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JANE EYRE AS A GOTHIC NOVEL
Jane Eyre comes in the tradition of the Gothic novel, which was inaugurated by Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. William Beckford's Vathek, Ann Radcliff's The Mysteries of Udolpho and Matthew Gregory Lewis' The Monk are examples of the Gothic novel in English. The principal object of such novels is the evocation of terror by exploiting mystery and a variety of other horrors. The Byronic hero with his sensational past, the mad wife locked up in an attic and supernatural occurrences are some of the features of the Gothic novel. This kind of novel was satirized by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey and by Peacock in Gryll Grange.
In Jane Eyre Edward Rochester represents the Byronic hero with a secret past. The Byronic hero is a man proud, moody, and cynical, with defiance on his brow and misery in his heart, yet capable of deep and strong affection. At Jane's first meeting with Mr. Rochester, she notices his "dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow." He turns out to be a man with a past and his immoral life in Paris adds to both the sense of mystery and repulsion for many readers.
In Jane Eyre, as in many Gothic novels, the reader comes across a lunatic wife (Bertha Rochester) locked in the attic of the manor house. The peculiar sound produced by her mad ravings contributes to the atmosphere of mystery and suspense in the novel.
Another feature of the Gothic novel is the use of the supernatural. There are no ghosts in Jane Eyre, but every phase of Jane's life is preceded by her imagining a supernatural visitation from another world. And Mr. Rochester's telepathic communication to Jane towards the end of the novel is in fact a supernatural phenomenon fully exploited for the purpose of fiction.
Jane Eyre has been called a new type of Gothic romance on account of Charlotte Brontë's use of poetic symbolism in the novel. The chestnut tree splitting into two serves as a symbol for the separation of Jane and Mr. Rochester. Bertha's tearing of the wedding veil symbolizes Mr. Rochester's betrayal of his real wife and Jane, his betrothed.
In this way Charlotte Brontë contributed a new dimension to the Gothic novel. She managed to make the patently Gothic more than just a stereotype.