Study Guide

Jane Eyre The Supernatural

By Charlotte Brontë

The Supernatural

Volume 1, Chapter 2

Returning, I had to cross before the looking-glass; my fascinated glance involuntarily explored the depth it revealed. All looked colder and darker in that visionary hollow than in reality: and the strange little figure there gazing at me, with a white face and arms specking the gloom, and glittering eyes of fear moving where all else was still, had the effect of a real spirit: I thought it like one of the tiny phantoms, half fairy, half imp, Bessie’s evening stories represented as coming out of lone, ferny dells in moors, and appearing before the eyes of belated travelers. (1.2.24)

When Jane sees herself in the mirror as a child, she sees herself as something uncanny—perhaps a ghost or a fairy, something out of the kind of tales her nursemaid tells her by the fireside. If even Jane perceives herself as unnatural, it’s not surprising that Rochester is going to be continually disconcerted by her.

Shaking my hair from my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly round the dark room: at this moment a light gleamed on the wall. Was it, I asked myself, a ray from the moon penetrating some aperture in the blind? No; moonlight was still, and this stirred; while I gazed, it glided up to the ceiling and quivered over my head. I can now conjecture readily that this streak of light was, in all likelihood, a gleam from a lantern, carried by some one across the lawn: but then, prepared as my mind was for horror, shaken as my nerves were by agitation, I thought the swift-darting beam was a herald of some coming vision from another world. My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings: something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke down—I uttered a wild, involuntary cry—I rushed to the door and shook the lock in a desperate effort. (1.2.32)

What actually happens to Jane during her traumatic experience in the red room is somewhat ambiguous. The older, more experienced Jane who is narrating the story is ready to find a rational explanation for the strange light that she saw as a child; the child Jane is convinced that this light is the beginning of the manifestation of Mr. Reed’s ghost. What is clear is that Jane panics before the question can be resolved—the anticipation of seeing the ghost is itself the trauma, and, as Jane will tell us, her nerves never really recover from this shock.

Volume 1, Chapter 11

The laugh was repeated in its low, syllabic tone, and terminated in an odd murmur.

"Grace!" exclaimed Mrs. Fairfax.

I really did not expect any Grace to answer; for the laugh was as tragic, as preternatural a laugh as any I ever heard; and, but that it was high noon, and that no circumstances of ghostliness accompanied the curious cachination; but that neither scene nor season favoured fear, I should have been superstitiously afraid. However, the event showed me I was a fool for entertaining even a sense of surprise.

The door nearest me opened, and a servant came out,—a woman of between thirty and forty; a set, square-made figure, red-haired, and with a hard, plain face: any apparition less romantic or less ghostly could scarcely be conceived. (1.11.118-121)

Jane seems almost eager to find a ghost in the attic of Thornfield—or maybe she’s just a bit paranoid because of her experience with what might have been, or seemed like, her Uncle Reed’s ghost. However, her first attempt to find something creepy in the attic is unsuccessful—all she finds is a stout, middle-aged, red-headed servant. Not very eerie, that one.

Jane Eyre the novel—and Jane Eyre the narrator—will continually tease us with things that seem spooky but turn out to be extremely plain. It’s the suspense that occurs in between the suspicion of the supernatural and the revelation of the rational that makes the novel so exciting. Why does Jane keep looking for the supernatural? Why does the novel keep finding ways to explain away things that seem supernatural?

Volume 1, Chapter 13
Mr. Edward Rochester

"No wonder you have rather the look of another world. I marvelled where you had got that sort of face. When you came upon me in Hay Lane last night, I thought unaccountably of fairy tales, and had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse: I am not sure yet. Who are your parents?"

"I have none."

"Nor ever had, I suppose: do you remember them?"

"No."

"I thought not. And so you were waiting for your people when you sat on that stile?

"For whom, sir?"

"For the men in green: it was a proper moonlight evening for them. Did I break through one of your rings, that you spread that damned ice on the causeway?"

