Jane Eyre

by

Charlotte Brontë

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Jane Eyre: Allusions 4 key examples

Definition of Allusion
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals, historical events, or philosophical ideas... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... read full definition
Prologue
Explanation and Analysis—Vanity Fair:

The prologue makes an allusion to a popular Victorian novel, William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair. Brontë thinks Thackeray's satire is far better than that of previously popular satirists, and she dedicates Jane Eyre to him:

[Thackeray] resembles Fielding as an eagle does a vulture: Fielding could stoop on carrion, but Thackeray never does. His wit is bright, his humour attractive, but both bear the same relation to his serious genius that the mere lambent sheet-lightning playing under the edge of the summer-cloud does to the electric death-spark hid in its womb. Finally, I have alluded to Mr Thackeray, because to him – if he will accept the tribute of a total stranger – I have dedicated this second edition of ‘Jane Eyre.’

This dedication to a social satirist indicates that Brontë wants the novel to be read as social commentary. Her specific attention to Thackeray helps explain how readers might interpret such a dark gothic novel as Jane Eyre through a satirical lens. Brontë did not set out to write a novel that simply makes fun of all its characters, as the 18th century satirist Henry Fielding was famous for doing. Brontë uses the image of lightning to describe Thackeray's satire as far more effective than that of Fielding because it does not pander to the audience's desire for cheap laughs. It is serious social commentary that strikes at corruption. Brontë, like Thackeray, aims to bring the serious "electric death spark" on the parts of society she wants to condemn (charity schools, for example). She is not going to "stoop on carrion," or go for cheap shots.

Brontë's praise of Thackeray over Fielding reflects a general trend toward more seriousness in Victorian literature. Brontë and many other Victorian novelists believed, in a more straightforward way than 18th century novelists ever did, that their work was a way to directly influence social issues. This was partly because of Victorian attitudes about social reform and partly because writing novels had come to be seen more seriously as a profession. Then again, Brontë signs the prologue with her pseudonym. Although Brontë used a pseudonym in part to deal with the publishing industry, this also might be a playful reminder that the novel is mediated by many speakers, and not all them are entirely open about who they are. As is the case with Vanity Fair, readers should go in with a healthy degree of suspicion about the perspectives represented in the novel. Vanity Fair's subtitle "a novel without a hero," offers a clue as to how Brontë would like readers to treat Jane as an autobiographer. The idea that no character is a hero invites both criticism of flawed characters and sympathy for them. Likewise, Brontë may not want Jane to be read as a straightforward heroine. Readers should both love her and criticize her decisions, listening always for ways her perspective might differ from Brontë's or from the reader's own perspective. Truth is a tricky thing that requires careful work and attention to uncover.

Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—Gulliver's Travels:

In Chapter 3, Jane rereads Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. This allusion introduces the novel's colonial backdrop, and it also emphasizes that Jane might be an unreliable narrator when it comes to distinguishing facts from fantasy:

I considered [Gulliver's Travels] a narrative of facts, and discovered in it a vein of interest deeper than what I found in fairy tales: [...] Lilliput and Brobdingnag being, in my creed, solid parts of the earth’s surface, I doubted not that I might one day, by taking a long voyage, see with my own eyes the little fields, houses, and trees, the diminutive people, the tiny cows, sheep, and birds of the one realm; and the cornfields forest-high, the mighty mastiffs, the monster cats, the tower-like men and women of the other.

Jane contrasts Gulliver's Travels with fairy tales and thinks of it as "a narrative of facts" despite the fact that it is fictional and describes encounters with all kinds of impossibilities. It is somewhat understandable why a young reader would make this mistake. Swift was parodying the highly popular travel narrative, in which people would travel the world (often to distant colonies of their home country) and write about what they saw there. These narratives sold well when they were sensational, and they could popularize all kinds of misconceptions about the world beyond Europe. Some of them are responsible for xenophobic stereotypes that persist today. As a parody of this genre, Gulliver's Travels is outrageously fantastical, but it presents itself as fact. Like other British people reading travel narratives, Jane falls for the idea that the colonial world is exotic and strange.

Jane's love and trust for the book emphasizes her desire for escape, and the fact that she is prone to chasing fantastical stories. In Chapter 1, she has already described the way reading a book with pictures allows her imagination to run away. She has spent her childhood at Gateshead, trapped in a house with an extended family that bullies her. The idea that the world is huge and full of possibility is attractive to her. This idea is also attractive to the likes of Mr. Rochester's father, who looks beyond England to its colonies for wealth that his second son might claim. Jane's longing for a bigger world is innocent at this point, but that same longing can also be quite sinister when it comes to global politics and economy.

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Chapter 19
Explanation and Analysis—King Lear:

In Chapter 19, Mr. Rochester dresses up as a Romani woman (called a "gypsy" in the novel, but this term is now considered a slur) and pretends to tell Jane's fortune. When he reveals himself, he makes an allusion to Shakespeare's King Lear:

‘There, then – “Off, ye lendings!”’ And Mr Rochester stepped out of his disguise.

