Study Guide

Jane Eyre Appearances

By Charlotte Brontë

Appearances

Volume 1, Chapter 3
Bessie

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.

Volume 1, Chapter 7
Mr. Brocklehurst

"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.

Volume 1, Chapter 8

The refreshing meal, the brilliant fire, the presence and kindness of her beloved instructress, or, perhaps, more than all these, something in her own unique mind, had roused her powers within her. They woke, they kindled: first, they glowed in the bright tint of her cheek, which till this hour I had never seen but pale and bloodless; then they shone in the liquid lustre of her eyes, which had suddenly acquired a beauty more singular than that of Miss Temple’s—a beauty neither of fine colour nor long eyelash, nor pencilled brow, but of meaning, of movement, of radiance. Then her soul sat on her lips, and language flowed [...]. (1.8.51)

Helen’s beauty comes not from fancy curls or makeup, but from animation, activity, and intellectual stimulation. It’s not just that "real beauty comes from the inside," although that does seem to be true in this novel—it’s that Helen is at her most beautiful when she’s excited about a subject that she knows a lot about and when she's talking about it to someone she really respects.

Notice that her beauty comes out most in movement and talking—it’s an active rather than a passive beauty. What that means is that she’s beautiful because of what she’s doing and because she’s so intensely alive: not because she’s a passive, static object, something to be looked at, like a beautiful painting.

Volume 1, Chapter 11

I rose; I dressed myself with care: obliged to be plain—for I had no article of attire that was not made with extreme simplicity—I was still by nature solicitous to be neat. It was not my habit to be disregardful of appearance, or careless of the impression I made: on the contrary, I ever wished to look as well as I could, and to please as much as my want of beauty would permit. I sometimes regretted that I was not handsomer: I sometimes wished to have rosy cheeks, a straight nose, and small cherry mouth; I desired to be tall, stately and finely developed in figure; I felt it a misfortune that I was so little, so pale, and had features so irregular and so marked. And why had I these aspirations and these regrets? It would be difficult to say: I could not then distinctly say it to myself; yet I had a reason, and a logical, natural reason too. (1.11.47)

In this passage Jane considers appearance in several different ways. She begins by thinking about being dressed neatly and carefully—basically, not looking like a slob. But this pride in her appearance quickly turns into a lament that she isn’t more of a classic beauty. She can’t even admit why she wants her clothes to look nice, or to be prettier, although she claims there is a specific reason… can you guess what it might be? Yep, walks on two legs, has a deep voice, rhymes with Bochester—you got it.

Volume 1, Chapter 14

I am sure most people would have thought him an ugly man; yet there was so much unconscious pride in his port; so much case in his demeanour; such a look of complete indifference to his own external appearance; so haughty a reliance on the power of other qualities, intrinsic or adventitious, to atone for the lack of mere personal attractiveness, that in looking at him, one inevitably shared the indifference; and even in a blind, imperfect sense, put faith in the confidence. (1.14.33)

Jane is able to separate Rochester’s actual appearance from how Rochester is perceived by the people around him and from what she herself thinks of his character. Distinguishing appearance from personality is something she learned to do at Lowood.

Volume 1, Chapter 15

And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader: gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire. Yet I had not forgotten his faults: indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. (1.15.28)

Rochester’s actual appearance seems to transform as Jane’s opinion of him changes (and as she starts to fall in love with him). We’ve got to be on the lookout with this novel for moments when someone’s exterior seems to physically change—but what’s really changing is the attitude of the person looking at them. In this passage, Jane admits that it’s her feelings that make Rochester look different, but at other moments she’s a little less obvious.

Volume 2, Chapter 1

"Listen, then, Jane Eyre, to your sentence: to-morrow, place the glass before you, and draw in chalk your own picture, faithfully; without softening one defect: omit no harsh line, smooth away no displeasing irregularity; write under it, 'Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain.'

