Friday, February 25, 2011

Jane Eyre Read-Along, Chapters 1-10

**This post is for my read-along of Jane Eyre. Learn more about it here, and feel free to join any time!**

In the first two chapters we learn that Jane is an orphan and she is treated extremely poorly by her cousins and her aunt, Mrs. Reed (or, as I like to call her, The Bitch).  Poor Jane tries to do right but is constantly taking the blame for everything, which then lands her in the "red room," which is a secluded room in the house where her uncle died.  Now I'm not one for believing in ghosts, but seriously, I would've freaked out in here.  No wonder Jane is scared, and how cruel is Mrs. Reed to force her to stay in there when Jane is obviously scared beyond belief.  This enforces her nickname.

In chapter three we are introduced to the first person who is truly kind to Jane: the apothecary Mr. Lloyd.  He asks Jane if she'd rather stay with an unkind family than with her other relations, who are most likely poor.  Jane says she'd rather stay with the meanies than have to beg.  Not winning me over here, Jane, but I see your point.  Anyway, Mr. Lloyd is the one who convinces Mrs. Reed she should go to school, so it's due to his kindness that she can get the hell out of there.

In chapter four we are introduced to the villainous Mr. Brocklehurst (what a great name, though).  It becomes apparent that although he enforces order and thriftiness in his students, he does not see the same need to do so with his family.  Mrs. Reed informs him that Jane is a very bad sort of girl and must be watched carefully, which he seems to believe completely, even though he's never met either of them before.  My favorite part of this chapter, though, was when Jane stood up to Mrs. Reed and told her just what she thought of her.  I was cheering Jane on, and was happy to see that Mrs. Reed could do nothing but cower.  Oh, and when it's apparent Jane's leaving, Bessie, the nurse, suddenly becomes nice and acts like she loves her.  Which maybe she does.  But from what Jane has said, it doesn't seem like Bessie has really done her any special favors.

So.  Then we get to Lowood Institution.  What a dreary, depressing dump (alliteration, anyone?).  Did anyone else find it strange that no one was interested in the new girl?  Is this how it really was back then?  I would think any break from the monotony would be welcome, but no one really seems to notice Jane is there.  She finally talks to Helen Burns, who is very Christian and takes her punishments without a word, which appalls Jane, especially since she seems to be punished unjustly.  Jane swears she could never do that, but we see that she does just that when Mr. Brocklehurst calls her out in front of the whole school and claims she's a liar who should be ignored by the students and punished by the teachers.  (Seriously, what a jerk.)  Jane sees Helen and takes strength from the older girl to bear the public humiliation.  However, once she's alone, Jane breaks down.  Helen comes to comfort her, and then Miss Temple, the superintendent (who is more like an angel).

Miss Temple actually gives Jane the chance to tell her side of the story, about how she was treated by her aunt and cousins, and then vouches for her in front of the school, publicly clearing her name.  Suddenly Lowood is looking up for Jane.  However, Spring brings typhus to the school and, while Jane is spared, many students are not.  Poor Helen has consumption (which we got clues to in previous chapters, specifically chapter eight) and dies in Jane's arms.  If anyone didn't already look it up, Helen's tombstone reads "Resurgam" which means "I shall rise again" in Latin.

And finally, chapter ten shows us that the deaths of so many students leads to public outcry, and Lowood is transformed into a proper school.  After six years as a student and two years as a teacher, Jane finally decides it's time for a change (I personally would've wanted out long before) and places an ad for a governess position, which she receives.  Bessie returns to see Jane before she leaves, and we learn that Bessie has since had two children, one of which she named after Jane.  I really didn't see this coming, but I guess I didn't read enough into chapter four.  We're told expressly by Bessie that Jane is not pretty (why was this important for Brontë to point out?) but she is a much more accomplished lady than either of her female cousins and is a better person than her male one.  And, the most interesting piece of information for me, was that Jane's uncle had visited Gateshead a year after Jane left, but as he was leaving the country he did not inquire further.  Really?  He couldn't have even sent a letter?

So.  Now we know where Jane comes from, how she spent her adolescence, and where she's going, along with the knowledge that a mysterious uncle may resurface later in the novel.

What did you think of the first ten chapters?  Jack Murnighan, author of Beowulf on the Beach, claims these chapters are the weakest, which is good, since I didn't think they were all that bad.  Do you like Jane so far?  She really won me over when she yelled at Mrs. Reed, and she seems to be a pretty reliable narrator.  Do you like where the story is going, or are you bored?  Do you think Jane can find happiness as a governess, or will she eventually set her sights on something more grand?

