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Jane Eyre Book Club: Chapter 4


Desire and Power are the lenses for understanding Jane Eyre with the On Eyre (OE) podcast team. Where are you noticing power and desire in chapter 4 of Jane Eyre?


The chapter opens with Jane feeling enough hope for change so that she is motivated to regain her health.


Jane punches John in the nose! And isn’t even punished!


Jane is all about resistance this chapter: she talks back to Mrs. Reed so much.


Jane is excluded from all the winter holiday celebrations. Not even Bessie stays with her.

  • OE notes that Jane is officially shunned yet still trapped inside of Gateshead. It’s extreme: she sleeps in a closet and is ignored for months.


She loves her doll, but what she really wants is to love a person. The doll is just a stand-in during this lonely time.


Mr. Brocklehurst visits Gateshead.

OE:

  • Mr. B is based on a real person named William Carus Wilson

  • Mr. B “stands for the type of evangelical cant that Charlotte Brontë loathed.”

  • In other words, he is a hypocrite.

  • He introduces a theme of men using Christianity to get what they want from women: “There’s no sense here that he really grasps his own sinful nature. He’s merely using it as a method of exerting power over other people.”


He asks Jane about the Bible. All the books in the Bible that she likes are the “interesting” ones—but also full of hardship: Daniel, Job, Jonah. Men whose faith is tried. I have to agree with Jane though—Psalms ARE boring.

  • OE: Jane is a girl speaking truth to power. She is so cheeky! “I must keep in good health and not die.” She refuses to be trapped in Mr. B’s Socratic method corner. She outwits him and refuses to be intimidated by him. And Brocklehurst is just Jane’s warm-up act.


Jane will be attending the Lowood Institution, a school for poor girls.

  • OE: Lowood is “a system that holds up the abuse that is allowed to happen in the house.” Jane just moves from one system (Gateshead) to another (Lowood).


Mrs. Reed tells Mr. Brocklehurst that Jane’s worst trait is a “tendency to deceit.”

  • Jane seems incredibly honest in her narration. Where does Mrs. Reed (and Miss Abbot in the previous chapters) get this idea? I just can’t see how Jane could be deceiving the reader into believing she’s so honest and pure when she isn’t. Instead, Jane is being gaslit (in my opinion). What do you think?

  • OE: Mrs. Reed destroys Jane’s reputation before she even gets to define herself. Mrs. Reed wields the power to malign Jane whenever she can. But Vanessa asks, how conscious is this act? Does Mrs. Reed truly believe these things of Jane?


I love when Jane spoke these words to Mrs. Reed in the drawing room: “I am not deceitful: If I were, I would say I loved you, but I declare I do not love you. I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed; and this book about the liar, you may give it to your girl, Georgina, for it is she who tells lies, not I.”

OE:

  • When Jane accuses Mrs. Reed, her aunt is in denial and seems truly shaken by what Jane says (and not with anger). Is Mrs. Reed just upset that Jane may make public her abuse, or does Mrs. Reed really think she was doing right, making Jane learn suffering so she can survive in the world? Lauren draws a compelling comparison between her journalistic experience reporting about a homeless woman and between Mrs. Reed’s charity to Jane. What did you think about that connection she drew? Do you think it was fair?

  • This is a moment when Jane acts on her desire to rewrite a narrative. She desires to leave Gateshead on her own terms with nothing left unsaid.


“I stood awhile on the rug, where Mr. Brocklehurst had stood, and I enjoyed my conqueror’s solitude.”

  • Jane steps into the place of Mr. Brocklehurst, where a powerful, religious white man stood, and thus steps into her power.

  • OE: Charlotte Brontë redefines the drawing room. Jane Austen’s drawing rooms are elegant and confined. In contrast, Jane Eyre is exploding the drawing room and then Brontë takes her outside of it completely.


Her first taste of vengeance felt good at first, but then she felt “poisoned.”

  • OE points out the language of physical pleasure here, e.g. “my soul began to expand,” that when Jane speaks her truth it’s almost sexualized.


This chapter makes obvious the transformation in Jane once she confronts Mrs. Reed, a transformation that she exudes in her actions and words, but that also manifests within her.


What did you think of chapter 4? What are you looking forward to in the next four chapters?


The On Eyre episode covering chapters 5-8 comes out on Friday July 30. Check out the updated reading schedule below:


And happy reading!

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