I shook my head. "The men in green all forsook England a hundred years ago," said I, speaking as seriously as he had done. "And not even in Hay Lane or the fields about it could you find a trace of them. I don’t think either summer or harvest, or winter moon, will ever shine on their revels more." (1.13.40-47)

At Jane’s second meeting with Rochester, he accuses her, playfully, of being a fairy or a sprite who enchanted his horse and caused the accident in which he sprained his ankle. Jane isn’t about to be outdone and banters with him readily and quick-wittedly, seeming to take fairy tales as seriously as he himself is pretending to do.

Although Jane’s unearthly fairy qualities are mostly a joke here, there is definitely something strange and uncanny about her quiet demeanor, plain dress, and strong personality. Rochester has met his match—and she is a little bit eerie.

Volume 2, Chapter 5

Then my own thoughts worried me. What crime was this that lived incarnate in this sequestered mansion, and could neither be expelled nor subdued by the owner?—what mystery, that broke out now in fire and now in blood, at the deadest hours of night? What creature was it, that, masked in an ordinary woman’s face and shape, uttered the voice, now of a mocking demon, and anon of a carrion-seeking bird of prey? (2.5.54)

Whoa, suddenly we’re reading a Gothic novel! There’s a secret and unnamable crime at Thornfield that can’t be solved for mysterious reasons! Of course, we’ll find out that it is a human woman—we won’t call her ordinary—behind the arson and the bite wounds at Thornfield, not a demon or a vampire.

The most disturbing part of the story is that this terrible crime isn’t supernatural—just unnatural.

Volume 2, Chapter 6

Presentiments are strange things! and so are sympathies; and so are signs; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity has not yet found the key. I never laughed at presentiments in my life, because I have had strange ones of my own. Sympathies, I believe, exist (for instance, between far-distant, long-absent, wholly estranged relatives asserting, notwithstanding their alienation, the unity of the source to which each traces his origin) whose workings baffle mortal comprehension. And signs, for aught we know, may be but the sympathies of Nature with man. (2.6.1)

Foreshadowing’s a strange thing too, and so is symbolism, and so are little hints from the author about supernatural tricks she’ll use later to bring the main characters back together when they’re dozens of miles apart. Erm, what’s that called? Yeah, a deus ex machina.

This passage is important because it’s one of the only moments that Jane actually claims to the reader that she does believe in some kind of supernatural foreknowledge and also a psychic connection between people. Still, Jane suggests that these seemingly supernatural connections may have natural explanations that we just don’t know about.

Volume 2, Chapter 7
Jane Eyre

"I have been with my aunt, sir, who is dead."

"A true Janian reply! Good angels be my guard! She comes from the other world—from the abode of people who are dead; and tells me so when she meets me alone here in the gloaming! If I dared, I’d touch you, to see if you are substance or shadow, you elf!—but I’d as soon offer to take hold of a blue ignis fatuus light in a marsh." (2.7.21-22)

As usual Rochester is exaggerating quite a bit, but his suggestion that Jane is able to move between different worlds in a strange and uncanny way seems just about right. After all, Gateshead, Lowood, and Thornfield have practically been different planets.

(An ignis fatuus, or "false fire," is a little light you see in the distance when you’re lost in a swamp, but it turns out to be swamp gas on fire or something like that instead of a lamp in a cottage that could lead you to safety. Ironically, later in the novel, Jane finds Moor House by following a light that she thinks is an ignis fatuus, but it turns out to be a lamp in a cottage.)

Volume 2, Chapter 9
Adèle

"It was a fairy, and come from Elf-land, it said; and its errand was to make me happy: I must go with it out of the common world to a lonely place—such as the moon, for instance—and it nodded its head towards her horn, rising over Hay-hill: it told me of the alabaster cave and silver vale where we might live. I said I should like to go; but reminded it, as you did me, that I had no wings to fly.

