My recent foray into the realm of the unconscious through the analysis of dreams and the discovery of a powerful animus presence, has led me back to the Bronte sisters and in particular, Charlotte, whose self titled ‘Autobiography’, ‘Jane Eyre’ is a treasure trove of rich psychic material that might well be seen as an ‘allegory of feminine psychological development’ or in Jungian terms, Individuation.
Ever since I read Joseph Campbell say that he had “taught at a women’s college for nearly four decades, and said to his students, all I can tell you about mythology is what men have said and have experienced, and now women have to tell us from their point of view what the possibilities of the feminine future are,” I have been curious to find those stories that are written by women. As Jungian analyst Barbara Hannah writes, ‘The Bronte material comes directly from the psychology of women and gives us an excellent opportunity to study the collective unconscious as it appears in feminine psychology.”
Jane Eyre contains all the ingredients of a classic animus fantasy; the plain, intelligent un-mothered orphan / women who falls in love with a highly charismatic but cold, distant and troubled older man. She cares for his children and him while his mad, frenzied and passionate wife lies imprisoned in the attic above, completely hidden from sight and unbeknown to all including Jane until their love finally blossoms…
Charlotte Bronte lived in a time well before the birth of psychology, yet her remarkable achievement, as with that of her sister Emily in ‘Wuthering Heights’, was to engage so deeply with the inner life and creatively turn the unfulfilled parts of their respective biographies into fictional worlds that not only continue to resonate in the collective feminine unconscious today, but that also assisted Charlotte at the time in transcending her own ‘fate’ through a journey of self transformation and healing, making her something of a model for the contemporary woman encountering the ‘problem of the animus’ in her own individuating journey.
Jung’s concept of the animus was the image of the masculine spirit or unconscious mind of a women and though he can often appear or act as a kind of demonic presence as he does through the character of Heathcliff and to a lesser extent Mr Rochester, he can also be a collaborator particularly in creative women between herself and the collective unconscious. “In Latin the word animus means intellect, memory, consciousness, character and spirit. It is often equated with ‘mind’ and is also used to mean courage, vivacity, bravery and will.” As Hannah concludes, when a woman takes up the ‘problem of the animus’ her goal becomes “to find the inherited collective image of the spirit or mind that she has always projected onto man.”
The Bronte sisters were raised by their father after their mother died when the oldest sister Maria, was not yet 8 years old. He is described as having a ‘wild Irish temperament’, and bad moods and depressions, leaving the Bronte children much to their own devices and imaginations. This somewhat unusual childhood might be seen by the modern psychologist to disturb the normal individuation process, yet the Bronte sisters have redeemed much in their allegorical portrayals of self development through rich full bodied characters like Jane, Bertha and Rochester.
On the surface Jane’s story reads like a fairytale and indeed has many mythic motifs including Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, the orphan and redemption through suffering. Jane’s search for herself results in an acceptance of both her positive and negative traits and a coming to wholeness in her final union with Rochester.
Jane’s story begins under inauspicious circumstances and a lack of a healthy family orientation or nurturing maternal influence. As Von Franz discusses, “If the development of consciousness is disturbed in its normal unfolding, children frequently retire from outer or inner difficulties into an inner ‘fortress”. This is most certainly true of our young Jane as well as Charlotte herself. Her orphan character in the opening chapter of ‘Jane Eyre’ is characteristically hidden from the violence and harrassment of her foster family in the ‘Scarlett drapery of the window seat’ where “having drawn the red moreen curtains nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.” Later Jane is locked in the ‘red room’ as punishment and this symbolic use of colour seems to foreshadow the passionate defiance that young Jane continues to exhibit as she fights back at every turn.
Jane’s first father figure appears in her next developmental stage as she proceeds to the outer world at Lowood school. The reverend Mr Brocklhurst is an authoritative animus figure and she describes his raw maleness as “a black pillar! Such at least he appeared to me.” He inspires fear and a distinct lack of human feeling for some of the girls and too much for others, providing a twisted father image that disturbs much of Jane’s further development in her relationships with men. Her education however, gives her a sense of community and worldly experience and her two female role models in the governess Miss Temple and her friend Helen Burns though ultimately deserting her, provide a rich and nurturing grounding for her next phase of womanhood at Thornfield.
