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The Reader’s Guide to Charlotte Brontë ’ s “Jane Eyre”

Gateshead Hall

Gateshead Hall is the home of Mrs Reed, Jane's aunt. Jane spends the early part of her childhood here, between the death of her parents (aged about 1) and going away to Lowood School (aged 10).


Stone Gappe Hall view
Stone Gappe Hall in North Yorkshire

Inspirations

It is generally believed that Stone Gapp Hall in Lothersdale, North Yorkshire was the inspiration for the Gatehead Hall building although there is little description of Gateshead in the novel. Charlotte was engaged briefly as a governess at the house in 1839 so she would have known its layout and appearance.

Location

Gateshead is 50 miles (80 kilometres) from Lowood School and 100 miles (160 kilometres) from Millcote (Thornfield's nearest town)'. Thornfield is also south ("towards London") from Lowood. If Lowood is meant to be Cowan School than Gateshead could not be in the Stone Gappe location1 since it would be closer to Thornfield. If Millcote is meant to be Leeds, then the only locations that would seem to match the two distances would be in Cumbria or Northumberland (Carlisle, for example, is 56 miles from Cowan Bridge and 113 miles from Leeds). Unfortunately Jane states in chapter 21: "At Gateshead; in —shire" and these counties are not shire counties.

The ony way these distances and descriptions could match is if Gateshead was meant to be in the south-west of Cumbria which was part of Lancashire in Charlotte's time. Barrow-in-Furness, for instance, is about 40 miles from Cowan Bridge and 96 miles from Leeds.


Mrs Sarah Reed (Aunt Reed)

Aunt Reed portrait
Judy Cornwell from the 1983 TV series

Mrs Reed is Jane's aunt. She is about 36 or 37 at the beginning of the novel. She does not like Jane and takes the opportunity to get rid of her by sending her to school. When she is on her death bed, despite Jane's attempts as reconcilation, she remains hostile.

Chapter 4. Mrs Reed might be at that time some six or seven and thirty; she was a woman of robust frame, square-shouldered and strong-limbed, not tall, and, though stout, not obese: she had a somewhat large face, the under jaw being much developed and very solid; her brow was low, her chin large and prominent, mouth and nose sufficiently regular; under her light eyebrows glimmered an eye devoid of ruth; her skin was dark and opaque, her hair nearly flaxen; her constitution was sound as a bell – illness never came near her; she was an exact, clever manager; her household and tenantry were thoroughly under her control; her children only at times defied her authority and laughed it to scorn; she dressed well, and had a presence and port calculated to set off handsome attire.

Chapter 21. "Missis had been out of health herself for some time: she had got very stout, but was not strong with it; and the loss of money and fear of poverty were quite breaking her down. The information about Mr John's death and the manner of it came too suddenly: it brought on a stroke."

Chapter 21. The well-known face was there: stern, relentless as ever – there was that peculiar eye which nothing could melt, and the somewhat raised, imperious, despotic eyebrow. How often had it lowered on me menace and hate! and how the recollection of childhood's terrors and sorrows revived as I traced its harsh line now!

John Reed

John Reed portrait
Craig Roberts from the 2011 film

Mrs Reed's son (14 years old at the novel's start). He is cruel to Jane, rude to his mother and disliked by everyone else. He grows up to have a wasted life, mixing with the wrong people and losing money. He is believed to have committed suicide and his death brought on his mother's.

Chapter 1. John Reed was a schoolboy of fourteen years old; four years older than I, for I was but ten: large and stout for his age, with a dingy and unwholesome skin; thick lineaments in a spacious visage, heavy limbs and large extremities. He gorged himself habitually at table, which made him bilious, and gave him a dim and bleared eye and flabby cheeks. He ought now to have been at school; but his mama had taken him home for a month or two, "on account of his delicate health." Mr Miles, the master, affirmed that he would do very well if he had fewer cakes and sweetmeats sent him from home; but the mother's heart turned from an opinion so harsh, and inclined rather to the more refined idea that John's sallowness was owing to over-application and, perhaps, to pining after home.

Chapter 1. John had not much affection for his mother and sisters, and an antipathy to me. He bullied and punished me; not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice in the day, but continually: every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank when he came near. There were moments when I was bewildered by the terror he inspired, because I had no appeal whatever against either his menaces or his inflictions; the servants did not like to offend their young master by taking my part against him, and Mrs Reed was blind and deaf on the subject: she never saw him strike or heard him abuse me, though he did both now and then in her very presence, more frequently, however, behind her back.

Chapter 2. John no one thwarted, much less punished; though he twisted the necks of the pigeons, killed the little pea-chicks, set the dogs at the sheep, stripped the hothouse vines of their fruit, and broke the buds off the choicest plants in the conservatory: he called his mother "old girl," too; sometimes reviled her for her dark skin, similar to his own; bluntly disregarded her wishes; not unfrequently tore and spoiled her silk attire; and he was still "her own darling."

Chapter 10. "Oh, he is not doing so well as his mama could wish. He went to college, and he got – plucked, I think they call it: and then his uncles wanted him to be a barrister, and study the law: but he is such a dissipated young man, they will never make much of him, I think."
  "What does he look like?"
  "He is very tall: some people call him a fine-looking young man; but he has such thick lips."

