Tuesday, 16 Jul 2024

Light and Dark: Unveiling Emotion and Atmosphere in Jane Eyre

mfa after dark

The Romance MFA project offers more than just a collection of romantic stories. It’s a platform that helps aspiring writers improve their craft. In this post, we dive into the world of Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre. What can we learn from the remarkable way Bronte uses setting to create an atmosphere in this classic novel? Let’s find out.

The Surprising Gothic Romance

When I first started reading Jane Eyre, I was captivated by its dark and Gothic nature. It took me by surprise, even though I knew about the mysteries in the attic. Somehow, I had never realized that Jane Eyre was a Gothic romance. However, this realization made me pay closer attention to the intricate details that contributed to the overall Gothic atmosphere of the story.

The Chilling Weather

Jane Eyre’s narrative begins with her childhood, on a rainy November day when she seeks refuge from her cousins in the library, losing herself in a book. Instead of focusing on the warmth of the window seat where Jane finds solace, Bronte’s descriptions emphasize the cold weather outside.

“Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.”

Not only is her external world cold, but the internal world she escapes into through her reading is even colder. Jane starts fantasizing about Arctic regions:

“Nor could I pass unnoticed the suggestion of the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with ‘the vast sweep of the Arctic Zone, and those forlorn regions of dreary space,—that reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights above heights, surround the pole, and concentre the multiplied rigours of extreme cold.'”

This deliberate setting establishes a lack of emotional warmth in Jane’s life, which sets the stage for the unfolding story. Bronte continues to set the mood by placing much of the action in dark rooms or under the moonlight.

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Overwhelming Darkness

Jane experiences instances of being left in the dark by her aunt Reed, arriving at various destinations after dark, and meeting Rochester under the moonlight on the road. The accumulated effect of these settings suggests that something out of the ordinary is bound to happen. Even without knowing the fate of the wedding, one can sense that all this build-up would not lead to a normal June ceremony. As I read, I found myself making a note:

“Now that their June wedding has been ruined, I’m placing my bet on a winter wedding, probably a rainy day in November. As they exchange vows, the rain will cease and moonlight will illuminate Rochester’s ugly yet beloved face.”

Following the disastrous non-wedding, Jane escapes Thornfield in the darkness of the night, arrives at the Rivers’ home under the cover of darkness, and hears Rochester’s cry in the dead of night. Even upon their reunion, Rochester resides in darkness. Darkness seems to envelop every turn of the plot.

…and the Light Shines Through

In the midst of all the darkness, the contrast becomes apparent when Jane and Rochester see each other as sources of light.

Jane, speaking of Rochester’s smile:

“He seemed to think it too good for common purposes: it was the real sunshine of feeling—he shed it over me now.”

And when she believes Rochester will marry Blanche:

“I half ventured to hope that he would, even after his marriage, keep us [Adele and Jane] together somewhere under the shelter of his protection, and not quite exiled from the sunshine of his presence.”

Rochester, after their reunion, expresses:

“All the melody on earth is concentrated in my Jane’s tongue to my ear (I am glad it is not naturally a silent one): all the sunshine I can feel is in her presence.”

In Each Other’s Presence, They Find Sunshine

In a world shrouded in darkness and moonlight, Jane and Rochester find solace and light in each other’s company. Their connection serves as a bright spot amidst the shadows. While I don’t intend to write Gothic romance, Bronte’s masterful use of contrasting atmospheres and moods in Jane Eyre inspires me to focus on setting the scenes in my own writing to deepen the emotions of my characters.

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Header image from Pixabay.