Fire and light

Physical and emotional warmth

Jane Eyre often gives the impression of being a very cold novel:

  • The opening scene takes place on a cold winter's day and although Mrs Reed and her children are clustered round the fire, Jane herself is excluded from this family scene
  • Lowood School is also very cold and the small fire is dominated by the bigger girls.

These examples occur in sections of the novel when Jane is unhappy and feels neglected and unloved, so the coldness is relevant to her emotional state.

FireplaceBy contrast there are descriptions of welcoming fires which are associated with friendliness, warmth and security:

  • When Jane and Helen Burns have tea with Miss Temple, they enjoy the warmth of her fire
  • There is also a warm fire in Mrs Fairfax's room when Jane first arrives at Thornfield
  • Jane is attracted by the fire when she looks through the window at Moor House, having been led there by its distant light across the moors
  • Overall, there is a strong sense of the comforts of being inside and the sense of exclusion and despair of being left outside: this is another theme that Jane Eyre has in common with Wuthering Heights.

Passion and danger

Fire, however, is also seen as very dangerous and is associated with some of the most disturbing and terrifying incidents in the book: all of them, ultimately, can be traced back to Rochester's wife, Bertha:

  • Bertha makes an attempt to kill Rochester by setting fire to his bed (Chapter 15, Volume 1, Chapter 15)
  • In Chapter 19 (Volume 2, Chapter 4), the fortune-teller scene between Jane and Rochester takes place by firelight – this scene anticipates both Jane's awareness of Rochester's feelings for her and the moral danger into which he is leading her
  • The lightning strike on the horse-chestnut shows fire being used as a warning: Rochester has just proposed to Jane but he is not free to marry her (chapter 23, Volume 2, Chapter 8)
  • It is Bertha who causes the fire that both kills her and maims Rochester.

Finally, fire is used to indicate inner passion

  • This is particularly evident when Jane is describing Rochester and uses words like ‘fire', ‘kindling', ‘burning', ‘lurid' and ‘flame'.
  • In Chapter 25 (Volume 2, Chapter 10) tells Rochester about her dream of being visited by a strange woman
    • Re-read this passage and make notes on the ways in which images of fire and light are used to create a sense of Jane's experience
  • Look for other examples of the use of fire in the descriptions both of the characters' appearance and of their inner feelings.
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