Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre

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  • 0:00 The Two Faces of…
  • 0:58 Thornfield as a Gothic Icon
  • 3:20 Thornfield -…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

This lesson analyzes Thornfield Hall, the setting of Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre.' Read on to learn how Thornfield Hall represents both the conventions of the traditional Gothic tale and the changing conditions of the aristocracy in imperial England.

The Two Faces of Thornfield Hall

Charlotte Bronte's iconic 1847 novel Jane Eyre introduces readers to one of the most famous love stories of all time, that between the brooding aristocrat Edward Rochester and the humble governess Jane Eyre.

Thornfield Hall, the Gothic ancestral manor, is the setting of Jane and Rochester's romance. It bears impassive witness to the discovery of Rochester's 'mad' wife, Bertha Mason, locked in the attic. It sets the stage for Jane's decision to tear herself from the man she loves rather than condescending to become his mistress, and its ultimate destruction enables the couple's happy reunion.

This setting enables Bronte to play with all the classic conventions of Gothic romance, a genre popular during the early 19th century, while exploring important issues that are very much of the real world; from the struggles of the aristocracy in a rapidly modernizing world, to the tragedy of mental illness, to evolving perspectives on love, sex, and morality.

Thornfield as Gothic Icon

Thornfield Hall is the perfect setting for a Gothic romance, or a story driven by mystery, intrigue, drama, and supernatural elements. The ancestral home of the Rochester family for hundreds of years, the restless spirits of countless ghosts would seem certain to haunt its antique halls. Mysteries and menaces seem ever-ready to leap from hidden nooks and crannies, unfolding themselves before the thrilled and terrified eyes of unsuspecting mortals.

All of these, of course, are simply the tropes, or conventions, of Gothic writing in the era, and Bronte plays with these clichés to wonderful effect. Thornfield Hall is truly creepy, and the story Bronte tells is a page-turner, with all the romance, melodrama, thrills, and chills that a Victorian reader could want.

Bronte uses Gothic conventions, however, not only to win readers and tell a captivating story, but also to comment on the reality underlying this escapist fiction. Because the truth is that there is no ghost haunting Thornfield Hall, the terrors in the Rochester estate derive not from the other world, but from this one.

Here, first, is the tragedy of mental illness, of a sickness so severe it seems to rob Bertha Mason of her very humanity. And here also are unforgiving social and legal constraints which all too often transform homes into prisons, and the bonds of marriage into manacles.

Bertha Mason is locked in the attic, allowed to languish in her illness, because there simply is no other recourse for her. The mentally ill were locked away, either in homes or asylums, because Victorian society had created, as yet, no better alternatives. There were few therapeutic options in a culture in which mental illness was little understood and, not coincidentally, widely feared, detested, and denied.

In addition to the Gothic nightmare of Bertha Mason's suffering is the mockery her plight makes of the bonds of marriage between man and wife. In a culture in which the marriage contract was virtually insoluble, Rochester had few options but to remain with a woman who could not be his wife.

In this way, Bronte may be read as commenting both on religious doctrine and on the impositions of the law courts in regard to moral issues. Because Rochester has so few legal options, and even fewer options that the Church would sanction, he is driven to take a series of lovers in substitution for the marital relationship he is denied. When he falls in love with Jane, these legal and theological barriers push him to attempt an even more desperate act: bigamy.

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