Biblical, mythological and literary references

In the section Jane Eyre synopses, the novel's many allusions to
other texts are identified and commented on. They are also referred to in the
sections on Themes and significant ideas and Characterisation. In many cases, the texts are
referred to only once or twice and the explanations given in Synopses and
commentaries are sufficient; but more needs to be said about four groups of

The significance of the Bible

Open BIble, photo by David Ball, available through Creative CommonsThe text most frequently referred to or quoted from is the Bible

  • Given Charlotte Brontë's background as a clergyman's daughter, the frequency of biblical allusion is hardly surprising
  • It is also realistic in terms of Jane's upbringing and education: she tells Brocklehurst that the Bible is her favourite reading and expresses a clear preference for the narrative, heroic and prophetic sections of the Old Testament, as opposed to the Psalms or the message of peace and love in the New Testament
  • These allusions are distributed throughout the text of the novel and this is not uncommon in English writing at this time (and indeed for a long time afterwards), since the words of the Bible had become part of the texture of the English language
  • There are, however, clusters of allusions in particular episodes or sections of the book: whenever Mr Brocklehurst appears, in the early scenes set at Lowood School, and in the scenes including St John Rivers
  • St John's biblical references are overwhelmingly to the New Testament and often to the writings of Paul, the most influential Christian missionary in the New Testament, thus emphasising his own missionary vocation
  • In the later part of the novel, especially after the truth about his wife is known, Rochester makes many allusions to such Christian concepts as sin, penance, retribution and repentance.

Milton's Paradise Lost

Paradise lost coverAfter the Bible, the text most frequently referred is Paradise Lost,the great epic poem by John Milton based on the account of God's creation of the world and the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis:

  • There are, for instance, references in Chapter 13 (Volume 1, Chapter 13) in relation to Jane's paintings
  • A further group of Milton references can be found in the next chapter (Chapter 14, Volume 1, Chapter 14) in the conversation between Jane and Rochester. Two points are important here:
    • It is clear from Rochester's allusions that he regards himself as a great sinner who has been expelled from both Heaven and earthly happiness: he thus identifies with Milton's character Satan, who is both the most wicked character in the poem and, in many respects, the most complex and fascinating
    • Jane and Rochester are able to refer to the poem with equal ease: they both know the text well and can respond to each other's quotations and allusions.

Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress

In the section Narrative: A learning novel or a pilgrimage novel? There is a discussion of the novel's similarities to Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.

Fairy tale elements

There are some elements of fairy tale in the story:

  • It could be seen as a version of the Cinderella story in which the beautiful heroine is disregarded and treated as a servant by her ugly stepsisters but eventually wins the love of a handsome and rich prince:
    • As this summary suggests, Charlotte Brontë has written an inverted version of the story in which it is the plain young woman who is favoured above the conventionally beautiful and loved by a rugged and complex version of the prince
  • Rochester also has some features of Bluebeard whose story is told in the Arabian Nights. Bluebeard's new bride is forbidden to enter a number of locked rooms in his castle, but when she disobeys him she finds that they contain the murdered bodies of his previous wives:
  • The novel can also be seen in terms of a medieval romance (the Angria and Gondal stories were romances)
    • Jane is like a ‘fair unknown' who must undergo challenges to her identity until she can come into her inheritance
    • The same kind of pattern can be seen in Oliver Twist and could be paralleled with tales from King Arthur.
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