Felicity and hostility

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Felicity and hostility

  1. 1. Felicity and Hostility: The Role of Conflicted Space in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights For some, a home may represent a reprieve from the chaos and tumult of daily life, a safeand peaceful place for reflection and relaxation. For others, a home may represent the exactopposite: a magnification of the complications of the outside world, an antagonistic environmentfraught with physical, mental, and emotional dilemmas. However, in some situations, a spacemay embody both felicity and hostility; in other words, a space and its energy may be conflicted.In the most recognizable and arguably the most brilliant works of Charlotte and Emily Brontë,Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights respectively, space becomes conflicted by its changingrelationships with characters and with time itself. Jane Eyre, published in October of 1847 by Charlotte Brontë, stretches far across thethematic spectrum. Through her characters, Charlotte Brontë examines morality, religion, loveand passion, mercy and forgiveness, and gender relationships, all of which may point towards itsrecognition by feminists as a “proto-feminist” work, identifying that sexes are similar in “heartand spirit” (Martin 93). Essentially, Brontë uses space in the novel in order to show theintricacies of the human condition, intricacies which allow us an interesting look into characterrelationships and personal growth versus stagnation. One example of conflicted space in Jane Eyre is Jane‟s first house: Gateshead Hall.Throughout her time at Gateshead, Jane is faced with hostility in nearly every corner of thehome. Jane is “...bullied and punished...not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice inthe day, but continually” (Brontë 9). In the beginning of the novel, Jane is demeaned andbelittled in both the Drawing Room and the adjoining Breakfast Room. Later, Jane is punished
  2. 2. by being taken to the “red-room”, threatened with bondage, and is then locked in the room untilshe has a “species of fit” (C. Brontë 17). Ultimately, in the red-room scene, the reader is privy toimportant information concerning the space of the household. Brontë‟s language in describingthe hostile room allows us to imagine the red-room as a microcosm of the entire household: ...very seldom slept in, I might say never, indeed...one of the largest and stateliest chambers in the mansion...Mrs. Reed herself, at far intervals, visited [the room] to review the contents of a certain secret drawer in the wardrobe... a miniature of her deceased husband; and in those last words lies the secret of the red-room— the spell which kept it so lonely in spite of its grandeur...I was not quite sure whether they had locked the door; and when I dared move, I got up and went to see. Alas! yes: no jail was ever more secure. (C. Brontë 12)The lonely feeling that Jane feels in the red-room reflects the loneliness that she feels in thehouse as a whole, and perhaps, in the world. At this time in Jane‟s life, she is locked away fromthe rest of the world as she is literally locked in the red-room and is forced to socialize only withpeople who view her as “naughty and tiresome, sullen and sneaking” (C. Brontë 14). Thishostility in the space soon makes itself palpable as Jane begins to reminisce on her past atGateshead: “All John Reed‟s violent tyrannies, all his sisters‟ proud indifference, all his mother‟saversion, all the servants‟ partiality, turned up in my disturbed mind like a dark deposit in aturbid well” (C. Brontë 13). It is fitting that Jane truly and honest releases her anger in this place(if only in her mind), as the room represents the anger and oppression that she is subject to in thehouse daily.
