Jane Eyre Book Club: Chapters 2-3 and On Eyre Episode 3
How is Jane Eyre going for you?
I’m surprised by how much pleasure I’m getting by slowly reading this text with attention to detail. Below are my notes on chapters 2-3 peppered with analysis from On Eyre’s Vanessa and Lauren and questions for further discussion. Again, special focus is given to the themes of power and desire.
“Like any other slave, I felt resolved…”
This is yet another instance in which Jane compares herself to a slave.
And yet again Lauren is quick to point out that Jane is NOT a slave, not even close. Emotional abuse does not equal slavery.
Lauren brings us a mini history lesson that tells us there were two slave uprisings in the Caribbean in the 1800s which Bronte would have known about and could have brought the analogy of the spirit of a rebel slave to her writing.
On Eyre: “if Jane can describe herself as a rebellious slave, it’s a form of erasure […] It radically demeans the experience of slavery.
Vanessa makes a note to track this comparison as Jane ages. Is this child-like self-absorption? Does it merely show the limited perspective of a child? And if so, does Jane learn better over time?
Miss Abbot says about Jane: “She’s an underhand little thing: I never saw a girl of her age with so much cover.”
This makes me feel indignant for Jane. Jane is good.
We know Jane is good based on the thoughts she shares with us readers.
This makes me wonder, is Jane manipulating me to think of her a certain way? is it worth asking whether Jane is a reliable narrator?
Bessie and Miss Abbot remind Jane of her powerlessness, that her only hope of staying with the Reeds is to be “agreeable,” “useful and pleasant.” There is no place for her passion, her “tantrums”—her power. And if nothing else persuades Jane to surrender the little power she has, Miss Abbot threatens “God will punish her”—and who is more powerful than God? Poor Jane doesn’t stand a chance.
The description of the red room:
Bed is in the center of the room. I think this increases the feeling of fear and insecurity to Jane, that if she is on the bed something could come behind the head of the bed or from any direction.
It sounds like the inside of a womb—I’m getting major re-birth vibes.
The room has a sinister feel due to its association with Mr. Reed’s death.
Jane’s desire at this moment: to escape! She wants out so desperately that she thinks of “running away, or if that could not be effected, never eating or drinking more, and letting myself die.”
Jane thinking about Mrs. Reed: “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.”
Jane says Mrs. Reed could not love her as if it was a matter of ability rather than choice. That puts the burden of being lovable on Jane.
I wonder if this is Jane’s way of shielding herself from greater hurt? Is it a sign of successful gaslighting by Mrs. Reed?
And what does this mean for power? Is Jane denying Mrs. Reed’s power of choice? What does this way of thinking do for Jane?
What happens at the end of chapter 2? It seems as if Jane works herself into a frenzy akin to a panic attack. (And that’s exactly what Vanessa says in her summary of the chapter.) But Jane’s constant downplaying of her plight in that moment makes me suspicious that it very well could have been something supernatural. I mean, the scene is totally creepy: she’s still bleeding from the head in this huge red room thinking about the angry ghost of her uncle.
And Mrs. Reed! What a heartless bitch. Where does she and Miss Abbot get all these nasty assumptions that Jane is bad and always trying to manipulate them?
More about the red room from On Eyre:
Vanessa says, “This room is at minimum the place that changes the course of Jane’s life.”
The room could signify Jane’s first menses. It echoes the cultural practice of confining menstruating women. And stage ten, Jane would be very young to get it at that time, denoting Jane’s maturity in a way.
The dramatic horrors of the red room represent the patriarchal structure Jane is trapped in.
The room with all its secret compartments alludes to Freudian conceptions of the adult female body.
Lauren brings up the context of Victorian repression and allusions to kinky porn of the time: girls in blood, Miss Abbot retrieving her garters to tie Jane down.
Lauren also calls the room a “patriarchal death chamber.”
What are your thoughts on the red room?
“I felt an inexpressible relief, a soothing conviction of protection and security, when I knew that there was a stranger in the room, an individual not belonging to Gateshead, and not related to Mrs. Reed.”
That a stranger would be comforting to Jane, with all the unknowns associated therein, just goes to say how oppressed Jane feels by the Reeds.
Bessie and Sarah talk about what happened to Jane: “Something passed her, all dressed in white, and vanished”—“A great black dog behind him”
I’m thinking the white figure probably was Mr. Reed’s ghost.
The great black dog—isn’t that a death omen?
“No severe or prolonged bodily illness followed this incident of the red-room: it only gave my nerves a shock, of which I feel the reverberation to this day.”
To this day. That’s a big deal!
Separation of body and nerves. Is this mind-body dualism or is this more in the realm of “hysteria”?
Jane insists Mrs. Reed ”knew not what” she did. Again, is she simply being generous in her assessment of Mrs. Reed or is this a defense mechanism to shield her from the depths of cruelty she endured by Mrs. Reed?
Jane describes no longer enjoying the book Gulliver’s Travels and not enjoying the lemon tart on the special plate that Bessie serves her.
She cannot enjoy the things that would normally bring her joy. She is depressed! I know that feeling. It’s like grief with no direction.
Vanessa argues that refusing the tart is a form of resistance, and that acknowledging her depression too is a form of resistance. She’s not making herself jolly and agreeable for others’ sake.
Lauren considers this moment to be deep depression, the same conclusion I had drawn. What do you think? Could it be both? Or something else?
Mr. Lloyd talks to Jane and Bessie keeps answering for Jane.
Is this a way of disempowering Jane or merely an act of survival, saving face for the household?
Jane puts it simply: “I cry because I am miserable.” When Mr. Lloyd listens to her, she borrows some of his power.
Jane says to Mr. Lloyd that it was a ghost in the room—Mr. Reed’s ghost, and she is afraid of it.
Not to anyone else does she admit this.
A quote I appreciated: “Children can feel, but they cannot analyse their feelings; and if the analysis is partially effected in thought, they know not how to express the result of the process in words.”
Mr. Lloyd asks if Jane would like to live with relatives on the Eyre side of her family. Jane does not want to be poor. Money/caste is more important than liberty from the Reeds. While on one hand this is an observation about Jane’s desires, it’s also about the power of money and class.
Jane says she would like to go to school. Even though she would have to be “genteel and precise” she would get to learn. She thinks of all the things she could do if she went to school, and she wants that.
“Abbot, I think, gave me credit for being a sort of infantile Guy Fawkes.”
Jane is normally so serious. I love that she cracks this joke!
Jane finally hears the story of her parents, and what a way to learn it, overhearing the servants’ gossip.
The servants also say if only Jane were pretty like Georgiana, then they would have compassion for her, how awful. Beauty is power.
Additional notes from On Eyre
Where is the power?
Mr. Lloyd, an educated man, has the power to convince Mrs. Reed to send Jane to school.
Mrs. Reed has the power to lock Jane up.
Mr. Reed has power from the grave, the ghost of the patriarch.
Where is the desire?
Jane learns that her parents married for love, not for economic arrangements, and that they made sacrifices for that love. They take care of the poor, they die of typhoid. Vanessa says Jane learns about desire from her parents’ example: marrying for love gets you and your kids punished.
Jane REALLY doesn’t want to be poor.
What stood out to you as you read these chapters? What do you think of Jane? Where do you see power and desire thus far? Share in the comments!
This week we are reading chapter 4. New On Eyre episodes are released on Fridays.
Vanessa dubs readers of Jane Eyre “Eyre-heads” and I love it. So my lovely Eyre-heads, until next time, happy reading!