Gazes, Fires, and Brain-Body Repair in Brontë's Jane Eyre

by Nina Pelikan Straus

January 1, 2001


The idea that the other's gaze can destroy but can also repair, thematized in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, now finds its cognitive base in the chemistry and anatomy of the body involving the development of neurons in the cortico-limbic areas of the brain. This paper suggests how neurobiological-psychoanalytic approaches to metaphor enable us to understand more clearly what stimulates readers' intense emotional reactions to Brontë's novel; how fire and gaze metaphors, in Brontë's handling, are never not connected to "the locus of the bodily-based self system" (Allan Schore, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self [1994]). Critics of the novel have always noted the fire metaphors which connect childhood Jane's shame in the Red-room to the incendiary motifs of the "mad woman" Bertha, to Jane's "veins running fire" in passion for Rochester but also to feminist rage, and to the burning of Thornfield and Rochester's arm and eyes. The novel supports the neurological evidence that telling and reading of self-stories has therapeutic power: a power to repair brain-body networks that constitute the self.



Everyone possesses in his own unconscious an instrument with which he can interpret the utterances of the unconscious of other people (Freud 320).

    Jane Eyre has been interrogated through feminist, psychoanalytic, Marxist, cultural-critical, and deconstructionist theories, but the idea of the novel as a parable of repair through attachment and love has undergone recent repressions. A new "psychoneurobiological" paradigm, replacing the Cartesian mentalist model that framed much traditional Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, is currently emerging as important for studies of the novel. Allan N. Schore's Affect Regulation and the Development of the Self (1994) and "The Right Brain, the Right Mind, and Psychoanalysis" (forthcoming ) offers a new paradigm useful for interpreting a novel which traces its heroine's development from a mother-deprived childhood through falling in love to marriage. Brontë's novel ends with Jane Eyre's claim that "no woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh" (Eyre 454). Schore's theories, related to the work of Antonio Damasio, George Lakoff, and Mark Johnson, challenge what we mean when we say that this language of Jane Eyre's is merely metaphor. Whether the new synthesis between psychoanalysis and neurology is transforming the idea that we need two mutually incommensurable vocabularies to describe human body-minds--one belonging to the world of biology; the other to the philosophy of mind-- is part of the subject of this essay. Schore's work on the emotions may be the groundwork for an understanding of metaphor that transcends as it synthesizes both vocabularies.

    An analysis of one Victorian novel cannot answer the larger question of metaphor's relation to the body. But Brontë's consistent exposure of the need to make Jane Eyre's and Rochester's bodily states palpable to her readers bears a meaning that the new paradigm illuminates. The enduring effect of Jane Eyre on women readers, the sense of being physically and emotionally moved by this character's life story, is not entirely explained by its critique of patriarchy or its historically important colonialist subtext. The metaphor of merging lovers' flesh and bone has an even longer history, one whose source in western mythology is evoked in Jane's description of Thornfield's "Eden-like" garden and in Rochester's revision of Edenic sexism (which claims Eve's emergence from Adam's rib), as follows: "I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you," he tells Jane Eyre, "as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame" (Eyre 250, 254). The mythic model of mind-bodies "corresponding" and interacting reparatively with other mind-bodies is being revitalized through the mergings of psychoanalysis and neurobiological research. The novel's bodily registers, carried by Jane's and Rochester's sense of "kinship" with one another and dramatized in the scene where Rochester plays the Sybil whom Jane calls "mother" (Eyre 198), present challenges to critics who argue that Jane's "whole life pilgrimage prepares her to be angry at Rochester's-- and society's --concept of marriage" (Gilbert 490).

    Critics have noted the fire and gaze metaphors that form the novel's pattern, but have not yet shown precisely how Rochester's and Jane's emotional and physical sense of kinship is related to them. Feminist readers have argued either that Jane's relation to Rochester is masochistic, a "master-slave" relation (Case 1947; Eagleton 1975; Moglen 1976; Sadoff 1996) or that Rochester's maiming by fire, symbolic "castration" and "reduction" serves to "maintain the integrity of [Jane Eyre's] emergent female self" (Gezari 84-5; Sadoff 533). Omitted from this critique is the role of reparative love, of the power of the physical force of eyes and gazing to repair Jane Eyre's early emotional damage. Schore's description of the neurobiological "reparative maternal function of the gaze" (Affect 401) stretches metaphor beyond its traditional boundaries to cohere more specifically with Brontë's language. Arguing for "brain-mind's links into the body" (Right Brain, para. 1), Schore offers evidence for the "cardinal principle that emotion is initially regulated by others," and that gaze patterns, which have been conceptualized as "external indicants of internal states, produce alternations in the physiology of another" (Affect 73).

