Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: Ch. 7

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Chapter VII

My first quarterh at Lowood seemed an age; and not the golden age either; it comprised an irksome struggle with difficulties in habituating myself to new rules and unwonted tasks.  The fear of failure in these points harassed me worse than the physical hardships of my lot; though these were no trifles.

During January, February, and part of March, the deep snows, and, after their melting, the almost impassable roads, prevented our stirring beyond the garden walls, except to go to church; but within these limits we had to pass an hour every day in the open air.  Our clothing was insufficient to protect us from the severe cold: we had no boots, the snow got into our shoes and melted there: our ungloved hands became numbed and covered with chilblains,w as were our feet: I remember well the distracting irritation I endured from this cause every evening, when my feet inflamed; and the torture of thrusting the swelled, raw, and stiff toes into my shoes in the morning.  Then the scanty supply of food was distressing: with the keen appetites of growing children, we had scarcely sufficient to keep alive a delicate invalid.  From this deficiency of nourishment resulted an abuse, which pressed hardly on the younger pupils: whenever the famished great girls had an opportunity, they would coax or menace the little ones out of their portion.  Many a time I have shared between two claimants the precious morsel of brown bread distributed at tea-time; and after relinquishing to a third half the contents of my mug of coffee, I have swallowed the remainder with an accompaniment of secret tears, forced from me by the exigencyw of hunger.

Sundays were dreary days in that wintry season.  We had to walk two miles to Brocklebridge Church, where our patron officiated.  We set out cold, we arrived at church colder: during the morning service we became almost paralysed.  It was too far to return to dinner, and an allowance of cold meat and bread, in the same penurious proportion observed in our ordinary meals, was served round between the services.

At the close of the afternoon service we returned by an exposed and hilly road, where the bitter winter wind, blowing over a range of snowy summits to the north, almost flayed the skin from our faces.

I can remember Miss Temple walking lightly and rapidly along our drooping line, her plaid cloak, which the frosty wind fluttered, gathered close about her, and encouraging us, by precept and example, to keep up our spirits, and march forward, as she said, “like stalwart soldiers.”  The other teachers, poor things, were generally themselves too much dejected to attempt the task of cheering others.

How we longed for the light and heat of a blazing fire when we got back!  But, to the little ones at least, this was denied: each hearth in the schoolroom was immediately surrounded by a double row of great girls, and behind them the younger children crouched in groups, wrapping their starved arms in their pinafores.

A little solace came at tea-time, in the shape of a double ration of bread—a whole, instead of a half, slice—with the delicious addition of a thin scrape of butter: it was the hebdomadalw treat to which we all looked forward from Sabbath to Sabbath.  I generally contrived to reserve a moietyw of this bounteous repast for myself; but the remainder I was invariably obliged to part with.

The Sunday evening was spent in repeating, by heart, the Church Catechismh, and the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of St. Matthew; and in listening to a long sermon, read by Miss Miller, whose irrepressible yawns attested her weariness.  A frequent interlude of these performances was the enactment of the part of Eutychush by some half-dozen of little girls, who, overpowered with sleep, would fall down, if not out of the third loft, yet off the fourth form, and be taken up half dead.  The remedy was, to thrust them forward into the centre of the schoolroom, and oblige them to stand there till the sermon was finished.  Sometimes their feet failed them, and they sank together in a heap; they were then propped up with the monitors’ high stools.

X [h] first quarter

Education

The quarter is one-half of a term, there being three terms, autumn, spring, and summer. The spring term would have begun shortly before Jane arrived on January 19 and would go to Easter. The first quarter would end in mid-February. 

X [w] chilblains,

Body

A potentially serious malady. "An inflammatory swelling produced by exposure to cold, affecting the hands and feet, accompanied with heat and itching, and in severe cases leading to ulceration" (OED). 

X [w] exigency

Urgency; pressing need.

X [w] hebdomadal

Every seventh day or weekly.

X [w] moiety

Portion.

X [h] Catechism

Religion

The Anglican catechism, which every child had to learn, was:

    QUESTION. What is your Name?

    Answer. N. or M.

    Question. Who gave you this Name?
   

    Answer. My Godfathers and Godmothers in my Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.…

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X [h] the part of Eutychus

Religion

The allusion is mordantly amusing. Among a congregation listening to Paul preach (Acts 20: 7-12) is a young man, Eutychus, who is seated on a third-floor window sill. He dozes and falls to his death. The point is that interminable preaching can have fatal consequences for the congregation.

The Brontë children must have had their share of such tedium, for Emily has in Wuthering Heights a terrifying dream-fantasy around the prolonged sermon.