"Afterwards, take a piece of smooth ivory—you have one prepared in your drawing-box: take your pallette, mix your freshest, finest, clearest tints; choose your most delicate camel-hair pencils; delineate carefully the loveliest face you can imagine; paint it in your softest shades and sweetest hues, according to the description given by Mrs. Fairfax of Blanche Ingram: remember the raven ringlets, the oriental eye;—what! you revert to Mr. Rochester as a model! Order! No snivel!—no sentiment!—no regret! I will endure only sense and resolution. Recall the august yet harmonious lineaments, the Grecian neck and bust: let the round and dazzling arm be visible, and the delicate hand; omit neither diamond ring nor gold bracelet; portray faithfully the attire, aërial lace and glistening satin, graceful scarf and golden rose: call it 'Blanche, an accomplished lady of rank.'

"Whenever, in future, you should chance to fancy Mr. Rochester thinks well of you, take out these two picture and compare them: say, 'Mr. Rochester might probably win that noble lady’s love, if he chose to strive for it; is it likely he would waste a serious thought on this indigent and insignificant plebeian?'" (2.1.72-74)

Notice that the portrait Jane draws of Blanche is completely imaginary; she hasn’t seen or met Blanche yet, although we already know that Jane’s drawings and paintings sometimes have an eerie way of looking just like real places and people that she’s never seen.

These portraits probably tell us more about the contrast between who Jane is and who she wishes she could be than about the real contrast between Jane and Blanche. It’s like feeling a bit depressed, having low self-esteem, and comparing yourself to airbrushed pictures of Zoë Kravitz.

Volume 2, Chapter 9
Jane Eyre

"Oh, sir!—never mind jewels! I don’t like to hear them spoken of. Jewels for Jane Eyre sounds unnatural and strange: I would rather not have them."

"I will myself put the diamond chain round your neck, and the circlet on your forehead,—which it will become: for nature, at least, has stamped her patent of nobility on this brow, Jane; and I will clasp the bracelets on these fine wrists, and load these fairy-like fingers with rings."

"No, no, sir! think of other subjects, and speak of other things, and in another strain. Don’t address me as if I were a beauty; I am your plain, Quakerish governess."

"You are a beauty in my eyes, and a beauty just after the desire of my heart,—delicate and aërial."

"Puny and insignificant, you mean. You are dreaming, sir,—or you are sneering. For God’s sake don’t be ironical!" (2.9.19-23)

Famous passage alert: Jane’s self-description as a "plain, Quakerish governess" is one of the most important and most frequently quoted lines in the novel. Her insistence that this plain exterior is an expression of who she really is, and that jewels and fancy gowns aren’t right for her, is interesting on a lot of levels.

Is this just Jane’s low self-esteem cropping up again? Or is it a moral stance—Jane’s way of telling Rochester that she’s not his mistress and that she’s going to look respectable, not all tarted up with his finery? How do we read this moment knowing that another person who insisted on plainness at all cost —Mr. Brocklehurst—was a complete hypocrite? Surely Jane’s not a hypocrite? So when is it okay to insist on being dressed humbly and modestly, and when is it overreacting?

Volume 3, Chapter 11

His form was of the same strong and stalwart contour as ever: his port was still erect, his hair was still raven-black; nor were his features altered or sunk: not in one year’s space, by any sorrow, could his athletic strength be quelled, or his vigorous prime blighted. But in his countenance, I saw a change: that looked desperate and brooding —that reminded me of some wronged and fettered wild beast or bird, dangerous to approach in his sullen woe. The caged eagle, whose gold-ringed eyes cruelty has extinguished, might look as looked that sightless Samson. (3.11.9)

English teachers are always going on about how characters change—you know, what do they learn, how do they grow, that kind of thing. Rochester’s change is personal and emotional, of course, but it’s also physical; you can see in his face that he really understands his (attempted) crime—and also that he’s pretty much lost all hope.

Being able to read information in people’s faces accurately just by looking at them is something that happens a lot in this novel (and that depends on a nineteenth-century pseudo-science called "phrenology"—think of it as a palm-reading for your forehead). For more on the reference to Samson, check out our "Allusions" section.