  3. 3. However, Jane finds one place of solace in Gateshead Hall, one small corner of thehousehold where she is able to immerse herself in felicitous space: “...the window-seat...havingdrawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement. Folds of scarletdrapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, butnot separating me from the drear November day” (C. Brontë 6). In order for Jane to be happy, oras Jane remarks, “happy at least in my way” (C. Brontë 8), she must be enveloped in a spaceseparate from, and yet joined with Gateshead, whether that space is literal (in the case of thewindow seat and the separating curtain) or metaphorical (in the case of literature housed in themanor). In this way, it is easy to see the conflicting nature of space in Gateshead Hall; while theReeds make it an increasingly hostile space for Jane, she is able to escape into several corners ofthe household in order to preserve herself. Lowood School, her second housing situation, is incredibly hostile from Jane‟s arrival.Her journey to Lowood, a vivid and detailed account of scene, helps to set the mood of the space:“...we ceased to pass through towns; the country changed; great grey hills heaved up round thehorizon: as twilight deepened, we descended a valley, dark with wood, and long after night hadoverclouded the prospect, I heard a wild wind rushing amongst trees” (C. Brontë 41). MissScatcherd, a “cross and cruel” teacher, treats Jane and her friend, Helen, particularly harshly (C.Brontë 56). Combined with the extreme moral hypocrisy and brutality of Mr. Brocklehurst,Lowood is a space composed of antagonism. Despite this, certain space in Lowood is clearly felicitous. For example, Miss Temple, thesuperintendent of Lowood, embodies goodness provides happy space for the girls, even at themention of her name. When Jane asks Helen if Miss Temple is “as severe” as Miss Scatcherd is,Helen explains Miss Temple‟s good nature quite succinctly: “At the utterance of Miss Temple‟s
  4. 4. name, a soft smile flitted over her grave face. „Miss Temple is full of goodness; it pains her to besevered to any one, even the worst in the school: she sees my errors, and tells me of them gently;and, if I do anything worthy of praise, she gives me my meed liberally‟” (C. Brontë 56). It‟s clearthat Miss Temple‟s effect on the young girls of Lowood is impressive; even in the darkest ofplaces, in the most hostile of spaces, there is felicity to be found for them. The space affected byMiss Temple is most certainly felicitous, making the whole of Lowood to be conflicted space forJane and probably for the rest of the young ladies. Similarly, both Jane‟s experiences at Thornfield Hall tend to conflict with each other.Firstly, Jane enters Thornfield, a felicitous space, with greetings from the kind yet unpredictableMrs. Fairfax and the exuberant, intelligent, yet spoiled Adele. Altogether Jane finds life atThornfield to be enjoyable and calm and her appointment with Adele to be fulfilling. However, Mr. Rochester‟s return home proves to alter the space drastically. Rochester is“changeful and abrupt” when dealing with Jane and Adele (C. Brontë 129). From his return on,the space is quite conflicted, mirroring the mood changes of Rochester: “...my acquaintance withhim was confined to an occasional rencontre in the hall, on the stairs, or in the gallery, when hewould sometimes pass me haughtily and coldly, just acknowledging my presence by a distantnod or a cool glance, and sometimes bow and smile with gentlemanlike affability” (C. Brontë130). Eventually, Rochester‟s mood seems to warm to Jane; however, the space continues to beconflicted. When Bertha, Rochester‟s clinically unstable wife, attempts to burn Rochester alive,Jane is first alerted by her “demoniac laugh—low, suppressed, and deep” (Brontë 150). Janequickly douses the flames and is misled into believing that the arson was committed byseamstress Grace Poole. While Jane saves Rochester and eventually forms a close and lovingrelationship with him, she is plagued by the mysterious goings-on in the household, in the
  5. 5. conflicted space. This confliction comes to a head when Jane is informed of Bertha Mason‟sexistence and her relationship to Rochester. After, Jane leaves Thornfield, only to return whencalled by Rochester‟s supernatural voice months later. Once at Thornfield, Jane learns ofBertha‟s suicide and her destruction of the house, literally and metaphorically destroying theconflict of the home, leaving Jane and Rochester to marry in felicitous space. Emily Brontë‟s Wuthering Heights, published in December of 1847 after the success ofCharlotte‟s debut novel, deals explicitly with conflicted space and its effect on characterrelationships and personal growth. Cathy Earnshaw, daughter of Mr. Earnshaw and sister ofHindley Earnshaw, finds The Heights and the surrounding heath to be a particularly felicitousspace, an open space full of adventure. However, once her father returns with Heathcliff, “adirty, ragged, black-haired” and orphaned child, the space turned quickly hostile (E. Brontë 31).Hindley Earnshaw‟s hate for Heathcliff was immediate and forceful and “from the verybeginning, he bred bad feeling in the house” (E. Brontë 32). After Hindley‟s departure for college, spurred by Mr. Earnshaw, Cathy and Heathclifffind themselves to be close friends. In this time, The Heights seem to be quite a felicitous space,as Cathy and Heathcliff grow together. However, when Mr. Earnshaw dies, though Cathy andHeathcliff find comfort in each other, Hindley soon returns with new wife Frances in order toassume his place as master of the house and to exact revenge on Heathcliff, beginning a newphase of confliction at The Heights. Under Hindley‟s “tyrannical” rule, Heathcliff was made to live with the servants and wasrestricted from his education, instead spending his days working in the fields (E. Brontë 39).Floggings were issued as punishments for Heathcliff and the hostility of the space was clear.