    Jane Eyre experiences what appears to be psychoneurological repair through the "fire" that "flashed from [Rochester's eyes" at her, as well as her responsive "veins running fire" for him (Eyre 32l, 319). Their interactions make her feel "at times as if he were my relation," so that she "ceased to pine after kindred" and her "bodily health improved" (Eyre 149). This repair and re-energizing later emerges at Rochester's physical expense, as though Jane's burnt inner landscape and early mother-deprivation necessitated a visual representation, a sign to be inscribed on her lover's body. What the initiallly wounded Jane Eyre finally loves must also be wounded.

    Fire in Jane Eyre is destructive as well as reparative, and it is tied to damaging memory. A condition of Jane's self-repair is that she must finally love a man half-blinded by fire and that she must never "weary of gazing for his behalf" (Eyre 454). The maternalist subtext which drives Brontë's metaphors of gaze and fire is never without its sadistic elements, never without its retaliatory trace attached to love-hate for the repressed maternal introject. Brontë's representation of the inseparability of bodily states, emotion, and memory, illustrates what Lakoff and Johnson describe as a "primary metaphor" produced by brains "structured so as to project activation patterns from sensorimotor to higher cortical areas," producing processes "directly tied to the body" (77).

    Jane's and Rochester's attunement is expressed through the novel's image pattern of fires that burn inwardly and externally. It emerges from Jane's working through the "fire of [her] nature . . . compel[ed] to burn inwardly" (Eyre 410) until consummated in Rochester's responsive love. Early in the novel Jane Eyre perceives her mind as a destructive "ridge of lighted heath, alive, glancing, devouring" (Eyre 40). As the novel advances, Jane evidences an increased need for Rochester's acknowledgment of her devastated emotional condition. Their interactive body-mind links are represented in the novel through Rochester's "piercing" glance and "full falcon-eye flashing" or "diving" into Jane's eyes (Eyre 134, 274, 136 ), and by Jane's statement that her "eyes were drawn involuntarily to his face," that she is unable to keep her "lids under control" (Eyre 176). Antonio Damasio claims that "the essence of a feeling may not be an elusive mental quality attached to an object; but rather a direct perception of a specific landscape: that of the body" (18) [my italics]. Fire invades Jane Eyre's and Rochester's world internally/ externally, suggesting both destruction and purgation/ reparation. It is the form the lover's convergence, affinity, but also psychological infirmity takes.

    Fire in the form of Bertha Mason strikes at Rochester's bed and Jane's bridal veil. As lightning, it strikes at the chestnut tree that foreshadows Rochester's bodily disfigurement. Fire burns Thornfield into a ruin; it maims Rochester's arm and eyes. But it also "flashes" and "burns" out of Jane's and Rochester's eyes and signifies the passions of their mutually-sensed emotional landscapes. Rochester speaks to Jane of feeling that he lives "on a crater-crust which may crack and spue fire any day," (Eyre 259, 218). In the "terrible moment" that reveals Rochester's bondage to Bertha Mason, Jane feels "a hand of fiery iron grasp[ing] my vitals, full of struggle, blackness, burning!" (Eyre 318). Fire in Brontë's writing displays its metaphor as a bodily symptom, a "leaking into verbality" but also into the body "of unconscious desire"--indeed, in Jacques Lacan's language, "a spark that fixes in a symptom the signification inaccessible to the conscious subject in which that symptom may be resolved" (Lacan 156, 166).

    In Jane Eyre, the gaze, like fire, is a "primary metaphor" that indicates how visual experience connects mind-body to emotion. The emotion that Schore connects to `dysregulation of affect" (which may be repaired through love in adulthood ) stems from the way early caretakers sculpt the maturation of "corticolimbic structures" which constitute memory in the child (Affect 30), particularly through child-mother gaze interactions. As a child at the Reeds and at Lowood, Jane experiences being looked at as humiliating and as physically wounding. Her orphaned self is initially envisioned as a "little toad" by the Reeds and felt in relation to others as "poor, obscure, plain, and little" (Eyre 28, 255). In the novel's opening chapters, Jane appears to relive what Schore describes, citing neurobiological evidence, as an early "shame transaction" that "elicits a greater awareness of the body than any other emotion" (Affect 211). "`You see this girl?'" Mr. Brocklehurst shouts, as he stands Jane Eyre on a stool and accuses her of lying. "Exposed to the general view on a pedestal of infamy" at Lowood School, Jane's body is associated with hostile gazes. She is severed from human sympathy. She stands groundless and "aloft," trying to calm a "palsy of my nerves" (Eyre 68-9).