"'Oh,' returned the fairy, 'that does not signify! Here is a talisman will remove all difficulties;' and she held out a pretty gold ring. 'Put it,' she said, 'on the fourth finger of my left hand, and I am yours, and you are mine; and we shall leave earth, and make our own heaven yonder.' She nodded again at the moon. The ring, Adèle, is in my breeches-pocket, under the disguise of a sovereign: but I mean soon to change it to a ring again."

"But what has mademoiselle to do with it? I don’t care for the fairy: you said it was mademoiselle you would take to the moon?"

"Mademoiselle is a fairy," he said, whispering mysteriously. (2.9.122-125)

Even Adèle, who is less than ten years old, thinks this fairy tale of Rochester’s is ridiculous, but we think it might be just a little bit important that he uses a fanciful story about a magical flight to the moon as metaphors for marrying Jane.

Rochester expects his marriage to Jane to be a quick fix: he’ll marry her, and as soon as they’ve got their wedding rings on, she’ll transport him into another world and all their problems will be over. Yeah, not in this novel, buster.

Volume 2, Chapter 10

"It seemed, sir, a woman, tall and large, with thick and dark hair hanging long down her back. I know not what dress she had on: it was white and straight; but whether gown, sheet, or shroud, I cannot tell."

"Did you see her face?"

"Not at first. But presently she took my veil from its place; she held it up, gazed at it long, and then she threw it over her own head, and turned to the mirror. At that moment I saw the reflection of the visage and features quite distinctly in the dark oblong glass."

"And how were they?"

"Fearful and ghastly to me—oh, sir, I never saw a face like it! It was a discoloured face—it was a savage face. I wish I could forget the roll of the red eyes and the fearful blackened inflation of the lineaments!"

"Ghosts are usually pale, Jane."

"This, sir, was purple: the lips were swelled and dark; the brow furrowed: the black eyebrows widely raised over the bloodshot eyes. Shall I tell you of what it reminded me?"

"You may."

"Of the foul German spectre—the Vampyre." (2.10.73-81)

Is Bertha a vampire? Let’s go through our Handy Vampire Checklist. Is Bertha a "blood relative" of Count Dracula? No. Does she sleep in a coffin during daylight hours? No. Is she a good candidate for villain on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Maybe. Does she suck blood? Yes! Does she drain the life out of the people around her? Yes! Would a stake through the heart kill her? Yes, but it would kill you too and we’re guessing you’re not a vampire.

So, it’s complicated. (For more on this quote from a different thematic perspective, check out Quote #5 in the "Foreignness and 'The Other'" section.)

Volume 3, Chapter 9
St. John Rivers

All the house was still; for I believe all, except St. John and myself, were now retired to rest. The one candle was dying out: the room was full of moonlight. My heart beat fast and thick: I heard its throb. Suddenly it stood still to an inexpressible feeling that thrilled it through, and passed at once to my head and extremities. The feeling was not like an electric shock, but it was quite as sharp, as strange, as startling: it acted on my senses as if their utmost activity hitherto had been but torpor, from which they were now summoned and forced to wake. They rose expectant: eye and ear waited while the flesh quivered on my bones.

"What have you heard? What do you see?" asked St. John. I saw nothing, but I heard a voice somewhere cry—

"Jane! Jane! Jane!"—nothing more.

"O God! what is it?" I gasped.

I might have said, "Where is it?" for it did not seem in the room—nor in the house—nor in the garden; it did not come out of the air—nor from under the earth—nor from overhead. I had heard it—where, or whence, for ever impossible to know! And it was the voice of a human being—a known, loved, well-remembered voice—that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain and woe, wildly, eerily, urgently. (3.9.89-93)

If you want to impress your teacher, you should refer to this as a moment of "clairaudience," which means psychically hearing things that are far away. (Get it? Like "clairvoyance," only that’s for seeing things that are far away.)

And we’ll point out again, just in case you missed it in the "What’s Up With the Title?" section, that Jane’s last name can be pronounced "ear," like the things on the side of your head. So, special qualities of listening and hearing, plus an uber-special connection to Mr. Rochester, seem to make Jane clairaudient at this moment.