An Analysis of Jane Eyre
The novel is rich in poetry, symbolism and metaphor. It does not fit easily into a definite pattern, being neither a novel of "manners" in the tradition of Austen, or a straightforward Gothic Romance in the style of Mrs Radcliffe. What Charlotte Bronte did was to create a work which cleverly blends elements of the two styles, and which remains uniquely independent of them at the same time, since it addresses issues which were at the time rather controversial.
The novel is written in the first person, and thus magnifies the central character - the reader enters the world of Jane Eyre and is transported through her experiences at first hand. This at once makes the work subjective, especially since we know that Charlottes Brontes own life and experiences were so closely interwoven with the heroine's. As well as this we learn only at the end of the novel that the events are being related to us ten years after the reconciliation with Rochester - thus the narrative is RETROSPECTIVE (looking back). CB is clever in blending the narrative so that at times Jane seems to be speaking as an adult with adult hindsight , while at others she she is "in the middle" of them, as a child or young woman. The indecision which is a central issue in the book, is heightened by this device. We never know, as readers, whether to be entirely trustful of Janes actions and thoughts, because we are never sure wheher she is speaking impulsively or maturely.
This intensifies the readers dilemma as to what is "right" and "wrong" in the dramatic relationships which are part of JE's life. Can we believe what the heroine says, or is she deceiving herself? The novel is primarily a love story and a "romance" where wishes come true but only after trials and suffering. The supernatural has its place, as do dreams, portents and prophesies. The heroine begins poor and lonely and ends up rich and loved; the orphan finds a good family to replace the wicked one; all the basic ingredients of classic romantic fairytale are present.
The romantic element is present in two forms in Jane Eyre; the "family" aspect is dealt with in the Gateshead, Lowood and Moor House episodes, which involve the exchanging of the wicked Reed family for the benevolent Rivers one; and the Love romance is dealt with in the Thornfield and Ferndean episodes. Both aspects are, of course linked and interwoven throughout the novel.
There is also a strong element of realism in the novel, which, married to the romantic aspect, enhances the novel's strength.The sense of place is very strong; we are able to experience both exterior and interior settings with startling clarity throughout the story, in a series of vivid deive passages. The central characters are also realistic and their confrontations and sufferings change them in a believable way.
Even the unlikely is made plausible, with a unique blend of high drama and perceptive low comedy (the attack on Mason, for instance)
The more fantastic romantic aspects; the coincidences; the secrets; the supernatural occurrences, are balanced by the realism, and this is of course a major strength.
The Gothic influence cannot be ignored, although CB has refined the technique considerably from the "authentic" Gothic of the 1790's. In the original genre, the heroine would typically be abducted and threatened with seduction, or worse!. There would be a lover - a respectable, well-bred young man - who would endeavor to rescue the heroine and would succeed after many trial. the seducer would be a brigand "Know that I adore Corsairs!" and he would lock the girl up in a remote castle.
There was little freedom for middle class women during the period of the Gothic novel, and this was still the case in the time of CB. Marriage especially was often a bargain, whereby fortunes were secured by using the female as a pawn. A woman's value largely depended therefore on her sexual purity and she was guarded and secured as a result. Men, on the contrary, were potent and free; lovers and mistresses were common. Ironically the women who provided their services were social outcasts as a result.
In Jane Eyre we see elements of the Gothic romance, in that Thornfield Hall and Rochester are described very much in the brigand/castle style BUT Jane Eyre is not abducted by R. On the contrary she chooses to go there of her own free will. AND she is clear in her determination to have Rochester as a husband. Neither is there a gentleman rescuer; St John Rivers may look like a Greek God, but he is neither kind nor benevolent; driving Jane back to Ferndean, not rescuing her from it.
The trials which the hero is supposed to undergo in a Gothic romance are in fact undergone by the heroine in Jane Eyre. The bandit Rochester is only skin-deep. Underneath the brooding exterior is a sensitive soul, which a WOMAN frees. In this way we see that CB created rather a daring departure from conventional fiction, although there are still many aspects of the novel which remain true to Victorian convention.