When I think of a classic novel, I normally think of a drab, novel filled with unnecessarily long descriptions and tiny print you can barely read. I think of the boring books I’ve had to read for English class. I never thought I would enjoy a classic novel until I was introduced to Bronte and Austen. I actually ended up reading Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre twice in 2021: once for fun and once to analyze for my AP Lit class. Today, I’m sharing my AP Lit essay on it because I’m proud of it and I had a lot of fun analyzing events of the novel and Bronte’s life.
The Line Between Fiction and Reality in Jane Eyre
For generations, humans have been known as social creatures. We need intimacy, both of the romantic and familial kind, to thrive. In a world such as author Charlotte Bronte’s, where social standing determines who you talk to and death hangs over everyone, making meaningful, lasting connections can be challenging. In Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, allusions to fantasy creatures and symbolism demonstrate the disparity between this reality in Bronte’s life and the romantic and familial relationships she wished for herself.
When comparing the renowned novel to its author’s life, one can easily see Jane Eyre’s story is grounded in truth. Much like Jane, Bronte got her education at an all female boarding school where her oldest sister Maria faced a death identical to the character Helen : tuberculosis. As both women grew up, Jane became a governess to her master Mr. Rochester and Bronte a salaried teacher to M. Heger. Akin to Mr. Rochester,
“Heger’s dominant personality, his acute intelligence, his position as mentor and friend, all combined to arouse in Bronte an admiration for one whom she could regard as her master. Had she been younger, her feelings might have taken the form of a schoolgirl infatuation, quickly roused and quickly quenched; but at twenty-six she had deeper yearnings, desires which possibly she did not understand herself” (Rosengarten 23).
As the book progresses, we see Jane’s story diverge from reality. Jane finds kinship in Mary and Diana despite the loss of Helen. At the end of story, she achieves a happy ending when Rochester’s wife dies in a fire, giving the lovers freedom to marry. Bronte had many sisters, but she never found a replacement for Maria, who “had become a guide and mentor” (Rosengarten 21) and while Bronte eventually married, her love letters to M. Heger were ripped up and ignored.
From first sight, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester’s relationship was nothing more than a mirage, a vision of what could never be between M. Heger and Charlotte Bronte, which is shown through the numerous references to mythical creatures in Jane Eyre. Upon hearing Pilot, Mr. Rochester’s dog, Jane compares it to a Gytrash, a mythical creature in the form of a horse or large dog that haunted lonely roads and travelers. She thinks Pilot looks like “one mask of Bessie’s Gytrash, — a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head: it passed me, however, quietly enough; not staying to look up, with strange pretercanine eyes, in my face, as I half expected it would” (Bronte 103). Only minutes later, even if she does not realize who she is helping yet, Jane meets Mr. Rochester.
Already, their relationship is diverging from reality; Charlotte Bronte did not meet M. Heger on the road but at his estate, accompanied by her sister Emily and her father. The reference to the Gytrash represents this deviation from the truth, and serves to show us as readers how unrealistic such a meeting would be between Bronte and M. Heger. Allusions to fantasy creatures are made in other pivotal points of Jane’s story too. After Mr. Rochester first proposes to Jane, he compares her to a fairy and tells Adele, his charge, that Jane’s wedding ring was a fairy’s gift. “‘Put it,’ [the fairy] said, ‘on the fourth finger of my left hand, and I am yours, and you are mine; and we shall leave earth, and make our own heaven yonder'” (Bronte 240). Fairies are prevalent in stories that spotlight the imagination and the fabricated worlds and creatures that come from it. Mentioning fairies highlights the dreams of Charlotte Bronte, who, unlike Jane, did not get to marry the man who was so in love with. Jane is getting the fairytale wedding that Charlotte Bronte wished for, and this wish is fulfilled through her fiction.
We also see this theme of wish fulfillment indicated in the symbols of the wedding veil and Rochester’s blindness. Both symbols tie back to Bronte’s unanswered declaration of love to M. Heger through her letters. Much like Bronte’s letters, Jane’s wedding veil was torn apart. Although historians are unsure of who ruined the letters, Bronte believes it was M. Heger’s wife, whose relationship with Bronte had deteriorated the longer Bronte stayed at Heger’s estate, In the novel, it is Bertha, Rochester’s secret wife that comes into Jane’s room in the dead of night and “removed [Jane’s] veil from its gaunt head, rent it in two parts, and flinging both on the floor, trampled on them” (Bronte 255). The veil, a costly gift from Rochester, represents their marriage. By ruining the veil, Bertha is not only symbolically breaking apart their union but literally too, as she is the reason Mr. Rochester and Jane can’t get married. Reality seeps into the cracks of Bronte’s fiction as the wedding veil is ruined, showing the impossibility of such a union between Bronte and M. Heger as long as his wife lives.
If the tearing of the veil represents Bronte’s reality, then Rochester’s blindness represents pure wish fulfillment. It is only after he becomes blind that he truly loves her for who she is. Now that he is reliant on Jane, they are together constantly and “To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company” (Bronte 401). As they grow deeper in love, Rochester’s eyesight improves. Rochester’s blindness represents the unreciprocated love of M. Heger, who only sees Bronte as an employee at most. The wish fulfillment is in Rochester’s sight and understanding of Jane as his lover improving, something that Bronte can only dream of having.
We also see this gap between reality and fiction in Jane’s familial relationships. The wish fulfillment can be found through Jane’s meeting of Diana and Mary, whom she comes upon after following a light she believes to be a willow the wisp. As Jane is looking for shelter, “a light sprang up. ‘That is an ignis fatuus,’ was my first thought; and I expected it would soon vanish” (Bronte 295). Jane has nowhere to go, so she follows the light because it “was my forlorn hope: I must gain it” (Bronte 296). Just as the light is Jane’s only hope of surviving, the fictionalized dream of Diana and Mary is Bronte’s only hope of coping with the death of Maria.
The dreamlike quality of Jane’s time with Diana and Mary is only accentuated when the sisters compare Jane to a ghost. “‘How very thin, and how very bloodless!’ ‘A mere spectre!'” (Bronte 301). Contrast to Rochester’s pet names of faerie and brownie for Jane, a ghost is associated with much darker mythical stories. This makes sense, though, as losing Maria was a darker time for Bronte than falling hopelessly in love with a married man.
Marsh End is the home where Jane lives with Diana and Mary. Even before Jane finds out they are family, the trio finds kinship in each other. Just like Helen was more accomplished than Jane, “They were both more accomplished and better read than I was: but with eagerness I followed in the path of knowledge they had trodden before me…Thought fitted thought; opinion met opinion: we coincided, in short, perfectly” (Bronte 313). Marsh End symbolizes the lost time Jane never had with Helen. As a child, Jane looked up to and loved Helen as she does with Diana and Mary in this section of the novel. Bronte thought the same of Maria. Creating the characters Diana and Mary is her way of getting more time with her deceased sister.
Dealing with our own realities is rarely easy. We have no choice but to react to the challenges and tribulations life throws at us. Sometimes, the only way to cope is to distort the truth into fiction.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Fourth Norton Critical ed., W.W. Norton and Company, 2016
Rosengarten, Herbert. “The Fight for Independence as Student, Governess, and Writer.” Women’s Search for Independence in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Greenhaven Publishing, 2011. 17-28