Jane Eyre – Class Discussion
This past Monday, I had the opportunity to lead a discussion in our British Novel course about the Gothic elements found in Charlotte Brontë’s
novel, Jane Eyre. With endless ways to approach this topic, I found it best to focus on one element: the Bluebeard reference. It occurs when Jane is ending her tour of Thornfield Hall: “Mrs Fairfax stayed behind a moment to fasten the trap-door; I, by dint of groping, found the outlet from the attic, and proceeded to descend the narrow garret staircase. I lingered in the long passage to which this led, separating the front and back rooms of the third storey: narrow, low, and dim, with only one little window at the far end, and looking, with its two rows of small black doors all shut, like a corridor in some Bluebeard’s castle” (101). While it may seem an inconsequential allusion, critics such as Heta Pyrhӧnen argue that its importance is often overlooked, and in her work, Bluebeard Gothic: Jane Eyre and Its Progeny, she argues that Brontë’s novel is an example of a Bluebeard Gothic. By finding textual evidence to support this claim, and forming discussion questions based on the conventions of a Bluebeard Gothic, I was able to deliver a focused analysis regarding the Gothic elements found in Jane Eyre.
I began by reacquainting my peers with the definition and common characteristics of a Gothic novel: Encyclopædia Britannica was my source for the definition, and Robert Salt’s site, Virtual Salt, was my source for identifying the common characteristics. I then read to the class the Bluebeard reference in Jane Eyre. One of Dr. Nesvet’s previous lectures included an explanation of the Bluebeard fairytale. I reiterated the main points before launching into a definition of a Bluebeard Gothic. Anne Williams (cited in Pyrhӧnen’s work) defines a “Bluebeard” as a condensed
version of all the “central generic conventions of a Gothic”: a vulnerable and curious heroine; a wealthy, enigmatic and usually older man; a mysterious house concealing the violent and implicitly sexual secrets of the man; and a Gothic house that always reflects the male owner
(6). For each element, I found textual evidence to support the idea that Jane Eyre is a Bluebeard Gothic. Also, after I provided my evidence, I posed discussion questions that requested my peers to offer other examples from the text; their answers ultimately supported each element Williams described. I ended my presentation with a final question: if Bertha’s brother had not shown up, do you think Rochester would have told Jane his secret, or would she have “unlocked” the secret on her own? After finishing up our discussion, I felt confident that I had adequately demonstrated how to find Gothic elements, specifically Bluebeard Gothic elements, in Jane Eyre.
Upon reflection, there are a few things I would do differently if I were to give the same presentation again. To start with, I would have included graphics: pictures of Jane and Rochester, Thornfield Hall, and even an illustration of how the Gothic house represents the male owner. I enjoy seeing pictures, or videos, that cement the concepts being covered in class, and so I regret not including them in my presentation. Next, I would have created a worksheet with the main points from my PowerPoint presentation so that my peers could have had all of the information at their fingertips. Lastly, I would have allowed for my classmates to link up with others – to “Think, Pair, Share” – and discuss the questions asked of them. Typically, when our professor gives us the opportunity to discuss things before answering, not only do people have more to say, but often the best ideas are put forth.
Leading a class discussion is a great opportunity (especially for someone like me who plans on becoming an educator) to explore different ideas that interest the discussion leader, and hopefully, the rest of the class. Even though there are things I would do differently, I still feel as though my presentation was an overall success.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Thomas Crwford. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2002. Print.
Pyrhӧnen, Heta. Bluebeard Gothic: Jane Eyre and Its Progeny. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. Print.