The function of landscape or the environment in Jane Eyre.

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Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

The function of landscape or the environment in Jane Eyre.


We must first distinguish between the above options. 'Landscape' seems more restrictive to terms of geography than 'environment', which, as the focus of this essay, I am interpreting as referring to physical surroundings and their effect in creating intangible environmental aspects of the social, spiritual, and atmospheric. Ostensibly this could include certain elements of landscape, and I will be discussing some brief relevant descriptions in the context of environment as a more holistic concept.

So to what purpose does Brontë put her description of environment in Jane Eyre? According to Delia da Sousa Correa, we are made aware from the offset of the novel of the 'intense relationship… between the description of external conditions and the portrayal of individual thoughts and feelings' which 'establishes Jane's consciousness at the centre of the narrative'. How each 'external description conveys Jane's…feelings' and also how they foreshadow later events and settings.

Brontë's use of imagery and symbolism in her description of environment is integral to the novel. She uses the setting to further the reader's appreciation of Jane's inner feelings, physically expressing, complimenting, and intensifying her emotions. The autobiographical first person narrative style of Jane speaking directly to the reader means that all descriptions are from Jane's perspective, and her emotional state influences the language she employs and her use of metaphor and simile. We must remember that she is actually recounting events from ten years hence; her time at Gateshead and Lowood are an adult's recollection of events.

The chronological attribute of 'Bildungsroman' novelistic style as employed by Brontë, allows Jane's personal and emotional development to be regarded in conjunction with her surroundings at five key stages in the novel: Gateshead Hall, Lowood School, Thornfield, Moor House and Ferndean. These five key settings represent different stages in Jane's development: as a child, girlhood, adolescence, maturity and fulfilment. Different environments at progressive stages in the novel are contrasted or offered as alternatives to prior settings, her escape or flight from one place to another is analogous to her search for identity, for somewhere she can feel and be herself. Each environment places Jane as an 'outsider'. They all show a commonality and a progression: she is trapped in one way or another all the way through the novel until her release at the end.

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Jane Eyre was written and set at a time when women's position in society was a subservient one. It was not acceptable for a middle-class woman to earn her own living; she was expected to marry. Governess was therefore an awkward position to hold, as she was considered neither a servant (because of her class), nor a proper young lady. Jane is an advocate for her sex, growing up in a society that doesn't value her skills. The different environments in turn imprison and constrict her, but eventually enable her to grow and endure. There is a real feeling of ...

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