Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte starts out as a fairy tale. And I mean that in the best sense.
“A kind fairy” suggests that Jane advertise in the paper for the job that initially brings her to Thornfield as a governess. Jane, on first seeing it describes it as “a fairy place.” Later, as she is exploring the upper floor, she compares it to “Bluebeard’s castle” before she hears the mysterious laughter that will turn out to be Rochester’s wife.
When Rochester first sees Jane Eyre he thinks “of fairy tales.” He calls her “people… the men in green.” He appropriately describes her pictures of naiads and elves as “elfish” and directly addresses her as “you elf!” Rochester also calls Jane an “unearthly thing” when he is professing his love for her. He tells his ward Adele, that her governess Jane is a “fairy” and that he will take her to live on the moon. She is his “sprite,” “changeling” and “witch.”There are parts of Jane Eyre that remind me of Cinderella (her servitude to Mrs. Reed and her children at the beginning) and Beauty and the Beast (her arrival at Rochester’s mysterious house, Thornfield, her time away from him, and her return, when she restores him to life).
But the fairy story that this book most reminds me of is Tam Lin, the tale of a young woman named Janet who falls in love with a man who is captured by the Faerie Queen. Janet rescues him from the queen by meeting him on a road where he is riding his steed and holding him to her as he changes into a variety of monsters until his humanity is finally restored. The Queen then threatens to take out his eyes.
Jane goes to meet Rochester riding his steed on the country road. She in some ways “rescues” him from the mad woman in the attic who has “bewitched” him and she accepts his darkest nature, thereby restoring his humanity. Also, Rochester LOSES HIS SIGHT (see above)! Rochester even calls Jane Janet. But in Jane Eyre Jane is the fairy and Rochester is the human “knight.”
Interestingly, after the crisis of the book, where it is revealed that Rochester is married and so cannot marry Jane, the fairy imagery fades away and Jane falls into the dark night of the soul. She goes off on her own, without food or shelter until she is taken in by St. John and his sisters. The last words that Charlotte Bronte leaves us with are “Amen…Lord Jesus!”
The fairy tale has become less pagan and Jane Eyre, married to Rochester and the mother of his children, has become less of a sprite and more of a real woman. How do you prefer her?