  6. 6. However, the conflict between hostility and felicity arises, as Heathcliff and Cathy “forgoteverything the minute they were together again” (E. Brontë 39). Despite the space‟s antagonism,Heathcliff and Cathy‟s relationship allows certain space to become felicitous, as the two are ableto find and then relish in their love for one another. The two eventually resemble twin spirits,roaming the moors daily together. Ultimately, when Cathy and Heathcliff are alone and allowedto indulge themselves on the moors or at The Heights in general, when the twin spirits are free,the space is felicitous and joyful. However, when the space is plagued by Hindley or Frances orthe Lintons, when the spirits are imprisoned, hostility wins out and all characters are doomed tounhappiness. On the other hand, Thrushcross Grange embodies similar conflicted space. ThrushcrossGrange, the home of the Linton family, is truly felicitous at the beginning of the story: thespoiled but loving Edgar and the dainty, naïve Isabella live comfortably in the Grange. Cathy‟sarrival at the Grange changes almost nothing; Cathy is warmly accepted into the household andbegins a physical (but not spiritual) transformation into a proper young lady. However, thistransformation is quickly undone whenever she is in Heathcliff‟s presence. Despite this, Cathydeclares herself to Edgar and accepts his proposal of marriage. Heathcliff, overhearing Cathysaying that it would “degrade” her to marry Heathcliff, flees from Wuthering Heights, leavingCathy to marry Edgar (E. Brontë 68). Cathy is left in Thrushcross Grange‟s felicitous, if boring, space. Heathcliff‟s return toThe Heights brings hostility and vengeful spirit, the same spirit that eventually propels him tomarry Isabella out of spite. As Heathcliff continues to seek his revenge on Hindley and his son,Hareton, Catherine falls ill and after giving birth to her daughter, dies.
  7. 7. Heathcliff finds himself at odds with the past, and thus chooses to exact revenge on thepresent and in the future. Heathcliff, in setting up young Catherine and Linton, finds himself incontrol of the Grange, a final if ineffective measure to appease his vengeful conscience. AfterCathy‟s tragic death, the whole of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights are doomed to behostile space: the final separation of Cathy from Heathcliff acts as the determining factor in theconflict. In Charlotte Brontë‟s Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë‟s Wuthering Heights, the maincharacters are directly influenced by the mood of the space that they inhabit, which is constantlyin conflict between happiness and sadness, felicity and hostility. However, it is clear that, at theclose of the story, a resolution to the conflict must be found, for space cannot continue in conflictforever.
  8. 8. Works CitedBrontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Jim Manis. Pennsylvania State University, 2003. Penn State Electronic Classic Ser. Pennsylvania State University, 2003. Web. <http://www.saratogahigh.org/ourpages/auto/2009/5/28/48299248/Jane-Eyre.pdf>.Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Ed. Jim Manis. Pennsylvania State University, 2003. Penn State Electronic Classic Ser. Pennsylvania State University, 2003. Web.Martin, Robert B. Charlotte Brontës Novels: The Accents of Persuasion. NY: Norton, 1966.

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