”

I returned to the window and fetched it thence.

“You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mama’s expense.  Now, I’ll teach you to rummage my bookshelves: for they are mine; all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years.  Go and stand by the door, out of the way of the mirror and the windows.”

I did so, not at first aware what was his intention; but when I saw him lift and poise the book and stand in act to hurl it, I instinctively started aside with a cry of alarm: not soon enough, however; the volume was flung, it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the door and cutting it.(d)  The cut bled, the pain was sharp: my terror had passed its climax; other feelings succeeded.

“Wicked and cruel boy!” I said.  “You are like a murderer—you are like a slave-driver—you are like the Roman emperors!”

I had read Goldsmith’s History of Rome,h and had formed my opinion of Nero, Caligula, &c.  Also I had drawn parallels in silence, which I never thought thus to have declared aloud.

“What! what!” he cried.  “Did she say that to me?  Did you hear her, Eliza and Georgiana?  Won’t I tell mama? but first—”

He ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair and my shoulder: he had closed with a desperate thing.  I really saw in him a tyrant, a murderer.  I felt a drop or two of blood from my head trickle down my neck, and was sensible of somewhat pungent suffering: these sensations for the time predominated over fear, and I received him in frantic sort.  I don’t very well know what I did with my hands, but he called me “Rat!  Rat!” and bellowed out aloud.  Aid was near him: Eliza and Georgiana had run for Mrs. Reed, who was gone upstairs: she now came upon the scene, followed by Bessie and her maid Abbot.  We were parted: I heard the words—

“Dear! dear!  What a furyd to fly at Master John!”

“Did ever anybody see such a picture of passion!”

Then Mrs. Reed subjoinedw

“Take her away to the red-room,d and lock her in there.”  Four hands were immediately laid upon me, and I was borne upstairs.

X [d] some three minutes

A very long time to be doing that. Perhaps "minutes" are like our moments. The same appears in Jane Austen.

X [d] rat!”

Writing & Reading

A few moments earlier John referred to her as a "bad animal!" Animals play an important role in the novel. Sometimes Jane is perceived as sub-human, bestial and irrational. She, herself, later envisions some other other women as birds, by which she means to suggest their sexual allure. 

X [(d)] the volume was flung, it hit me, and I fell, …


X [h] Goldsmith’s History of Rome,

Writing & Reading

Oliver Goldsmith (Search) was a popular historian as well as a playwright and novelist. Jane compares the period of Rome's greatest degeneracy and homicidal insanity, that of Nero and Caligula and Caligula's wife, Messina, who appears later in the novel, with that of the Reed household, making John a dwarf emperor. Nine-year-old Jane is very well-read for her age.

X [d] a fury


The point with "fury," as with "animal," "rat," and shortly "mad cat," is the emphasis upon the irrational and animal-like, which resides somewhere in the depths of Jane's psyche. She succumbs to momentary insanity. She will always remember or be reminded of this rage and hysteria to which she was susceptible, both identified in the novel with females. So consuming is the rage that she says above, "I don't very well know what I did with my hands, but he called me "'Rat! Rat!'...."…

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X [w] subjoined

"To add at the end of a spoken or written statement, argument, or discourse" (OED).

X [d] red-room,


Mrs. Reed selects the red-room, because the color is the externalization of Jane's bloody rage and, as the place of death, the room and especially the bed will terrify a child.