Jane embarks on a true heroine’s journey and in Jungian terms must overcome many trials including her need for a father figure, finding and coming to terms with her animus and embracing her dark side or shadow. Her journey rather than being marked by danger is characterised by extreme loneliness which is common to those undertaking the road to self actualisation. “It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted…fear with me became predominant.”
The first encounter between Jane and Rochester foreshadows their reluctance to really see each other and the web of fantasy that they will have to eventually untangle. Rochester states it beautifully in his impressions of that meeting “No wonder you have the look of another world…when you came upon me in Hay Lane last night, I thought unaccountably of fairytales, and had a half mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse.” Rochester would like to escape with Jane into this world of fantasy and has a hard time, as Jane does, in facing reality which inevitably, they must.
Adele the child puts it best when she says, “She would get tired of living with only you in the moon. If I were mademoiselle, I would never consent to go with you…there is no road to the moon: it is all air; and neither you nor she can fly.” And therein lies the crux of the problem and the mammoth task Jane has of dissolving the projections and gaining a clear insight into Edward Rochester not as a father substitute even though he is clearly old enough to be. This is a notion that Jane cannot consciously entertain but one that any women who wishes to come to terms with the animus as father figure must overcome if she is to enter into a full relationship with the masculine. Jane’s struggle to reconcile her love for Rochester as both parental and erotic are among the many reasons for her eventual departure from Rochester.
It doesn’t help that the presence of the anima in Rochester is also projected onto Jane. Ester Harding writes, ‘The projection of the anima to a woman, or of the animus to a man, always produces a peculiar fascination and a strong emotional involvement with that particular person…when that happens the two are irresistibly drawn to each other.”
When the presence of Bertha, Rochester’s passionate wife in the attic is revealed Jane gains a remarkable clarity and unshaken conviction given to her by the animus. She knows what she must do and what she must do is leave. In many ways this is when Jane’s ultimate awakening begins and she is forced to deeply examine herself.
Jane’s shadow that she must now face which was foreshadowed in the red symbolism of her childhood room, is personified in Rochester’s first wife , the mad and passionate Bertha Mason and it is indeed this passion and sexuality that Jane must come to terms with in herself. But Jane continually runs when her shadow approaches and when Bertha attempts to burn Rochester’s bed she asks, ‘Is she possessed by the devil?” It is only when Jane is forced to confront the shadow figure of Bertha face to face at the interruption of the wedding can she finally admit her existence and begin the work of integration. As Joseph Campbell writes of the shadow integration; “These people represent the aspects of myself, the existence of which I refuse to admit to myself…you should find a way to realise your shadow in your life somehow.”
The last phase of Jane’s journey is a spiritual one in which she comes to terms with her darkness and is reborn as an independent woman. This wholeness is what allows her to return to Rochester as a complete self and mature woman. Bertha’s death and Rochester’s maiming in this ‘autobiography’ all become metaphors for the transformation that has taken place within Jane. She returns with the knowledge and conviction of the love that she deserves and conveys in the end a secure and complete sense of self as she claims her final and hard won union.
The undeniable mythic dimensions in this story are of epic proportions and reminiscent of Grimms tale, The Handless Maiden. Bronte has found the deeply human element in the female individuation story and has beautifully transformed her own difficult upbringing and animus problem including an imaginal relationship, into a remarkable work of art. Her own maturity and eventual marriage only lasted a year before her tragic death in childbirth however there seems to have been an element in Charlotte Bronte that strove through commitment to her art and a wrestling with the threatening forces of the unconscious, to transcend her destiny and find a semblance of unity within and without.
Charlotte Bronte, “Jane Eyre”, 1847
Emma Jung, Animus and Anima, 1974
Barbara Hannah, ‘The Animus, The Spirit of Inner Truth in Women”, 2011
Joseph Campbell, ‘Pathways to Bliss”, 2004
Joseph Campbell, “Goddesses, Mysteries of the Feminine Divine”, 2013
Marie Louise Von Franz, “The Process of Individuation”, in CG Jung, ‘Man and His Symbols”, 1964.
Esther Harding, “The I and Not I: A Study in the Development of Consciousness, 1965.