Jane Eyre (1847) was first published as Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. It is the story of a poor orphan who, after spending many years at the inhuman boarding school of Lowood, at the age of eighteen, secures a position as governess in Thornfield Hall. There Jane is the teacher of Adèle, a young French ward of the absent Mr. Rochester. When Edward Rochester arrives, the two become friends, even if strange events disturb their relationship. Eventually, Rochester asks her to marry him and Jane accepts his proposal. But, on the wedding morning, a Jamaican man, a Mr. Richard Mason, interrupts the ceremony and reveals that Mr. Rochester is still married to his sister Bertha, a Creole who, in reality, is a violent lunatic kept in a secret room. Disillusioned, Jane leaves Thornfield, but one day she hears Mr. Rochester’s anguished voice calling to her supernaturally and she returns to Thornfield. Now she is rich because her uncle has left her a fortune, while Mr Rochester’s place has been burnt and he is blind and without a hand. But they are reunited. Written in first person narrator and praised by her contemporaries like William Thackeray, the novel is an almost autobiographical work with many motifs from Gothic fiction such as Thornfield Hall, the Byronic hero (Rochester) and the Madwoman in the Attic (Bertha) who is seen as a vampire (She sucked the blood: she said she’d drain my heart, chapter 20).
The novelty of this traditional book is the theme which is highlighted in the figure of the protagonist: the difficult situation of women in general and their relationship with men. Jane is a woman who tries to improve her social position by working as a teacher and not by marrying a man of fortune.
Mr Rochester is at Thornfield now. One night, Jane is thinking about her owner when a strange accident happen.
And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader: gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire. Yet I had not forgotten his faults; indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. He was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description: in my secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by unjust severity to many others. He was moody, too; unaccountably so; I more than once, when sent for to read to him, found him sitting in his library alone, with his head bent on his folded arms; and, when he looked up, a morose, almost a malignant, scowl blackened his features. But I believed that his moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of morality (I say former, for now he seemed corrected of them) had their source in some cruel cross of fate. I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged. I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled. I cannot deny that I grieved for his grief, whatever that was, and would have given much to assuage it.
Though I had now extinguished my candle and was laid down in bed, I could not sleep for thinking of his look when he paused in the avenue, and told how his destiny had risen up before him, and dared him to be happy at Thornfield.
“Why not?” I asked myself. “What alienates him from the house? Will he leave it again soon? Mrs. Fairfax said he seldom stayed here longer than a fortnight at a time; and he has now been resident eight weeks. If he does go, the change will be doleful. Suppose he should be absent spring, summer, and autumn: how joyless sunshine and fine days will seem!”
I hardly know whether I had slept or not after this musing; at any rate, I started wide awake on hearing a vague murmur, peculiar and lugubrious, which sounded, I thought, just above me. I wished I had kept my candle burning: the night was drearily dark; my spirits were depressed. I rose and sat up in bed, listening. The sound was hushed.
I tried again to sleep; but my heart beat anxiously: my inward tranquillity was broken. The clock, far down in the hall, struck two. Just then it seemed my chamber-door was touched; as if fingers had swept the panels in groping a way along the dark gallery outside. I said, “Who is there?” Nothing answered. I was chilled with fear.
All at once I remembered that it might be Pilot, who, when the kitchen-door chanced to be left open, not infrequently found his way up to the threshold of Mr. Rochester’s chamber: I had seen him lying there myself in the mornings. The idea calmed me somewhat: I lay down. Silence composes the nerves; and as an unbroken hush now reigned again through the whole house, I began to feel the return of slumber. But it was not fated that I should sleep that night. A dream had scarcely approached my ear, when it fled affrighted, scared by a marrow-freezing incident enough.
This was a demoniac laugh -low, suppressed, and deep -uttered, as it seemed, at the very keyhole of my chamber door. The head of my bed was near the door, and I thought at first the goblin-laugher stood at my bedside – or rather, crouched by my pillow: but I rose, looked round, and could see nothing; while, as I still gazed, the unnatural sound was reiterated: and I knew it came from behind the panels. My first impulse was to rise and fasten the bolt; my next, again to cry out, “Who is there?”
Something gurgled and moaned. Ere long, steps retreated up the gallery towards the third-storey staircase: a door had lately been made to shut in that staircase; I heard it open and close, and all was still.
“Was that Grace Poole? and is she possessed with a devil?” thought I.
Impossible now to remain longer by myself: I must go to Mrs. Fairfax. I hurried on my frock and a shawl; I withdrew the bolt and opened the door with a trembling hand. There was a candle burning just outside, and on the matting in the gallery. I was surprised at this circumstance: but still more was I amazed to perceive the air quite dim, as if filled with smoke; and, while looking to the right hand and left, to find whence these blue wreaths issued, I became further aware of a strong smell of burning.
Something creaked: it was a door ajar; and that door was Mr. Rochester’s, and the smoke rushed in a cloud from thence. I thought no more of Mrs. Fairfax; I thought no more of Grace Poole, or the laugh: in an instant, I was within the chamber. Tongues of flame darted round the bed: the curtains were on fire. In the midst of blaze and vapour, Mr. Rochester lay stretched motionless, in deep sleep.
(From Chapter 15)
unaccountably: puzzling, enigmatically
folded arms: (braccia incrociate)
fortnight: fifteen days
threshold: doorstep, entrance
slumber: light sleep
fled: ran away
goblin: elf, gnome
shawl: large scarf (scialle)
withdrew: took out
creaked: onomatopoeic sound
ajar: half closed; partly opened