    Schore describes what Brontë fictionalizes in terms of the child's sense of a gaze of "`terrifying eyes' . . . "the `red-glow that glares up' in the adult's pupils [which] triggers a `corresponding fire of shame (humiliation) in the child'" (Affect 207). Here the fire metaphor is the closest language comes to evoking the precise sense of being neurologically burnt through the eye to the inner space of the body-brain. Describing Bertha Mason's incendiary visit to her bedroom later at Thornfield, Jane speaks of her "fiery eye" and her "lurid visage flaming over mine" (Eyre 286). Childhood memories associated with such traumatic bodily states trigger unconscious "transferential reactions" throughout life (Affect 280-1). These make Jane especially vulnerable to violent swings of hot (fiery) and cold (drowning) feelings--to the hot-tempered Rochester as to the frigid St. John Rivers.

    The shaming at Lowood duplicates Jane's agony in the Red-room, her remembered experience of the "looking-glass" where she sees herself in "that strange little figure there gazing at me, with . . . glittering eyes of fear" (Eyre 16). Experienced as a fire in and as the body, the gaze promotes a mutual terror in which both self and mother become fiends. Mrs. Reed "gazed at me as if she did not really know if I was a child or a fiend" (Eyre 30). If the child's self develops positively when she sees her reflection in the gleam in the mother's eye, as Schore, following Heinz Kohut suggests, Jane's early experience is acutely but not terminally damaging. The reparative mutual gaze transactions that occur between Jane and Rochester, especially in the fortune-reading scene, are foreshadowed at Lowood when the humiliated Jane is en-lightened and elevated by Helen Burn's eyes:

    What my sensations were no language can describe; but just as they all arose stifling my breath and constricting my thoughts, a girl came and passed me; and in passing lifted her eyes . What a strange light inspired them! What an extraordinary sensation that ray sent through me . . . I mastered the rising hysteria, lifted up my head, and took a firm stance on the stool (Eyre 70).

    Helen Burns's gaze electrifies Jane Eyre positively as Rochester's will later, lifting up her head from a descent into depressed darkness. Burns's eyes help Jane to "master" her "rising hysteria" -- in Schore's language, to regulate her emotions. The symbolic mother's "gleam" like the "ray" of loving-care Burns sends to Jane Eyre is experienced viscerally. Emphasis on Burns's physically reparative ray indicates how the psychoanalytic /neurobiological paradigm modifies our understanding of what metaphor is, how deeply inscribed in the brain-body landscape. This approach makes clear why certain metaphors carry intense emotional charges for readers, how the play between Mrs. Reed's "stoney eye¢"opaque to tenderness,indissoluble to tears" (Eyre233)¢ and Helen Burns's and Rochester's energizing gleam evokes responses in the reader's own memory systems. If "the gazing of mother and infant is not unlike the gazing of lovers" (Vaughan 107), the search for such a gaze-affinity to emotionally repair the pain of the hostile gazes experienced at the Reeds and at Lowood (that "Orphan Asylum" of "semi-starvation and neglected colds" [79]) is one of the most powerful components of Jane Eyre's aesthetic.

    In Brontë's remarkable writing, Jane's mind-body landscape exhibits a history of anger directed against patriarchal "masters," but equally against women (mother or mother surrogate) figures. Jane's identity is thus thickly layered, not only by the fire-bearing Bertha who is Jane's "darkest double" and "ferocious secret self" (Gilbert 492), but by an early mother-deprivation so intense that it is condensed in her dreams of holding "a wailing child," and finally in her mystical experience of hearing Rochester calling "in pain" to her from miles away (Eyre 222, 422). Schore's discussion of the ways that mothers imprint the child's mind-body complicates literary theorizing about doubling even further. Jane's double is Bertha Mason, but Bertha also doubles for Jane's internalized dead mother to whom Rochester will later be connected, first through his disguise as the Sybil, and finally through his aging, maimed body.

