Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is not a typical love story. In fact, it is considered a very typical novel of gothic literature, dealing with a degenerate character, usually the main male character (Rochester), restored by a pure heroic character, usually the main woman character (Jane); and they usually come from aberrant and twisted family situations. This gothic novel also deals with death, darkness, the supernatural, strange and unexplainable encounters, mysterious events, and secrecy all happening usually at night and in an old, big, secluded mansion, such as Rochester’s Thornfield Hall, with other spooky scenarios as well, creating a sense of suspense and horror. Jane Eyre captures all of these gothic elements of literature and more.
The first major gothic aspect of Jane Eyre is the hateful relationship between Jane and her Aunt Reed, who Jane is bound to by the wishes of her deceased Uncle Reed, who was Aunt Reed’s husband. Mrs. Reed detested Jane and wished her dead. (ch. 21. pg. 271) Jane reflects as a child, “It must have been most irksome to find herself bound by a hard-wrung pledge to stand in the stead of a parent to a strange child she could not love, and to see an uncongenial alien permanently intruded on her own family group.” (ch. 2, pg. 22) Gothic literature usually captures very intricate and complicated family situations, which involve much hatred, abuse, lies, trickery, and scandal. Jane experienced all those emotions and events as she was growing up.
The Red Room is another crucial gothic image in Jane Eyre. This event not only captures the estrangement between the Reed family and Jane but the imagery of The Red Room plays an important role and character in making this a gothic novel. The red room is where her Aunt Reed sends Jane and locks her up as punishment for her, wrongly accused behavior. This room is secluded, dark, cold, and it’s where Jane’s uncle passed away. In this haunted room is a large mirror, which when she looks at it she doesn’t recognize herself because her image is distorted, which frightens Jane. “All looked colder and darker in that visionary hollow than in reality; and the strange little figure there gazing at me, with a white face and arms specking with gloom, and glittering eyes of fear moving where all else was still, had the effect of a real spirit…Superstition was with me at that moment.” (ch. 2, pg. 20) Then she also sees a ghostly image of her Uncle Reed which terrifies her to exhaustion, leading her to pass out. She describes, “…a gleam from a lantern, carried by someone across the lawn; but then, prepared as my mind was for horror, shaken as my nerves were by the agitation, I thought the swift-darting beam was a herald of some coming vision from another world. My heart beat thick-my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings; something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated; endurance broke down; I rushed to the door and shook the lock in desperate effort.” (ch. 2, pg. 23). The event of the red room haunts Jane throughout the rest of her life and she relates it to everything negative that happens to her; it’s very psychologically unhealthy, all demonstrating gothic once again.
In this gothic novel, the characters are very interested in eerie, supernatural things like ghosts, goblins, witches, and gypsies. One of the first signs of eerie, gothic events happening later in Jane’s life at Thornfield, begin when Jane and Rochester meet for the first time. Rochester is riding his horse and his dog, the Pilot, runs ahead of him. At this time Jane is convinced it is a “Gytrash,” which Mrs. Fairfax had warned her about. It is, supposedly, a “lion-like creature, with long hair and a huge head.” (ch. 12, pg. 134) But quickly Jane realizes there’s a man riding a horse after the dog; Jane says, “The man, the human being broke the spell…Nothing ever rode the “Gytrash”; it was always alone and no goblins, to my notions, though they might tenant the dumb carcasses of beasts, could scarce cover shelter in the commonplace human form.” (ch. 12, pg. 134) Of course, this happened at nighttime when it is dark, on an abandoned road, and Jane is walking alone. By creating this type of gothic imagery, it leads the reader to assume that this is only a sign of even darker, more horrifying events to come. Later in the novel, we see more fascination of the characters by the supernatural and the gifting of a mysterious gypsy woman, who is actually Mr. Rochester himself deceiving his friends to mess with them and see deeper into their hearts. (ch. 17 and 18) Rochester’s guests were fascinated by the mystery and intriguing supernatural gifting of a gypsy; they are lucky it was really only Rochester.
Furthermore, another major gothic event occurs, adding to this gothic imagery, when Jane experiences something so unexplainable on a “drearily dark,” depressing night. This isn’t the first time Jane hears wild “goblin laughter.” This laughter is “a demonic laugh; low, suppressed, and deep, muttered, at the very keyhole of [her] chamber-door.” (ch. 15, pg. 176) At first, she felt it so close as if above her or right at her bedside. Her heart beating so anxiously and chilled with fear, she calls out several times but, of course, there is no response and no true explanation to what is happening. Finally, after hearing footsteps continue down the hall and up the stairs she leaves the room only to find Rochester’s room is on fire! Only Rochester really knows what must have happened, but Jane is frightened and can’t understand why “Grace Pool” would do such a thing. Jane wonders if she is possessed by a demon. These events, the reader knows, aren’t caused by Grace Pool, but by the huge, life-threatening secret Rochester keeps locked up in the third story tower; it is his crazy wife, Bertha, possessed, bewitched, and murder hungry. Another major aspect of gothic literature is secrecy and the danger that follows; Rochester’s secret controls his life and his happiness, eventually affecting Jane’s happiness and her well-being, as well as his guests and home. His secret, after being revealed, leads Jane and Rochester to call off the wedding and part ways.
Just a couple of nights before their wedding Jane had experienced his crazed wife’s dangerous ways first hand. She is awakened in the middle of the night by a woman who looked purple, with swelled, dark lips, the brow furrowed, and her eyes were bloodshot. It was “fearful and ghastly” to Jane, reminding her of a vampire. (ch. 25, pg. 331) With its fiery eye, it took Jane’s veil and ripped it to shreds. This beastly woman did no harm to Jane, except to instill fear and terror in her, and uncertainty of her marriage to Rochester. This is a major theme in gothic literature: a life-threatening creature, which imposes fear and danger, causing tragic and strange events to take place. In these ways, Bertha plays a huge role in this piece of gothic literature.
These are just a few of the many gothic scenes and images from Jane Eyre, which make this a very deeply and intricately structured novel of gothic literature.