Gothic fiction combines both romance and horror. It is generally thought that the English author Horace Walpole created the genre, in 1764 (with the book ‘The castle of Otranto’). The genre contains many aspects, including detailed description, extreme emotional and passionate characters, dark themes, gothic architecture – castles, mansions -, and even supernatural. But, in all novels, the main focus is atmosphere.
In the opening of Jane Eyre, the gothic genre is established by using depressed, sensitive and passionate characters. An obvious example of one of these characters is Jane Eyre. Jane is one of the most passionate characters throughout the whole novel, but this is also shown in the beginning when she is punished for a crime she had not committed, and was locked in the Red Room. She describes herself as being ‘oppressed, suffocated’ and everything looking ‘colder and darker’. Her reaction is extreme and, because she is so sensitive her terror makes her physically ill, as well as affecting her emotionally. The quotes also show that Jane is easily controlled by her emotions and has a strong imagination. The same feature is shown later on in the novel when Jane finds out that Mr Rochester already has a wife. There, she ‘left’ and gets lost on the Yorkshire moors. This is another extreme reaction, which shows how passionate the characters are.
Description, also used in gothic fiction, plays an important role in the opening of the book. Charlotte Bronte describes a variety of things from the landscape to the characters. In the opening, the focus is on Jane Eyre’s family and how she lives. John Reed is described as ‘large and stout’, meaning he is fat. Then it goes on to explain that he has ‘dingy and unwholesome skin’ and ‘flabby cheeks’. This shows the detail with which the characters are described as. Another good example would be Mr. Brocklehurst; Jane looks up and seems to see ‘a black pillar’.
This is a very strong description and puts a distinct image in your head; dressed completely in black, therefore intimidating. Furthermore, the pillar ends with a face which looks ‘like a carved mask’. This also is clear, telling you a lot about the character straight away; unemotional and unreal: carved masks don’t change; his face doesn’t look real. Description like this is used all through the novel: Lowood Institution, Thornfield Hall and Mr. Rochester himself. The stairs and gallery of Thornfield had ‘a very chill and vault-like air’, suggesting that Thornfield isn’t in use much; maybe even has a ghost-like feeling.
The supernatural is encased in most of the novel, standing out most in the red room, and later in the novel, Thornfield Hall; when the ‘mad wife’ makes appearances. In the opening, when Jane is locked in the avoided red room, she constantly feels as if there is something un-natural around her, telling us that it ‘was chill’, ‘silence’ and ‘lonely’. Her mind was prepared for horror, so she keeps thinking about the ghost of Mr Reed, or the possibility of a ‘preternatural voice’.
Eventually, after being constantly terrified, she sees a beam of light across the wall. So, having continuously thought about the supernatural, Jane passes out with fright. Further on, at Thornfield Hall, there are a couple of incidents which hint at having a supernatural cause; Mr Rochester’s bed suddenly on fire and when Jane wakes up and someone or something is holding a candle to her face, hence not seeing who or what it was. Although it is revealed eventually that there is a ‘mad woman’ living at Thornfield. In the book, these moments result in change of atmosphere by use of tone. The tone of which, for example, is used in the red room, the result of which is the reader tends to read quicker, as tension seems to rise. Of course, in ‘Jane Eyre’ there isn’t actually any supernatural goings on, but in any other gothic novel it is usually included.
Pathetic fallacy is an effective way of providing readers with an idea of how a certain character is feeling. It is included many times in this book, like at the beginning where Jane is about to read her book and notices the weather saying the window was ‘protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day’. This is a perfect example, especially when it continues; telling us there was ‘a pale blank of mist and cloud’ with ‘ceaseless rain’, explaining that she is feeling dull, unemotional or even confused. In this case, pathetic fallacy is very effective, at first actually telling us the weather reflects how she feels, and then carrying on technically describing the weather, but also giving us more detail to her thoughts and feelings. Later in the novel, this is also used to effect when Jane leaves Thornfield, after finding Edward Rochester has another wife. She is leaving, when she explains that she cannot relate to the ‘rising sun, nor smiling sky’. This is also effective because unlike the last example, Jane feelings are opposite to the weather, not alike.
Gothic architecture, originating in 12th-century France and lasting into the 16th century, characteristically included features like the pointed arch, the ribbed vault and the flying buttress. It was used all over Europe, appearing in many of the great cathedrals and abbeys. Gothic architecture is most familiar in Jane Eyre. Nearly every one of the buildings she enters seem to have a gothic build. Gateshead was described as having ‘large windows’, probably resembling today’s Westminster Abbey, which also is gothic architecture. After, there are several quotes which tell of gothic architecture; ‘immense room’ and ‘chandelier’ of an inn that the coach taking Jane to Lowood school stopped at and ‘high doors all round’ and other doors that ‘looked as if they belonged to a church’ at Thornfield Hall.
Terror and horror are almost essential parts of a gothic novel. They tie in with supernatural, so of course one example would be Jane’s experiences of the red room. The description of the room itself and Jane’s thoughts and feelings give the reader the sense of terror and horror expected. The tone used instinctively changes the pace to quicker, as if something is about to happen. This feeling is given right after we’re told of the room’s secret as such. From then on, terror is created using various things, like short sentences and phrases and even description. Mirrors are used almost as if to reflect Jane’s emotions; ‘broken reflections’ and ‘great looking glass’ in which ‘all looked colder and darker’. This shows she feels lonely, and now more than ever realises it, being in the room where the only person who’s cared about her had died. Short sentences like ‘I returned to my stool.’ And ‘My heart beat thick, my head grew got’ give a weak dramatic effects, and therefore again speeds up the pace of reading. Overall, red was probably chosen specifically, it being a strong and empowering colour.
Although maybe not in all novels, this one contains many moments of injustice. They are mainly in the opening; however some are later in her life, like when she tells Mr Rochester that were she beautiful and wealthy, he wouldn’t have thought twice about marrying someone like her. This isn’t actually a specific incident, but there are many in her childhood, mainly created by Mrs Reed and John Reed. John Reed ‘bullied and punished’ Jane, because the rest of the family distanced themselves from her, and told her she ought to be grateful for Mrs Reed letting her live with them. Because of this point of mind, Mrs Reed accuses Jane of being deceitful; ‘guard against her worst fault, a tendency to deceit’, showing to which lengths she over-exaggerates to. This is followed on at Lowood Academy, when Mr Brocklehurst visits the school, and makes Jane stand on a stool without food or drink all day.
In conclusion, the opening of Jane Eyre establishes the genre of the rest of the novel by using many, if not all of the features that a gothic novel usually contains. It uses parts like the red room and changes to different locations to exaggerate some of the aspects.