Tell me what you think!  And if you've written a post about this read-along and would like to share your thoughts there, please comment with a link to your post and I'll be sure to check it out.

Next week we'll discuss chapters 11-20.


  1. So far, I am enjoying the book. I read it in highschool, but I am learning many new things about Jane's character. Which, I guess, means a person should not judge another person's character upon first encounter. Thanks for hosting the read along.

  2. I just finished chapter 10. I enjoyed your summary of the first 10 chapters and am glad to hear that this first section is the slowest moving. As always with older literature, it took me a bit to adjust to the writing style. I'm becoming intrigued though. This is my first time reading Jane Eyre. Thanks for hosting...may post about it on my blog and will share the link here when I do.

  3. This is my second time reading Jane Eyre, and knowing how things end up for her I think made me enjoy the first 10 chapters more than I did the first time around. When I re-read books I'm always a little worried that I won't like it as much as the first time, so you can imagine my relief at realizing I'm actually enjoying it more! And yes, I agree that it picks up from here.

    The two scenes that stood out most to me in the first 10 chapters were Jane standing up to Mrs. Reed and Helen's death. Mrs Reed totally had it coming (great nickname for her!) and I love when Jane throws caution to the wind and passionately tells it how it is. And Helen, who was based on Charlotte's sister Maria (thanks Oxford World's Classics and your Explanatory Notes!), her death made me tear up - again. Plus, can you imagine waking up next to the dead body of your best and only friend? *shudder*

    Looking forward to the next 10 chapters!

  4. Jade - That's a great lesson! And thanks for joining in!

    Jimi - This is my first time reading it as well. I agree that the writing style takes some getting used to. My favorite phrase, though, was when Jane "unclosed [her] eyes." That's something you won't read in any contemporary literature!

    Alita - I do the same thing when I re-read. I'm glad you're enjoying it the second time around!

    I had no idea Helen was based on Charlotte's sister; that gives her character a whole new dimension for me, and her death seems that much more sad. And yeah, waking up next to a dead body...gross. I would be scarred for life.

  5. I thought I had read this a long time ago, but none of it is familiar. I didn't find it all that slow so far. I finished the 1st 10 chapters pretty quickly and then set it aside so that I wouldn't get too far ahead.

    Language is a bit of an issue, and I am glad that my copy "translates" some of the archaic and obscure words or phrases.

    I loved it when Jane told The Bitch off. And I thought it was great when Lowood was reformed and turned into a better school. Sometimes it takes a tragedy for things to become better.

    It seems like Jane traded The Bitch for Brocklehurst as far as nasty abusive people go. Fortunately Brocklehurst wasn't a daily presence at the school, or things would have gone worse for Jane, as he was ready to believe the worst of her. I think he had no care for the best interests of the children, but only for enriching himself, and the means to do that came from funds designated for the care of the girls. Today that night be called embezzlement.

    I think that no one noticed the new girl because they were all so miserable themselves. They were all from unfortunate backgrounds and were underfed and inadequately clothed so as to be uncomfortable all the time. The staff looked for the slightest inadequacies in their performances, and each one was trying to survive the best she could. And it seems that in those days it wasn't acceptable for girls to be outgoing or active, so they were better off to turn inward.

    My copy of the book says that Lowood was taken from the school that the Bronte sisters attended for a short time, and that all four returned home when the two older sisters got consumption and died.

    Miss Temple truly did care for the girls and Jane adored her. Things were horrible there only for the first year Jane was there, and had Miss Temple not married and left Jane might have stayed on.

    How clever of her to keep her activities related to seeking a new position secret. It sounds just like employees of corporate America, who go to great lengths to keep a job search secret because they are afraid they will be fired if their current employer finds out too soon. And I couldn't believe the hoops Jane had to go through to take her new position - all the way to getting permission from Mrs. Reed! What a crock!

    I'm ready to see what the next phase holds in store for Jane.

  6. Amy- thanks for hosting this read-along! You've inspired me to pick up a book that I've always thought I should read.

    I've blogged some (very brief) thoughts on the first ten chapters.

  7. Well obviously my version isn't as good because I have no foot- or end-notes that tell me more about Charlotte's life and how those events translated into the story. Next time I'll know to get a better edition!

    Mandy - I've been feeling the same way: like this is a book I should have read but never did. I'm so glad you joined!