by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre Volume 1, Chapter 4 Summary
READ THE BOOK: Volume 1, Chapter 4
- Jane is waiting patiently, convinced that Mrs. Reed will send her to school soon, even though she hasn’t said so.
- Jane seems to be in more disgrace than usual: she has a smaller room, eats alone, and none of the Reed children are even speaking to her.
- John tries to say something nasty to Jane, but she hits him on the nose and he runs crying to his mom. We can hardly believe that he’s fourteen.
- This time, Mrs. Reed won’t listen to it, and tells him to leave Jane alone. She makes it sound like she’s being snobby, saying that her children won’t "associate with" Jane (1.4.3).
- Jane says that the Reed children "are not fit to associate with" her anyway (1.4.5). Mrs. Reed freaks out and attacks Jane, who asks what Mr. Reed would say if he were still alive. Her aunt seems frightened by this, but not too frightened to box Jane’s ears. Bessie lectures Jane about being wicked.
- Time passes. Christmas comes and goes and Jane doesn’t get any presents or any chance to participate in the festivities. Even Bessie leaves her alone, and so Jane has to sit in the dark and take care of her doll, which is the only thing she has to love. It’s pretty pathetic.
- Jane-the-narrator (the older one, remember? See "Narrator Point of View") reminisces about Bessie: sometimes the nursemaid is kind to her or brings her treats, and she tells such great stories! She does have a bad temper and no real ideas of ethics or justice, but she’s all Jane has at Gateshead.
- One day, things start to change. Jane paints us a picture of what’s happening on this particular day: it’s early in the morning; Eliza, who, we learn, loves money a little too much, is getting ready to go out and feed the hens she keeps so that she can sell the eggs; Georgiana is doing her hair in the mirror; Jane is tidying up as Bessie ordered.
- From the window, Jane sees a carriage, but she isn’t really paying attention to it because she doesn’t think it will matter to her. She starts feeding a bird some of her breakfast on the window-sill.
- Bessie comes bustling in, freaking out because Jane hasn’t washed yet and is red in the face from leaning out into the cold air. She cleans Jane up and makes her presentable and sends her downstairs.
- Jane’s confused and scared; she hasn’t been sent to see Mrs. Reed for almost three months. She’s afraid to go into the breakfast-room, but afraid to disobey. She stands still for a long time.
- When Jane finally goes in, she sees a tall man dressed in black, who has a "grim face […] like a carved mask" (1.4.22). Does that sound good to you? Nope, it doesn’t to us either.
- The man starts asking Jane questions. She tells him her name, but when he asks if she’s "a good child" (1.4.30), she doesn’t know what to say—she knows Mrs. Reed will contradict her if she answers yes.
- The man assumes that this means Jane is naughty, and starts lecturing her on how wicked children go to hell. We’re definitely starting to dislike him, and so is Jane.
- The man asks Jane about reading her Bible. She does, and she tells him about the parts she likes, which are mostly exciting things like Revelations and Daniel. She tells him up front that she doesn’t like the Psalms because they’re not very interesting, and he says that she has "a wicked heart" (1.4.56) and should pray to God to change it. He’s pretty tiresome. We can only hope he’s not in the book for very long.
- Mrs. Reed steps in at this point; she doesn’t really care about Jane’s heart. She reminds Mr. Brocklehurst (that’s apparently his name) that she already told him Jane is unpleasant and a liar and needs special watching at Lowood school, which is where he’s going to take her.
- Jane is really upset that Mrs. Reed accuses her of being a liar in front of Mr. Brocklehurst, who is obviously someone important at Lowood. She can tell Mrs. Reed is just making things harder for her at her new school.
- Mrs. Reed also insists that Jane be "made useful" and "kept humble" (1.4.62) at Lowood. Mr. Brocklehurst is only too happy to oblige; he loves keeping the girls at the school "quiet and plain" (1.4.63). As he describes them, though, it becomes clear that his own daughter lives in spoiled luxury—she has a silk gown. So Mr. Brocklehurst is a hypocrite in addition to being nasty.
- Mrs. Reed is happy; now that she knows Mr. Brocklehurst will keep Jane down, she’s ready to send her to Lowood.
- As he leaves, Mr. Brocklehurst gives Jane a book called the Child’s Guide, full of stories about sinful children who die unpleasantly. He tells her to read the story about Martha, who is a liar. How sweet.
- Jane stands staring at Mrs. Reed and refuses to leave the room when she’s ordered to. She is pissed. She confronts Mrs. Reed, denying that she (Jane) tells lies, saying she hates Mrs. Reed and John, and that the book about Martha the Liar is more appropriate for Georgiana than Jane. Ouch! That’s a bit too honest.
- Mrs. Reed asks what else Jane’s going to say. Jane’s only started. She disowns her aunt and says she’ll never come to see her as an adult and that she’ll tell everyone how badly Mrs. Reed treated her. Jane describes how Mrs. Reed treated her in the red room episode, and shows Mrs. Reed her own cruelty and deceitfulness.
- After Jane tells Mrs. Reed off like this, she feels really good. In fact, she feels exultant. The truth has set her free, and all that. Well, kind of free. She’s still a dependent child.
- Mrs. Reed is really disturbed—so disturbed that she gets up and leaves Jane in the room. Jane feels like she has won a battle and taken possession of the "field" (1.4.95).
- After a while, Jane stops feeling so good. She knows that this will just make her situation worse in the long run, and she wants to feel good for a better reason than "fierce speaking" (1.4.97).
- Jane does what she always does when she needs to be comforted: she starts reading a book, but can’t concentrate.
- Jane goes outside and walks in the wintry landscape, feeling terrible.
- Bessie calls Jane, but she doesn’t come. Bessie has to go get her.
- Jane coaxes Bessie into a good mood, and they have a rare, pleasant afternoon together while the Reeds are out at tea.
READ THE BOOK: Volume 1, Chapter 4