Chapter 21. "Why, you see, Miss Eyre, it is not a common mishap: his life has been very wild: these last three years he gave himself up to strange ways, and his death was shocking."
  "I heard from Bessie he was not doing well."
  "Doing well! He could not do worse: he ruined his health and his estate amongst the worst men and the worst women. He got into debt and into jail: his mother helped him out twice, but as soon as he was free he returned to his old companions and habits. His head was not strong: the knaves he lived amongst fooled him beyond anything I ever heard. He came down to Gateshead about three weeks ago and wanted missis to give up all to him. Missis refused: her means have long been much reduced by his extravagance; so he went back again, and the next news was that he was dead. How he died, God knows! – they say he killed himself."

Eliza Reed

Eliza Reed portrait
Emma Jacobs from the 1983 TV series

The older daughter of Mrs Reed.

Chapter 2. Eliza, who was headstrong and selfish, was respected.

Chapter 4. Eliza was putting on her bonnet and warm garden-coat to go and feed her poultry, an occupation of which she was fond: and not less so of selling the eggs to the housekeeper and hoarding up the money she thus obtained. She had a turn for traffic, and a marked propensity for saving; shown not only in the vending of eggs and chickens, but also in driving hard bargains with the gardener about flower-roots, seeds, and slips of plants; that functionary having orders from Mrs Reed to buy of his young lady all the products of her parterre she wished to sell: and Eliza would have sold the hair off her head if she could have made a handsome profit thereby. As to her money, she first secreted it in odd corners, wrapped in a rag or an old curl-paper; but some of these hoards having been discovered by the housemaid, Eliza, fearful of one day losing her valued treasure, consented to intrust it to her mother, at a usurious rate of interest – fifty or sixty per cent.; which interest she exacted every quarter, keeping her accounts in a little book with anxious accuracy.

Chapter 10. "Miss Reed [Eliza as an adult] is the head and shoulders taller than you [Jane] are…"

Chapter 21. Eliza still spoke little: she had evidently no time to talk. I never saw a busier person than she seemed to be; yet it was difficult to say what she did: or rather, to discover any result of her diligence.

Chapter 21. Two young ladies appeared before me; one very tall, almost as tall as Miss Ingram – very thin too, with a sallow face and severe mien. There was something ascetic in her look, which was augmented by the extreme plainness of a straight-skirted, black, stuff dress, a starched linen collar, hair combed away from the temples, and the nun-like ornament of a string of ebony beads and a crucifix. This I felt sure was Eliza, though I could trace little resemblance to her former self in that elongated and colourless visage.

Georgiana Reed

Georgiana Reed portrait
Tracey Childs from the 1983 TV series

The younger of Mrs Reed's daughters.

Chapter 2. Georgiana, who had a spoiled temper, a very acrid spite, a captious and insolent carriage, was universally indulged. Her beauty, her pink cheeks and golden curls, seemed to give delight to all who looked at her, and to purchase indemnity for every fault.

Chapter 3. "Yes, I doat on Miss Georgiana!" cried the fervent Abbot. "Little darling! – with her long curls and her blue eyes, and such a sweet colour as she has; just as if she were painted!"

Chapter 21. The other was as certainly Georgiana: but not the Georgiana I remembered – the slim and fairylike girl of eleven. This was a full-blown, very plump damsel, fair as waxwork, with handsome and regular features, languishing blue eyes, and ringleted yellow hair. The hue of her dress was black too; but its fashion was so different from her sister's – so much more flowing and becoming – it looked as stylish as the other's looked puritanical.

…the blooming and luxuriant younger girl had her contour of jaw and chin – perhaps a little softened, but still imparting an indescribable hardness to the countenance otherwise so voluptuous and buxom.

Bessie Leaven (née Lee)

Bessie portrait
Kate David from the 1983 TV series

The nurse at Gateshead who is the only one to show kindness to Jane.

Chapter 1. as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evenings, when she chanced to be in good humour;

Chapter 4. When thus gentle, Bessie seemed to me the best, prettiest, kindest being in the world; and I wished most intensely that she would always be so pleasant and amiable, and never push me about, or scold, or task me unreasonably, as she was too often wont to do. Bessie Lee must, I think, have been a girl of good natural capacity, for she was smart in all she did, and had a remarkable knack of narrative; so, at least, I judge from the impression made on me by her nursery tales. She was pretty too, if my recollections of her face and person are correct. I remember her as a slim young woman, with black hair, dark eyes, very nice features, and good, clear complexion; but she had a capricious and hasty temper, and indifferent ideas of principle or justice: still, such as she was, I preferred her to any one else at Gateshead Hall.

Chapter 10. I saw a woman attired like a well-dressed servant, matronly, yet still young; very good-looking, with black hair and eyes, and lively complexion.

Other characters

Mr Reed: Mrs Reed's husband and brother to Jane's mother who died nine years before the novel begins (when Jane was one). He took Jane in when she was orphaned and forced her wife to promise to care for her after his death.

Miss Abbott: Mrs Reed's lady's-maid who dislikes Jane.

Mr Lloyd: an apothecary employed in place of a physician for when servants (and Jane) are ill. It is he who first suggests sending Jane away to school.

1. Stone Gappe is in Lothersdale, North Yorkshire, about 35 miles south-east of Cowan Bridge.