January 5, 2011

Jane Eyre vs. The Secret Garden

At first glance, two books like Jane Eyre and The Secret Garden seem to have nothing in common. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is the prototype of a Gothic romance - dark, brooding, and suspenseful - while Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden is a children's story, full of light and vivid colours. And it is true: they have almost nothing in common. The only feature they share is the setting, the haunting, beautiful wilderness of Britain, and yet it could easily be said that that very landscape is a major factor in making the two books such polar opposites.

In the black-and-grey story of Jane Eyre, many of the scenes take place in some level of darkness, either at night or on stormy days. Since the story is set in a secluded part of England where it rains a good part of every season, the wilderness enhances the Gothic feel of the novel and lends it an eerie atmosphere; the dark stone walls and passages of Thornfield Hall would not have been half as sinister without the added effect of the weather and landscape outside. Bronte emphasized in her novel the haunting allure of Britain's moorlands, which set the perfect backdrop for Jane Eyre's story.

"I struck straight into the heath; I held on to a hollow I saw deeply furrowing the brown moorside; I waded knee-deep in its dark growth; I turned with its turnings, and finding a moss-blackened granite crag in a hidden angle, I sat down under it. High banks of moor were about me; the crag protected my head: the sky was over that." (Jane Eyre - Chapter 28.)


The Secret Garden, on the other hand, displays the opposite feature of the moors. While the frequent storms and rains do give the landscape a shadowy feel, they also mean that when the sun does shine, the scenery is turned into an amazingly beautiful, otherworldly place. Whereas Charlotte Bronte depicts black moors with stormy grey skies above, Frances Hodgson Burnett shows a rolling landscape of greens, yellows, purples, and whites beneath a clear blue sky. It is this sort of loveliness that characterizes her story and makes it magical, providing not only a background, but a vital part of the story as the beauty of the Yorkshire moors changes the main character altogether.

"'Look at the moor! Look at the moor!'
"The rainstorm had ended and the grey mist and clouds had been swept away in the night by the wind. The wind itself had ceased and a brilliant, deep blue sky arched high over the moorland. Never, never had Mary dreamed of a sky so blue. In India skies were hot a blazing; this was a deep cool blue which almost seemed to sparkle like the waters of some lovely bottomless lake, and here and there, high, high in the arched blueness floated small clouds of snow-white fleece. The far-reaching world of the moor itself looked softly blue instead of gloomy purple-black or awful dreary grey." (
The Secret Garden - The Key of the Garden.)


While the moors are perhaps one of the most vivid examples of the powers of a landscape, there are few places that do not display this sort of change from one day to another, or from one season to the next. Deserts, for instance, are seen as flat stretches of sand, sand, sand, and more sand, but on that rare day when rain does fall, the entire landscape changes as plants burst into momentary flower. The endless terrain, rock formations, and blue skies of the Badlands of the Midwestern United States have a lonely appeal that goes beyond the dry, monotonous way they are generally seen. (Or so they say; I fail to see it, myself...) These sorts of stereotype-reversals can be interesting to see used in writing, and to use in our own; the depiction of a single landscape can alter drastically, depending merely on whether the story is a Jane Eyre or a Secret Garden.

6 comments:

  1. I was thinking about this just the other day. Moorland, brooding master of the house, a person being locked up in the tower ... Thanks for reminding me of the author - went straight to Manybooks.net and downloaded it as an e-book. :)

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  2. You're welcome! Jane Eyre was very enjoyable; I knew nothing about the storyline when I read it, so the suspense was gripping.

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  3. Good comparison. Setting is so vital to stories. Even lighting can be tricky! I had a difficult time getting certain scenes in my medieval novel Behold the Dawn to work until I adjusted my mental lighting to reflect the somber tone the scenes required.

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  4. Thanks for commenting! Yes, the scenery really can set a story's tone; I can't imagine Jane Eyre being half as eerie as it was without the dark background, or The Secret Garden being half as beautiful without the picture Burnett painted of the moors.

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  5. The Jane Eyre books is my favorite from Charlotte Bronte. Villette and Shiley are must-read from her as well. :)

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  6. I love Jane Eyre and The Secret Garden :)

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
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Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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