Shakespeare's play is about an old king and the family drama that ensues when he tries to figure out the future of his kingdom. When he delivers the line Mr. Rochester parrots, Lear is taking off his clothes as part of a speech about how men in their natural state have nothing to do with the roles society puts on them. Mr. Rochester seems to be telling Jane, in essence, not to judge him by his cover. For one thing, he has secrets she does not know. But he also wants Jane to see him for the person he is, not for the role he has taken on by following his father's bad advice to marry Bertha.

King Lear remains an important point of reference through which the novel makes sense of Mr. Rochester's character. In Chapter 36, Jane finds out that Mr. Rochester has lost his sight and one of his hands in the fire that burned down Thornfield and in which Bertha perished:

["]He was taken out from under the ruins, alive, but sadly hurt: a beam had fallen in such a way as to protect him partly; but one eye was knocked out, and one hand so crushed that Mr Carter, the surgeon, had to amputate it directly. The other eye inflamed: he lost the sight of that also. He is now helpless, indeed – blind, and a cripple.["]

Like another character in King Lear, Gloucester, Mr. Rochester was figuratively blind before losing his eyesight. Gloucester is blind to the way one of his sons is manipulating him into seeing his other son as a villain; Mr. Rochester has been blind to the ways in which his behavior has hurt Jane and Bertha alike. Only after Gloucester has his eyes gouged out does he manage to "see" his misplaced trust in one son and consequent mistreatment of the other. Mr. Rochester's blindness likewise clears the way for him to "see" Jane as a true partner and not as someone for him to manipulate and use as he sees fit. In the end Rochester sheds his former "lendings" (Bertha, Thornfield, and the dark colonial history they represent) and steps into his "natural" state as simply a man who loves Jane.

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Chapter 33
Explanation and Analysis—Marmion:

In Chapter 33, while St. John fights through a snow storm outside, Jane barricades herself inside by the fire with a book. Jane's reading material is an allusion to a popular poem:

I had closed my shutter, laid a mat to the door to prevent the snow from blowing in under it, trimmed my fire, and after sitting nearly an hour on the hearth listening to the muffled fury of the tempest, I lit a candle, took down ‘Marmion’ [...]

I soon forgot storm in music.

"Marmion" is a historical romance in verse by the best-selling Scottish writer Walter Scott. Scott's novels and poetry were popular for their depiction of history as a time of adventure, drama, fantastical characters, and mercurial feelings. Gothic tropes often come into play in Scott's work, which is invested in the way the political past haunts the present. Jane may be physically warm and safe from the storm outside, but through her reading material, she is immersing herself in excitement and danger.

This moment represents that despite Jane's best efforts to sit in safety with the Rivers family, she can't shut out her attraction to Mr. Rochester and his stormy nature. Mentally and emotionally, she remains stuck at Thornfield. The allusion to "Marmion" emphasizes that Brontë is playing with genre. When Jane leaves Thornfield and moves in with the Rivers family, the novel veers away from the gothic genre and its trademark haunted houses. Jane's reading selection demonstrates that she feels out of place not only by the calm hearth, but also, by Brontë's implication, in the kind of book the novel is becoming. She is drawn back to adventure, romance, and the quasi-supernatural and will not feel settled as the heroine of the novel until she is reunited with the moody and dangerous Mr. Rochester.

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Chapter 36
Explanation and Analysis—King Lear:

In Chapter 19, Mr. Rochester dresses up as a Romani woman (called a "gypsy" in the novel, but this term is now considered a slur) and pretends to tell Jane's fortune. When he reveals himself, he makes an allusion to Shakespeare's King Lear:

‘There, then – “Off, ye lendings!”’ And Mr Rochester stepped out of his disguise.

Shakespeare's play is about an old king and the family drama that ensues when he tries to figure out the future of his kingdom. When he delivers the line Mr. Rochester parrots, Lear is taking off his clothes as part of a speech about how men in their natural state have nothing to do with the roles society puts on them. Mr. Rochester seems to be telling Jane, in essence, not to judge him by his cover. For one thing, he has secrets she does not know. But he also wants Jane to see him for the person he is, not for the role he has taken on by following his father's bad advice to marry Bertha.

King Lear remains an important point of reference through which the novel makes sense of Mr. Rochester's character. In Chapter 36, Jane finds out that Mr. Rochester has lost his sight and one of his hands in the fire that burned down Thornfield and in which Bertha perished:

["]He was taken out from under the ruins, alive, but sadly hurt: a beam had fallen in such a way as to protect him partly; but one eye was knocked out, and one hand so crushed that Mr Carter, the surgeon, had to amputate it directly. The other eye inflamed: he lost the sight of that also. He is now helpless, indeed – blind, and a cripple.["]

Like another character in King Lear, Gloucester, Mr. Rochester was figuratively blind before losing his eyesight. Gloucester is blind to the way one of his sons is manipulating him into seeing his other son as a villain; Mr. Rochester has been blind to the ways in which his behavior has hurt Jane and Bertha alike. Only after Gloucester has his eyes gouged out does he manage to "see" his misplaced trust in one son and consequent mistreatment of the other. Mr. Rochester's blindness likewise clears the way for him to "see" Jane as a true partner and not as someone for him to manipulate and use as he sees fit. In the end Rochester sheds his former "lendings" (Bertha, Thornfield, and the dark colonial history they represent) and steps into his "natural" state as simply a man who loves Jane.

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