Volume 1, Chapter 1

Synopsis of Volume 1, Chapter 1

The orphaned Jane Eyre has been taken by her kindly maternal uncle to live with him at Gateshead Hall, but when he later dies she is left in the care of her hostile aunt, Mrs Reed, and her three spoilt children, Eliza, John and Georgiana. Jane is constantly reminded of her dependent status and retreats into a world of reading and the imagination. After an angry confrontation with her bullying cousin John, she is ordered to be locked in a bedroom.

Commentary on Volume 1, Chapter 1

a more sociable and childlike disposition … happy little children Mrs Reed's comments contribute to the novel's representation of different attitudes towards childhood and what might be considered ‘natural' in children's behaviour. See Charlotte Brontë and childhood.

Thomas's Bewick's Barn OwlBewick's History of British Birds Thomas Bewick (1755-1828) was a celebrated wood-engraver. The two volumes of A History of British Birds were published in 1797 and 1804, and as well as the main illustrations of the birds, the volume contained a series of scenes, mostly illustrating rural life but sometimes, as described here, devoted to imaginary subjects. See Imagery, metaphor and symbolism: paintings and drawings.

Where the Northern Ocean … the stormy Hebrides A quotation from The Seasons by James Thomson (1700-48), published between 1726 and 1730, one of the most popular of English poems, and frequently reprinted, often with illustrations, into the nineteenth century. The lines quoted here are from ‘Autumn' (lines 862-5), the last to be published, in 1730.

Illustration from PamelaPamela A novel by Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), published in 1740-1. Told in the form of letters (an epistolary novel), it is the story of a young servant girl pursued by her employer. They are eventually married and the husband repents of his decadent former life. The novel enjoyed enormous success, particularly among the emerging middle-classes, and Richardson is regarded as one of the founders of the English tradition of realistic fiction.

Henry, Earl of Moreland The subtitle of A Fool of Quality (1766-70), a popular novel by Henry Brooke (1703-83) which tells the story of the growth and education of Henry, guided by his uncle (rather than his dissolute father). It is influenced by the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. See Charlotte Brontë and childhood and Educational context.

Goldsmith's History of Rome The Roman History (1769) by Oliver Goldsmith (?1730-84) was one of the best-known of many volumes on this subject published in the eighteenth-century. Readers were especially excited by accounts of the most tyrannical, brutal and dissolute emperors.

a picture of passion, i.e. anger Books about children's behaviour were popular in the eighteenth century and often contained illustrations of various kinds of suitable and unsuitable behaviour. Perhaps Bessie has one such illustration in mind when she makes this remark. See Charlotte Brontë and childhood

Investigating Volume 1, Chapter 1
  • In what ways do the illustrations from Bewick help us to understand Jane's personality and the nature of her imagination?
  • Consider how Jane is treated by the Reed family:
    • What does this tell us about her position at Gateshead Hall?
  • This chapter contains several references to the world outside the house
    • What do they tell us about Jane's relationship to the natural world?
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