Use of Gothic Elements in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre

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Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" was published in the middle of the nineteenth century. Bronte was greatly influenced by the Gothic novels that were in fashion before the time of Jane Eyre. The Gothic novel was popularised in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and was defined by its use of suspense, supernatural elements, and desolate locations to generate a gloomy or chilling mood. The protagonist of the novel would generally be female, and often face distressing or morbid circumstances.

Contextually, there was little freedom for middle-class women during the period of the Gothic novel, and this remained the case in the time of Charlotte. Marriage especially was often considered to be a mere bargain, whereby fortunes were secured by using the female figure exploitatively. However in "Jane Eyre," Charlotte, and the characters she depicts, do not always conform to this conventionality. In fact the novel exhibits a number of autobiographical elements and Jane is seen as a projection of Charlotte Brontë herself, hence the element of controversy. In illustrating this idea further, consider the way in which the heroine in "Jane Eyre" in fact undergoes the trials that the hero is habitually supposed to undergo in a Gothic romance. Some critics have argued that "Jane Eyre" is not a Gothic novel but more an example of the use of ‘Gothic' by nineteenth century novelists like Charlotte.

Within the novel there are several instances of Gothic that require analysis. The first such instance is seen in the red-room which is dark like blood. The room itself is described as a 'vault', the chair becomes a 'pale throne', and the bed is referred to as a 'tabernacle'. The prison like qualities do not go unnoticed. Outside it is raining, the wind blows against the moors, faint voices are heard. The room emits strange noises and has a large mirror that distorts Jane's appearance. Bronte appears to use the mirror as a symbol of Jane's inner self, as after she studies her reflection the tone of the narrative changes and becomes a critical examination of her situation and character, something she is forced to do throughout the novel. Jane also imagines that Mr. Reed's ghost haunts the room, as his last wishes were unfulfilled. Jane's punishment by imprisonment within the Red Room is according to Mistry the first of a succession of metaphorical captivities, predominantly relating to Victorian society's attitudes towards gender, social class, and religion. The low ottoman, on which Jane is commanded to sit upon, can be seen as being representative of her standing in society. The use of suspense is another Gothic technique employed within this extract. The final paragraph of the extract begins with the short, simple sentence 'A singular notion dawned upon me', and then gradually the tension increases as Jane's imagination becomes progressively more frantic and superstitious. The use of long, complex sentences and lists interspersed with commas and semi-colons give the text a fast-paced and frenzied tone. The suspense continues to increase until finally the extract reaches its climax and Jane screams. All of these elements--a dark and foreboding room where a family member died, the colour red, ghosts and phantoms, and the romantic gothic scene of rain on the moors--are Gothic and predict future Gothic locales and themes in the plot. The next instance where gothic imagery is prevalent is when the incident on the third floor of Thornfield Hall occurs. Jane describes the decoration of Thornfield Hall as dark, old, laboured with the secrets and memories of the past. Immediately this sets Thornfield Hall off--the Gothic local of the old and mysterious castle or great manor, which has the potential to turn supernatural "strange, indeed, by the pallid gleam of moonlight." as Jane herself says. "..the laugh was as tragic, as preternatural a laugh as any I ever heard; and, but...
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