Development of the narrative

Differing time perspectives

The narrative of Jane Eyre develops in a number of ways:

  • There can be a detailed narration of particular scenes and conversations; these may sometime occupy the whole of a quite lengthy chapter
  • Sometimes the narrative will move quickly through longer periods of time, such as:
    • when Jane is ill in the early chapters of the book
    • the month leading up to her wedding
    • when she is with the Rivers family and teaching at the village school
  • Sometimes, both techniques will be employed simultaneously. For example, Jane's conversations with Rochester, only one or two of which are recounted at length, must be taken as representative of the development of their relationship. The same is true of her relationship with St John Rivers later in the book
  • On only two occasions is there a lengthy break in the action:
    The first is between Chapters 9 and 10 (Volume 1, Chapters 9 and 10) when the eight years that Jane spends at Lowood School are passed over very quickly, to be followed by the short, intense scene in which she decides it is time to move on. (See Critical approaches to Jane Eyre: Analysing a passage).
    The second is the briefly mentioned gap of 10 years in chapter 38 after James' marriage to Rochester.

Other voices

On a few occasions in the story the narrative is briefly passed to another narrator:

  • When she is dying, Mrs Reed fills in some of Jane's early story in Chapter 21 (Volume 2, Chapter 6)
  • Rochester recounts the story of his marriage to Bertha Mason in Chapter 27, (Volume 3, Chapter 1)
  • St John Rivers is able to tell Jane more of her family's story in Chapter 33, (Volume 3, Chapter 7).

On all these occasions, however, Jane remains in firm control of the narrative and the reader is asked to accept the fictional convention that she has total and accurate recall of what the other characters have said.

These different means of narration:

  • Vary the pace of the story
  • Add to the novel's sense of reality in that most lives move at an even pace, punctuated by episodes of more excitement and significance
  • In the sections largely narrated by other people, there is a variation in the voice of the narrative.

The hidden future

It is worth noting that there is one thing that the narrative of Jane Eyre very rarely does:

  • Although the story is told retrospectively, future events are hardly ever anticipated
  • Since she has already lived through all the events of the novel, Jane knows very well what will happen next, but although she will sometimes point out that something represents an especially important moment in her life, she rarely offers hints about what is to come of the ‘little did I know' variety
  • Narratives which make frequent use of such hints – for instance Charles Dickens' Great Expectations – often use them to maintain tension and narrative interest, but Jane Eyre illustrates that their absence may have a very similar effect.

Signifiers of coming events

Future events can be suggested other than by direct hints, in events or images that only take on their full significance in retrospect:

  • Fire appears in the novel:
    • in the form of the attempted burning of Rochester's bed in Chapter 15, Volume 1 Chapter 15)
    • the reciting of the ladybird rhyme in Chapter 23 (Volume 2, Chapter 8)
    • These anticipate the fire at Thornfield in which Bertha dies and Rochester is injured
  • The destruction of the chestnut tree in a storm on the night after Jane accepts Rochester's proposal, is an omen that their relationship will be destroyed (Chapter 23, Volume 2, Chapter 8)
  • The charades described during the house party concern marriage, wooing in a strange land and crime and imprisonment. These can be seen to anticipate the fact that Rochester's plan to marry Jane is a criminal act.
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