by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre Appearances Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Volume.Chapter.Paragraph)
Bessie, when she heard this narrative, sighed and said, "Poor Miss Jane is to be pitied, too, Abbot."
"Yes," responded Abbot, "if she were a nice, pretty child, one might compassionate her forlornness; but one really cannot care for such a little toad as that."
"Not a great deal, to be sure," agreed Bessie: "at any rate a beauty like Miss Georgiana would be more moving in the same condition."
"Yes, I doat on Miss Georgiana!" cried the fervent Abbot. "Little darling!—with her long curls and her blue eyes, and such a sweet colour as she has; just as if she were painted!" (1.3.77-80)
Jane Eyre is famous for being a plain-looking girl rather than a beauty, and here we see the unfortunate and unfair consequences of her plainness: the servants find it difficult to sympathize with her just because she’s not cute and sweet and blue-eyed and curly-haired. Compassion and affection are easier for people like Bessie and Abbot to give to pretty girls. Yeah, they’re not shallow or anything.
"Miss Temple, Miss Temple, what—what is that girl with curled hair? Red hair, ma’am, curled—curled all over?" And extending his cane he pointed to the awful object, his hand shaking as he did so.
"It is Julia Severn," replied Miss Temple, very quietly.
"Julia Severn, ma’am! And why has she, or any other, curled hair? Why, in defiance of every precept and principle of this house, does she conform to the world so openly—here in an evangelical, charitable establishment—as to wear her hair one mass of curls?"
"Julia’s hair curls naturally," returned Miss Temple, still more quietly.
"Naturally! Yes, but we are not to conform to nature: I wish these girls to be the children of Grace: and why that abundance? I have again and again intimated that I desire the hair to be arranged closely, modestly, plainly. Miss Temple, that girl’s hair must be cut off entirely […]." (1.7.23-27)
Poor Julia Severn. Here we see Mr. Brocklehurst at his most unreasonable. Later, he’ll claim that the girls at Lowood Institution shouldn’t curl or braid their hair because that’s wasting time on worldly vanities. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but we understand the logic: just take what you’re given and don’t worry about your appearance.
But here he implies that, if Julia can’t find a way to straighten her hair and make it less good-looking, then he’ll give her one serious buzz cut. So he’s contradicting himself: if curls are bad because they’re an unnatural kind of ornament, then Julia’s, which are natural, should be okay. But here he freaks out and claims that "we are not to conform to nature" and that the girls should live under Grace (that’s the grace of God) instead. But didn’t God give Julia her curly hair? Why does Mr. Brocklehurst try to say that nature and Grace are different, then?
That’s right, he’s an idiot.
"I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world: my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shame-facedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel; and each of the young persons before us has a string of hair twisted in plaits which vanity itself might have woven: these, I repeat, must be cut off; think of the time wasted, of—"
Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted: three other visitors, ladies, now entered the room. They ought to have come a little sooner to have heard his lecture on dress, for they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs. The two younger of the trio (fine girls of sixteen and seventeen) had grey beaver hats, then in fashion, shaded with ostrich plumes, and from under the brim of this graceful head-dress fell a profusion of light tresses, elaborately curled; the elder lady was enveloped in a costly velvet shawl, trimmed with ermine, and she wore a false front of French curls. (1.7.32-33)
We’ve suspected all along that Mr. Brocklehurst was the worst kind of hypocrite, and here we get some very obvious confirmation of our suspicions. Just as he’s lecturing Miss Temple on why all the girls at Lowood must have very plain clothing and hair—he’s even against braids—his wife and daughters come in completely tricked out in the latest fashions with complicated hairdos and (we assume) their noses in the air.
Maybe keeping the Lowood girls plain-looking is more about keeping them in their lowly place than about real Christian humility. Of course, Mr. Brocklehurst’s family members aren’t exactly charitable and good-hearted, either, so ironically his advice to Miss Temple does result in the girls at Lowood being, in a way, holier. But, and we might be going out on a limb here, we don’t think they’d be any less holy if they were allowed to braid their hair. Just a thought.