    The novel works through a series of emotional transformations that begin with Jane's identification with the death-dealing Bertha (the sound of birth) and climaxes with Jane's experiencing new life by giving birth to Rochester's son. At the heart of the novel is Jane's and Rochester's passionate but impeded love for one another, a love that replicates Jane's other experiences of maternal deprivation but incrementally transforms them. Rochester sees into Jane's fire-devastated mother-deprived landscape . Looking at him she feels the power of "the emotionally expressive face" and the mother's [or caretaker's] gaze to "repair" humiliation and create "affinity" (Affect 175 ). Affinity requires that Rochester become witness to Jane's inner perception of her body, expressed in her paintings of a "drowned corpse," a "woman's shape . . . rising into the sky" whose "dim forehead was crowned with a star"; and a "colossal head, inclined towards the iceberg." Rochester comments that Jane has "secured" in these paintings "the shadow of [her] thought" (Eyre 128-29)-- another language for what Schore calls a " substratum of self-identity" and Damasio evokes as a mind-body landscape.

    Jane Eyre shows how early childhood trauma creates the particular body-brain emotions through which later adult love relationships are negotiated and in which painful memory continues to be housed. Brontë's naming of places and people indicates how memories burn themselves into the extended metaphors of allegory. Eyre, whose childhood fills her with ire, is that "curious sort of bird" (Eyre 142) whose nest will be the rock (Fr. Roche ) and chest nut tree maimed on the wedding night when Rochester deceives but also proclaims his fierce love for her. Bertha `s link to birth and maternity but also to Mason ¤masonry--maison and home is as compulsively mnemonic as is John Rivers' name to the drowned woman in Jane's painting. She who was "hated and hating" at the Reeds (Eyre 40 ) for the way she looked, is re-identified and re-imagined as a "beauty" whom Rochester describes as bearing a "keen . . . daring" and "glowing eye" and a "penetration and power in each glance." Jane describes correspondingly how she "looked at his fierce face," how she "talked, face to face, with what [she] reverence[d]"; how her eyes "would rise and the iris would fix on him" (Eyre 316, 255 176). Jane's eyes rise to Rochester's so that he can see directly into her mind, suggesting that "embryologically and anatomically the eye is an extension of the brain; it is almost as if a portion of the brain were in plain sight . . . to peer at" (Affect 75-6). "Reading [her] countenance," Rochester says to Jane: "Consider that eye; consider the resolute, wild thing looking out of it, defying me, with more than courage . . . . Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it--the savage, beautiful creature!" (Eyre 320).

    Jane's choice of the bold-eyed and initially deceptive Rochester is clarified by Schore's insights, following D.W. Winnicott's, into the consequences for the child of the Not-Good-Enough Mother. Rochester not only shares with Jane an inner "attic" in which the demonic Bad Mother (Bertha) is imprisoned, but his one-time masquerade as a good gypsy Sybil mother also functions to transform what Jane has suffered as the despised orphan of the Reeds. Because of their affinity, Rochester does get at Jane Eyre and she at Edward Fairfax Rochester. But this cannot occur in the novel until Brontë's metaphoric system finds its consummatory imagery in Rochester's final bodily scars. If early trauma influences "all future socioemotional functioning" as well as bodily responses (Affect xxx), the necessity of Rochester's maiming by fire derives from Brontë's compulsive poetic access to the perception of a burnt inner body-landscape. Contemporary women readers, roused to identification with Jane's experience, may discover illustrative support in Brontë's novel for the idea of the mind body' s deep memory traces and the way writing compulsively inscribes them.

    Schore notes that traumatic emotion, when registered in right cortex, long-term memory as inceptive "flashbulb memories," may recur throughout life (Affect 75). It may be argued that certain maternal images, related to Brontë's own early mother-loss, recur throughout her fiction, and that readers experience their own forms of devastation and mind-body "repair" through them. With the idea that "the highest nervous processes are potentially the whole organism" (Right Brain, para. 31), we discover a new emphasis on the body's involvement in the reading process, particularly the reading of faces.

     Anticipating this new psychoneurological paradigm, Wolfgang Iser argued in 1979 that reading removes the subject-object division that constitutes all perception and that narratives expand the frames of our personalities. The theme of Jane's and Rochester's understanding "the language" of each other's "countenance" is a metaphor for the mind-body relations of the reading process itself. Connected to the way the "mother imprints on the infant . . . a core identity" that yields to a later plasticity, "reading and interpretation of literature might promote . . . nothing less than a reformation of the self" (Alcorn 343). Rochester and Jane read each other sympathetically and interactively in a way that readers, and particularly women readers may read Jane Eyre.

