Fairytale and realism in Jane Eyre
Professor John Bowen explains how Charlotte Brontë combines fairytale, Gothic techniques and realism to give Jane Eyre its unique power. Filmed at the Brontë Parsonage, Haworth.
Bewick's History of British Birds
Extract from Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds (1797, 1804), showing one of the tiny illustrations Jane Eyre refers to as a child.View images from this item (14)
Notes on the Folk Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders
William Henderson’s Notes on the Folk Lore of the Northern Counties of England (1866) contextualises the fairy and folk references found in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.View images from this item (6)
RochesterOne important strand of fantasy in the novel surrounds Jane’s relationship with Rochester, which is shot through with references to myth and fairytale. When Jane encounters Rochester’s dog Pilot in Hay Lane, just before she meets Rochester himself, her first thought is of the ‘Gytrash’, a mythical black dog said to haunt the deserted roads of northern England. Rochester repeatedly refers to Jane as a ‘sprite’ and a ‘fairy’, and claims that she ‘bewitched’ his horse (ch. 13). The paintings that Jane shows to Rochester – of a cormorant perched on a desolate shipwreck, the goddess Selene rising into the sky above Mount Latmos, and a ‘colossal head’ wreathed in ‘turban folds’ – are straight out of fantasy, influenced by Brontë’s knowledge of the Bible and of Greek mythology (ch.13). And the tale of the poor orphan who overcomes obstacles to marry a rich man can itself be seen as having its roots in fairytale, although what could appear as a simple rags-to-riches story is complicated by Rochester’s references to himself as an ‘ogre’ (ch. 24), the fact that Jane is emphatically not a Beauty, and the troubling fact that in the fairytale canon, the most famous imprisoner of wives is, of course, the murderer Bluebeard.
The Brontës’ childhood fantasiesIf the realistic elements of Jane Eyre can be traced back to its author’s childhood, then so can its more fantastical side. This has its roots in the ‘web’ of stories woven by the Brontë children. These began, famously, when the Revered Brontë brought home a box of soldiers from a trip to Leeds in 1826. Charlotte described this event in her idiosyncratic spelling in her ‘History of the Year’:
Emily and I jumped out of bed and I snat[c]hed up one and exclaimed this is the Duke of Wellington it shall be mine!! When I said this Emily likewise took one and said it should be hers when Anne came down she took one also. Mine was the prettiest of the whole and perfect in every part Emilys was a Grave looking ferllow we called him Gravey. Anne's was a queer little thing very much like herself. he was called waiting Boy Branwell chose Bonaparte.
Professor John Bowen and Ann Dinsdale discuss the fantasy worlds of Gondal and Angria, created by the Brontë children, and the lasting influence of these on the sisters’ later novels. Filmed at the Brontë Parsonage, Haworth.
Brontë juvenilia: 'The History of the Young Men'
Branwell Bronte's account of the toy soldiers from his 'The History of the Young Men', written in 1830.View images from this item (19)
Brontë juvenilia: Tales
‘Is the Duke of Zamorna sane or insane?’: from ‘The Spell’, a short story focussed on the Zamorna character and written by Charlotte Brontë as part of the Angrian saga. The Duke of Zamorna can be seen as a precedent for Rochester in Jane Eyre.View images from this item (88)
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