[All page and chapter references are to the Penguin Classic edition of the novel which contains an introduction and notes by Michael Mason.]
I: The Bible, the Prayer Book and Jane Eyre
hen the novel "Jane Eyre" opens it is with the line "there was no possibility of taking a walk that day...the cold winter had brought with it clouds so sombre..." (13) We know it is winter. Why did Charlotte Brontë chose to tell the reader the actual month, and why did she choose November? That the day chosen was in November is the starting point of this article. The intention is to show that every date mentioned in Jane Eyre has a significance far beyond the mere chronological charting of time lapses. It allows Brontë to hide within the narrative both a deep religious knowledge and strong Christian principles. In turn, this enables the weaving of an intricate web of ethics and morals passed onto countless generations of English children by such as her father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë. The effect is achieved in this novel, by constant, but unstated referral to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It is the book that governed England from 1662 until at least the middle of the nineteenth century.
The "drear November day" does not have a specific date attached in Jane Eyre. If we look in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer we shall see that November 1st is set aside as All Saints Day. The Prayer Book has "Lessons" taken from the Holy Bible to be read on that particular day. They are taken from the Apocrypha (itself a Greek word meaning "hidden") Wisdom chapter III to v10 and Wisdom chapter V to v17. The first Lesson commences, "But the souls of the first are in God"s hand, and torment shall not touch them...". The second Lesson begins, "Then the just man shall make his stand full of assurance, to confront those who oppressed him...". Readers of Jane Eyre will realise that these two passages, when read in full, contain the total sum of Jane Eyre"s experiences in the Brontë novel. The dates do not have a significance outside the novel and at first glance seem to be of little importance within the novel. Indeed, so off-hand are the mention of the dates, a reader would easily be excused for missing the emphasis and therefore the reason for naming the actual day of the event reported.
However, these dates, as communicated by Brontë, are linked to an integral part of her daily life at Haworth Vicarage. The dates in the form presented to the reader in Jane Eyre are so vital to the novel that, when interpreted, a whole new perspective is opened up to the audience. The novel moves on from a Gothic melodrama, to a work of deep religious conviction. The author metamorphoses from an isolated, naive clerics daughter with a penchant for fantasy worlds, to a passionate campaigner determined to break free from the restrictions imposed upon an intelligent, articulate mid-Victorian female without wealth or influence. It is a record of the authors existence. In this article, the motives are exposed by examining the significance of these dates alongside other devices used within the novel. Through this, the novel will be seen as nothing less than the story of a pilgrimage, a journey through life by a young Christian woman. During the course of her pilgrimage, she will be exposed to hypocrisy, deceit and spiteful condescension. Jane will be offered both an unchristian marriage, and than a loveless marriage. Only her belief in God"s teachings will save her from both.
Other Portions of This Essay
- The Book of Common Prayer and Jane Eyre
- Specific dates: the link between Jane Eyre, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Bible
- Indicated Dates in Jane Eyre: the Link between the Novel, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Bible
- The Biblical characters and the Book of Homilies in Jane Eyre
- Conclusion: Why did Jane Eyre choose Saul of Tarsus rather than St. John the Divine?
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Penguin, 1996.
The actual full title of the novel's manuscript was Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, edited by Currer Bell. The gender of the author was deliberately left ambivalent. The reason may become apparent during the reading of this article.
Last modified 19 January 1999