    Brontë's gaze metaphors, connected to reading faces and expressions, signify Jane's feeling "akin to [Rochester]" (Eyre 177). Even their arguments and his abrupt mood changes create for her an intense sense of psychological and physical attunement that is never devoid of a complex link to early memories of living on an emotional "brink." "I knew the pleasure of vexing and soothing him by turns . . . . on the extreme brink I tried my skill . . . . this suited both him and me." Rochester describes his attunement with Jane even more intensely as a "drawing of his center around her to kindl[e] in a pure, powerful flame," as a fusion of Jane and himself "in one" (Eyre 160, 317).

    The metaphor of fusion through bodily oneness carries the central hint of Rochester's reparative maternal function. His kinship with Jane is represented by his image as the old woman fortune teller, the sybil who reads Jane's future. Their loving connection is made through a mysterious maternalist icon, one that provokes Jane's initially anxious cry of "Let me be torn away, then!" (299). Jane articulates the expectation that separation inevitably follows attachment. For Jane, loving a man stimulates an unconscious return to the terror of loving and losing the mother. Schore's language provides psychoanalytic insight into why the scene with Rochester playing Sybil-mother is crucial to Jane's attachment to him, and why his role-playing with maternal imagery does Rochester good as well:

Psychoanalytic theoreticians have proposed that evocative memory enables the individual to evoke an image of a comforting object and the function of the maternal object, even in her absence . . . . This "image" of the comforting object is specifically a multimodal image of the mother's face during interactive repair transactions. . . . [and quoting Wright 1991, 335]: "The unique configuration of the mother's face . . . . becomes the one pattern that must be found, and nothing else will do" (Affect 40l).

    In chapter 19, Rochester as Sybil reads Jane's palm and face at the very moment when her depression has returned in force. Jane addresses the "old crone" as "mother," and says she did not come "to hear Mr. Rochester's fortune," but her own (Eyre 202). The gradual emergence of Rochester's face out of the "mother"` displays a convergence that "must be found" for Jane to abandon herself to love. Rochester's playing at the return of the dead mother is a brilliant stroke of seduction if not psychological sensitivity. Brontë's sense that nothing else will do for Jane coheres with Schore's claims about evocative memory and the power of the original mother's face as inscribed in right-cortex brain functioning. Jane projects her fantasies onto Rochester's masculine face, his dark look, his male body. But her fantasies are unconscious and preverbal: they require that Rochester incarnate "female" (maternal) elements alongside the "masterful" masculine ones.

    If the original mother sculpts the heroine's expectation about relationships for a lifetime (Affect 316-7), the logic of the novel's ending in Rochester's maiming and blindness is clarified by Schore's idea of the "internalized model of the self." This description of early childhood imprinting suggests that Jane's chosen beloved must bear some traces of a shared demonic Bad Mother who betrays and burns her children, but also of the saving Good Mother who is able (as the Bad surrogate Mother Mrs. Reed did not), to prophesize and provide a future for her. Jane's dreams and paintings exhibit rage towards but also longing for a vanished mother whose forehead bears a redemptive "star." The compounded mother imago, whose love must be partially replicated in Rochester, can never be conceived as physiologically whole. Janet Gezari notes that Brontë's Rochester-mother condensations are part of "the representations of seeing" as "the essential form of relatedness at every stage of Jane Eyre's experience," and argues that Rochester becomes a "mother who is both abandoned and being abandoned by an infant " in the betrayal-at-the-altar-scene (Gezari 49,77). But Gezari follows other feminist critics in omitting the novel's theme of the reparative-- if also aggressive and sometimes sadistic--nature of love. "By restoring Rochester's vision, and by making Jane herself so invisible," Gezari argues, "Brontë undermines the novel's . . . . more powerful defense against the exclusion of women from visual pleasure and authority" (89).

