By convention, artwork – both in the illustrative and written medium – serves as a literal representation of an idea. Brush strokes paint vivid colors in hopes of capturing an iconic moment, and words are deliberately structured to tell a moving story. At its core, any form of art fulfills the capacity to capture life; yet it is the hope of true artwork to not only represent, but rather provide meaning. Artwork, and in particular ekphrastic descriptions of that artwork, serve as a recurring theme placed at the forefront of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
The novel uses Jane’s myriad occurrences with various forms of artwork to provide insight into the understanding of the semantics of emotional expression, and rather than project art through its exuberance, presents it as a form of ‘escape’ for Jane. In particular, Jane Eyre’s fascinations with paintings throughout the novel seek to frame art as a meditation on Jane’s internal reflection of her external experiences.
Reflection – a form of escape itself from the present – through the canvas of artwork is used as a means to a physical, intellectual and emotional escape’ for Jane throughout the novel, and thus allows for art to not only capture moments of life, but rather provide context and understanding to them. To begin to understand the ways in which the novel uses art to provide a deeper understanding of Jane’s experiences, it would be of utmost importance to examine references of Jane’s own artwork, and observe the reflections Jane and other characters make on them.
The earliest consideration of her own artwork comes after Jane has planned to leave her position at Lowood, and in an exclamation to Bessie on her “painting over the himney place,” (Bronte 85) Jane reflects to the reader that, “It was a landscape in water colors, of which I had made a present to the superintendent, in acknowledgement of her obliging mediation with the committee on my behalf, and which she had framed and glazed. ” (Bronte 85) This small aside in their conversation, serves to impose the notion that Jane is no longer a young girl, but rather a woman who is ready to assume the duties of a governess.
Furthermore, the novel introduces the concept of how art was used as a contemporary measure of apability, with Bessie responding to Jane is astonishment that, “It is as fine a picture as any Miss Reed’s drawing-master could paint, let alone the young ladies themselves.. ” (Bronte 85). Not only does this show Jane’s personal talents with artwork, but placed in context of the constant suppression of gratification Jane experiences till that point, her artwork begins to serve as a symbol of her capability to transcend the expectations assumed of her.
Thus, the artwork presented serves not only as a representation of Jane’s success, and eventual ‘escape’ from the onfines of both Gateshead and Lowood, but rather more importantly a measure in which Jane can both, express herself, and be recognized as an equivalent to the aristocracy which undeniably shun her. This concept of artwork in the novel as an opportunity for Jane to ‘escape’ and reflect on her experiences and emotions is further developed from a physical to an intellectual escape.
The novel makes it exceedingly clear the importance of stories to Jane, and in the introduction, she is found reading Bewick’s, ‘History of British Birds’. The narrator (older Jane) pays particular ttention to the pictures in the book, and reflects that, “each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet very profoundly interesting: as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated … ” (Bronte 11).
The reflection that even though the pictures were, “mysterious to my undeveloped understanding . (Bronte 11), shows Jane’s awareness of the importance exposure to these artworks played in shaping her future emotional understanding. By comparing the artwork in the book to Bessie’s stories, Jane affirms her regard to both forms of edia as methods for her intellectual exploration. This notion of art as cerebral introspection, is further reinforced in Jane and Mr. Rochester’s preliminary conversation regarding Jane’s portfolio, in which Rochester asks, “where did you get your copies? ” (Bronte 114), to which Jane responds, “Out of my head” (Bronte 114).
Though the narrator asserts that the paintings are, “nothing wonderful” (Bronte 115), she proceeds to ekphrastically describe each of the three paintings in extraordinary detail and claims that they, “had risen vividly on [her] mind” (Bronte 115). Jane’s reflections on these paintings not only show the radiance of her own imagination in creating such works of art, but further serves to exemplify her belief in art as a tool to not merely represent but provide meaning to both her life and her thoughts.
Mr. Rochester confirms this understanding by commenting that, “I daresay you did exist in a kind of artist’s dreamland . ” (Bronte 116), and further delves into the thematic understanding of the artwork, and reports to Jane that, “you have secured the shadow of your thoughts” (Bronte 116). This deliberately ambiguous word choice y Bronte, allows for introspection on the complexity of Jane’s artwork and how she uses the canvas as a form of expression.
These discussions with Mr. Rochester help associate Jane’s artistic expression to intellectual understanding, strengthens their relationship, and provides Jane with future opportunity to draw emotional awareness from her art. When considering the final development of artwork from intellectual expression to emotional understanding in Jane Eyre, the concept of love must concurrently be introduced. The intersection between Jane’s fondness for Mr. Rochester and her ecessity to represent her emotions through art occurs during Jane’s visit to Gateshead prior to the death of Mrs. Reed.
Here she paints a, “very faithful representation of Mr. Rochester” (Bronte 210), and clarifies, “what was that to her, or to any one but myself” (Bronte 210). Through language that implies ownership, Bronte is able to show Jane’s portrait of Mr. Rochester through a lens of emotional awareness, using art to bridge the divide between two distinct members of society – master and servant. The use of the word “faithful,” is of exceptional importance in understanding Bronte’s continued hetoric of art as representing emotional understanding.
It is directly related to a previous sketch Jane had made of herself in comparison to Blanche Ingram, in which she instructs herself to, “draw in chalk your own picture, faithfully; without softening one defect … write under it, ‘Portrait of a Governess’ disconnected, poor and plain” (Bronte 146). Though in the moment, Jane continues to draw Blanche as, “an accomplished lady of rank” (Bronte 146), and conditionally distances her representation of herself from both Blanche and Rochester, she begins to understand through her art that in fact her nderstanding of herself is closest to that of her understanding of Mr.
Rochester. ‘Faith’ in the honest representation of both herself and Mr. Rochester, allows Jane to emotionally connect with her lover and allows her to use art as an escape from the confines of the conventions of a society that seek to suppress her emotion. Art, throughout Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, play a key role for the development of Jane’s character and understanding of her own ideals. Serving as an extended metaphor for ‘escape’ – in the physical, intellectual and emotional sense – art allows Jane o constantly question the concords of her world.
Although, paintings and physical representations of art are at the forefront of this symbolic ‘escape,’ it can be argued that art is merely a purposeful means of reflection. The novel, itself a form of art, offers the narrator’s (Jane) reflections on the complexities of her life. Bronte uses this reflective nature of art to construct a novel that is consciously aware of the role art plays in understanding life. Through Jane’s artwork, both the character and the reader are allowed to reflect on the immaculate power introspection can have in reshaping convention.