Places to Go: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Places to Go is a special feature that The Reader is bringing to you in the hope that it may provide some inspiration on how we can spend our time at home during lockdown. We will be posting extracts from stories which highlight special moments of travel and adventure for you to enjoy. This week Lisa Spurgin shares her thoughts on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
Though it is the middle of June, and hopefully the skies are blue and the sun is warm and shining (you never can be too sure with British summertime), this week’s Places to Go takes us to the depths of winter. We can’t be too disheartened, as we are in the company of a truly courageous character – arguably, one of literature’s most famous heroines.
Jane Eyre is ten years old and about to leave Gateshead, where she has spent all of her young existence – unhappily in the guardianship of her aunt Mrs. Reed, the wife of her mother’s brother, both of whom have died. Excluded and treated horribly by her aunt and three cousins she is unsurprisingly eager to depart Gateshead for a boarding school fifty miles away, where she is to spend her formative years. Love and care is thankfully not completely absent; Bessie, Jane’s nursemaid, is there to see her off, wrapping her up and making sure she has food for the journey, although Jane doesn’t have much of an appetite in excited anticipation of her travels.
Even bearing in mind her circumstances, I find myself feeling worried for Jane as she sets off on such a momentous journey. I certainly didn’t travel anywhere near that distance alone when I was ten, and couldn’t imagine doing so; I would have been far too scared. Surely she must feel some trepidation as well as excitement? It being winter, “wet and somewhat misty”, adds another layer to the already troubling atmosphere. In many ways it’s the kind of experience that builds a strong foundation of character, which can be used to draw strength from in later life, and in that I find myself greatly admiring the young Jane for seeing the journey through with very little fuss or fear.
It would be one thing if after so many miles you were to arrive at a destination you were familiar with, if only in a small sense. Yet Jane is at Lowood, the boarding school, for the very first time. She arrives disorientated, jolted from sleep and lifted from the coach where she spent her journey. It is late in the evening; that, too, would affect a first impression. I breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that she is met by a ‘guide’, and a benevolent one at that, who recognises her fatigue and hunger, and enquires as to her history. Reading further on in the novel we will learn that this guide is Miss. Temple, superintendent teacher at the school, a protector and champion of Jane and the other eighty-odd girls who live at Lowood. Her kindness in small acts and gentle words speaks volumes, especially to Jane who has been sorely lacking in it so far in her life.
Miss. Temple is a welcome ray of hope, but Jane is in a strange place. It is certainly less isolating than her previous time at Gateshead, which while it was a spacious house was more of a confinement for Jane, being shunned by her relations. It would still be daunting, however, to be suddenly confronted with scores of faces and the “hum of many voices” in such a previously unknown environment: the long tables and instruments of study, the dormitory sleeping quarters with shared beds, and the less-than-palatable food, which causes a great deal of dismay in students and teachers alike. School can be an intimidating experience in the most normal of circumstances – I’m thinking of how nervous I was starting secondary school, not that much older than Jane. At least I had the luxury of going home and being comfortable at three o’clock each afternoon!
We can feel Jane’s exhaustion, both physical and mental, as she comes to the end of the long day. Indeed she is so overtaken with weariness that she “was too tired even to dream; I only once awoke to hear the wind rave in furious gusts, and the rain fall in torrents, and to be sensible that Miss Miller had taken her place by my side. When I again unclosed my eyes, a loud bell was ringing; the girls were up and dressing; day had not yet begun to dawn, and a rushlight or two burned in the room.” The new day, and the start proper of Jane’s new life comes quickly. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! I feel assured though, if anyone has the tenacity and strength to face such a change, then surely it is the brave Jane Eyre.