    The idea that visuality is mainly about "pleasure and authority," or the implication that Jane Eyre would more powerful if Rochester were either entirely blinded by fire or absent from Jane's life, is not entirely convincing if we emphasize Brontë's representations of gazes that burn and destroy, but also regulate and repair. Imagining the gaze as a one-way autonomous action underestimates the degree to which the gaze is also a request, in Jane Eyre's case, for affection and confirmation and inner body-mind landscape transformation. That transformation begins when Jane's mother-deprived eyes see Rochester emerging from the mother-Sybil masquerade. Jane's visual pleasure is not about power so much as about memory and affinity: "The old woman's gesture," she says, is "as familiar to me as my own face in the glass, as the speech of my own tongue" (Eyre 203).

    Finding Jane's directions out by an indirect maternality, Rochester offers Jane a chance to recover him along with the Bad Mother that haunts them both. In Schore's terms, Rochester's masquerade before a "daughter" appeals to the "highest levels of the nonverbal right hemisphere, the locus of the bodily-based self system" (Right Brain, para. 41). Rochester intuitively and playfully embodies Jane's complicated desires for a mother-husband who is capable of detonating her anxiety about men as cruel masters. As such, he becomes a "home"-coming for Jane (another kind of mason-maison) , pointing toward her later confession that "wherever you are is my home, my only home" (Eyre 248). As he emerges out of the Sybil, they discover the familiar in each other's face:

    Where was I? Did I wake or sleep? Had I been dreaming? Did I dream still? The old woman's voice had changed: her accent, her gesture, and all were familiar to me as my own face in a glass ¤ as the speech of my own tongue . . . . Again, I looked at the face, which was no longer turned from me¢on the contrary, the bonnet was doffed, the bandage displaced, the head advanced. "Well, Jane, do you know me? asked the familiar voice ((203-4).

    This powerful evocation of revealed familiar faces points towards solutions to the trouble many readers of Jane Eyre experience with the novel's realistic beginning and middle and its apparently mystical and (for some) disappointingly non-feminist ending. Jane not only recovers a "multimodel image of the mother's face" through Rochester's, but later, when she decides not to marry St. John Rivers, hears Rochester's "known" voice calling her home through the "void." Only when Jane becomes increasingly sensitive to forms of re-living and remembering through the blow she receives from St. John River's frigidity, does her ear open to the (hallucinatory) call of "a known, loved, well-remembered voice ¤that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain and woe wildly, eerily, urgently" (Eyre 422). Her self-expulsion from Rivers' cold (emotionally drowning) world repeats her expulsion from the Reeds' and opens her once again to the initiating wound: "[W]hen I asked [St. John] if he forgave me [for not marrying him], he answered that he was not in the habit of cherishing the remembrance of vexation . . . and with that answer he left me. I would much rather he had knocked me down" (Eyre 412). Provoked by River's refusal of memory and feeling, Jane revisits a memory of John Reed's knocking her down in the Red room. Leaving Rivers who "scorn[s] the mere fever of the flesh," Jane's flesh contacts Rochester's at a distance through the ears and the lips.

    Compounding Rochester's painful cries with others that make up her memory system--the infant in her dreams, her own infant voice wailing in pain as Mrs. Reed describes it to her, Bertha's shrieks, and the silent wail of the abandoned self evoked by Rivers' indifference--Rochester's call is transfiguring. It is the first one in the text that will be truly answered. Jane cries to the wind, "I am coming! . . . Wait for me! Oh, I will come!" and flies into the "void" to see nothing and no one. Yet the voice that Jane recognizes in the mother-sybil Rochester now returns to repair what is rent in her. Its status as "real" or as hallucinated strikes Jane as beside the point. Jane "comment[s] as that spectre rose up black by the black yew at the gate: This is not thy deception, nor thy witchcraft; it is the work of nature. She was roused and did¢no miracle¢but her best" (Eyre 422-3).

    The rousing of the spectral mother-lover's voice, its association with thework of mother nature, and Jane's insistence that no miracle is involved, indicates how strongly Brontë believes in the curative power of revitalized memory and of emotional repair through the five physical senses. As for Jane's hallucinating Rochester's voice, Schore's description of a child "raised by a psychobiologically dysregulating (m)other ," illuminates how "split-off repressed parts of the self" may return in such hallucinations and surface under stress." Provoked by the unconscious identification of St. John Rivers with Mrs. Reed's son, John, Jane experiences something like "the left hemisphere [the verbal] disconnecting itself from stressful, primitive, dystonic, and threatening affect-laden self-and-object images processed in the right hemisphere." Schore notes that "nonverbal `well-kept secrets of the right hemisphere' may not be accessible to the left" (Affect 446-7). But Brontë, through her fiction, forces open those secrets for Jane Eyre and the reader. Fullfilled through the auditory fantasy, Jane's secret desire to be linked to Rochester through pre-rational experiences of maternal reparation, finds its archetypal scenario.

