Jane Eyre's Artwork
"Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting." --Jane Eyre (9)
There is something extraordinary and spiritual about Jane Eyre's artwork. In her story, Jane's solitary pastime sometimes operates as an outlet of past or present pain, and often offers her a chance to deal with unpleasant memories and emotions. Jane's art transcends her isolation by bringing her into contact with others who see it; it serves as a bridge over the chasm between her desire to be alone and her need for companionship, which is demonstrated by key scenes in the novel that include a viewing of her art. This struggle between isolation ("hidden self") and companionship ("public self") upholds the restlessness of the novel, for Jane's art is her own, marking her as her own woman. Her art offers a means of charting her growth to maturity. The epigraph above is from Jane's comments on Bewick's History of British Birds, Jane's first artistic influence at the beginning of the novel, and is spoken by a young girl whose self is also "undeveloped" and "imperfect." There are five scenes in the novel that define the importance of art to Jane's growth: her three watercolors viewed by Rochester at Thornfield, the miniature of Blanche Ingram that precedes their meeting, her unconscious pencil sketch of Rochester during her return to Gateshead, Rosamund Oliver's request for a portrait at Morton, and St. John's viewing of her work, which leads to the discovery of her identity near the end of the novel. These scenes occur throughout the novel, giving her art a prominence in the story, and there are also several references to her unique artistic ability.
When Jane confronts her jealousy of Blanche Ingram, the focus of Rochester's affections when Jane first arrives at Thornfield, she immediately decides to draw a portrait of her based on Mrs. Fairfax's verbal description (169). She claims that "it is madness in all women to let a secret love kindle within them," and resolves to reject imagination and resign herself to reason; at that point, she decides that she could never be the object of Mr. Rochester's affections (168-9). Jane treats herself as her own pupil, and criticizes herself for abandoning "sense and resolution" and vows to have them for the moment, after which she falls asleep easily (170). This scene is curiously like the first time Jane resolves to produce art while a young girl at Lowood, except the focus of that former moment was strictly on the imagination, where Jane was content to imagine "the spectacle of my ideal drawings," after which she also fell contentedly asleep (78). Because Jane does not want to abandon sense and reason, her portraits at this point are based on reality; she uses Mrs. Fairfax's descriptions in conjunction with socially constructed native theories of the time to develop what she thinks Blanche Ingram should...