Jane Eyre: Fairy Language and Women

Fairy language is constantly used throughout the novel Jane Eyre. Many of this language comes from the character of Rochester, that constantly compares and calls Jane magical creatures like witch, elf, sprite, fairy, and more. Jane is generally characterized with fairy-like characteristics as well, including being small statured and often compared to a bird. Besides Jane, the character of Bertha in the story is also characterized as a mythical creature, but she is instead mainly called a vampire and has a habit of being people and sucking their blood. Most of the characterization of humans as mythical creatures comes in the description of these two women. Besides this, Jane herself often focuses on, hears, and mentions mystical creatures. One of the instances that Jane brings up the subject is when she first sees Rochester arriving, and is frightened when remembering a tale Bessie had previously told her.

“….all sorts of fancies bright and dark filled my mind: the memories of nurses stores were there amongst other rubbish; and when they recurred, maturing youth added to them a vigor and vividness beyond what childhood could give. As this horse approached, I remembered certain of Bessie’s tales wherein figured a North-of-England spirit, called a “Gytrash”; which in the from of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travelers, as this horse was now coming upon me. “

Ironically, Rochester is the traveler in this situation and he is the one who has becomes “ambushed” by an unexpected creature on the road, his horse slipping on the ice and injuring his leg. This curious reversal of the roles in the situation puts Jane once again into the role of the fairy tale creature. This furthers the point that much of the representation of mythical creatures in the novel comes from women alone, despite Jane seeming unaware of her own “mystical” roles.

Notably, even the story that Jane recalls has been taught to her by the servant Bessie. While Bessie is not characterized in a mystical manner, she represents how women can wield a certain authority in the household through these “rubbish” old wives tale stories that Jane is recounting. Despite the fact that Jane puts down this tale as childish, it undoubtably left a mark on her well past childhood. The power of women’s oral tales went so far as to cause fear in the English politician and theorist John Locke, who claimed that children may be mislead by these tales and their imaginations could get out of control. In “Some Thoughts Concerning Education,” he comments “Always whilst he is Young, be sure to preserve his tender Mind from all Impressions and Notions of Spirits and Goblings, or any fearful Apprehensions in the dark. This he will be in danger of from the indiscretion of Servants, whose usual Method is to awe Children, and keep them in subjection…” Specifically, he is relating these stories to the lower class and therefore their values, and encouraging those of higher class to separate from these fairy tales. The connotation between lower class and fairy tales is also interesting in looking at the character of Jane, who is of course infatuated with them herself despite often putting them down as unreal and childish.

3 thoughts on “Jane Eyre: Fairy Language and Women”

  1. Cat, you make really good points here. Rosamond Oliver also falls into this fantastical categorization of women that you wrote about as she is described as this ethereal angelic creature all dressed in white when Jane meets her. It makes me wonder if Brontë gives these descriptions to characters who have the potential for some kind of romantic plot in the novel. Both Jane and Bertha have romantic threads that trace back to Rochester and Miss Oliver had the potential to complete a marriage plot with St. John, and while she doesn’t marry him, there is still talk of her marriage in the novel. Brontë may be making some kind of statement about love or women since all these characters seem to fall in this larger category.

  2. Good analysis! I was very interested in the connection between Rochester and his use of supernatural language. I think that the observation that he mainly uses the language of the supernatural or gothic in relation to either Jane or Bertha is an interesting one. Rochester fixation on using this language of the gothic in relation to these two women could have colonial implications. His interest in Jane, and his reversion of comparing her to supernatural creatures, could also be an indication of a fetishization with the unknown.

  3. This is a really interesting thread that you’ve picked out, and the power of oral narrative is really interesting in this novel, not only in fictional forms but in the history/ re-telling of Rochester’s youth and in St. John’s religious recitations. Art (with the notable exception of singing) seems gendered. Female stories are also part of a larger theme of women’s art– Jane and Rochester meet first over stories/imaginings of the mythical, and then later they bond more solidly over Jane’s fantastical art, which also emphasizes the role of Romantic nature in the lives of women.

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