    What Jane Eyre has craved all her life, an answering loving voice to her (silent) wailing, is here projected on to the "master," Rochester. But that "master" is also a signifier of Brontë's creative force: a sign of a fantasy of what men should be like. Brontë insists upon the creativity of this complex and bi-gendered love, of the indissoluble link between early parenting and adult love affairs, even as the latter are contaminated by fiery and ashen memory, even as they require that the trace of initial devastation is to be inscribed--in this case--on Rochester's body. Brontë represents Jane's cure for her own suffering in her answering the maimed Rochester' s call--just as the mother answers the infant's. Jane Eyre revises, as in the talking cure of psychoanalysis, her negative "master narrative" by transforming various introjects: by becoming the mother she never had and by symbolically overcoming an early psychic landscape of ashes and sterility. By giving birth to a "first-born" son who inherits Rochester's "large, brilliant, and black" eyes (Eyre 455), Jane Eyre re-visions three resurrected lives.

    In Jane Eyre the creation of love and affinity involves the regulation of rage, the re-inscribing of fiery experience upon the flesh of the human body. The subtextual (unconscious) link between energizing rays and killing burns is pathologically close in the novel's last chapter, something like Plato's pharmakon in which cure and poison are reversals of the same. Until Rochester is physically, emotionally burnt and blinded, and until Jane's eyes "gaz[e] for his behalf," she cannot consummate attunement with him. The emotional condition of Rochester's and Jane's love that "knit us so very close," is that her inner body-mind landscape becomes manifestly his (Eyre 454).

    If the first chapters of Jane Eyre offer nuanced knowledge of "affect dysregulation" in relation to "depressive states" influenced by early maternal deprivations (Schore, Affect 405 ), the last chapters express an exalted mythology of self-reparation. As many readers have noted, plain Jane becomes a Delilah to Rochester's "sightless Samson," an eyre or nesting agent for the "caged eagle" that he has become (Eyre 434). A nuanced Delilah, but also a nurturing, nesting mother, Jane's finale--"Reader, I married him"--suggests the most decisive victory over passive aggression that any other woman-authored nineteenth century novel presents.

    Yet Virginia Woolf criticized Brontë for writing "of herself when she should write of her characters" and noted that Brontë "is at war with her lot" (quoted in Jacobus 34-5). Indeed, we might answer, so are many readers. Through Jane Eyre the reader may experience vicariously the results of "deficiencies of reciprocal interactions within the mother-infant regulatory system" which "cause the child to fail to develop a capacity to be `in tune' with [her]self" (Affect 280- 281). Schore describes "early experience of physical abuse, exposure to aggressive models, and insecure attachments" such as Jane's, as leading a child "to develop memory structures that contain hostile world schema and an aggressive response repetoire" (Affect 34l). Brontë writes angrily about bitter isolation, about other's women's beauty and men's preferences and injustices. Jane Eyre insists that "women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties" (Eyre 113). But her "faculties" are not pure reason. They are represented as fiery, as invaded by memory, as potentially destructive. Mary Jacobus analyzes Brontë's "excess of energy [that]disrupts the text" (134) but does not praise the way this energy is re-directed in Jane's quest for Rochester's love.

    The "dyadic" structure of Jane Eyre may not conform to the romance of feminist autonomy. Interpreted through a new paradigm which emphasizes the bodily basis of emotion and metaphor, however, the novel appears instead to be about interaction, mutuality, and affinity, about "looks" that destroy but also energize. The genealogy of the gaze, which is part of the love story Brontë tells, ends with the image of Jane re-lighting the "lamp" of Rochester's "countenance . . . . : it was not himself that could kindle the lustre of animated expression: he was dependent on another for that office!" (Eyre 442). For some readers the novel represents a feminist longing for liberty, a liberty that fails. But for Brontë and Jane Eyre, even that maimed liberty is depicted as meaningless unless shared with an attuned and caring other.

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To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Nina Pelikan Straus "Gazes, Fires, and Brain-Body Repair in Brontë's Jane Eyre". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available July 19, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: January 1, 2001, Published: January 1, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Nina Pelikan Straus