Amazingly Vivid Characters in “Jane Eyre”

Vik RubenfeldNovel0 Comments

An illustration from the Book Jane Eyre is Reading in Chapter 1, “Bewick’s History of British Birds” 

Here are the very first paragraphs of “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte.

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) 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: 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; 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 childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner — something lighter, franker, more natural, 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 cavillers or questioners; besides, there is something truly forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that manner. Be seated somewhere; and until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent.”

We have these two characters – Jane and Mrs. Reed – who are so different from one another that Mrs. Reed does not understand Jane at all. Yet we understand both of them. We understand Mrs. Reed’s personality so well that we see how she can have the opinion she does of Jane, even as we see how completely wrong she is.  Both characters are immediately present and vividly real.

 

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