What is the function of the setting of Thornfield in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and are their any critical reviews on the subject?
The function of the setting of Thornfield Hall in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is to establish the repressive but opulent setting in which Edward Rochester resides, and where Jane will work as a governess. The geographic setting is, in and of itself, designed to isolate Bronte’s protagonist by placing her in an alien environment where she will feel far removed from her comfort zone. As Jane, the narrator, suggests in Chapter X, Thornfield was far afield from where she envisioned herself:
“I longed to go where there was life and movement: Millcote was a large manufacturing town on the banks of the A-; a busy place enough, doubtless: so much the better; it would be a complete change at least. Not that my fancy was much captivated by the idea of long chimneys and clouds of smoke— ‘but,’ I argued, “Thornfield will, probably, be a good way from the town’.”
Thornfield itself is not depressing; on the contrary, Jane’s observations of this sizable estate is quite positive. Upon viewing it for the first time, she notes that “a cosy and agreeable picture presented itself to my view.” Later, during a party at the estate, she describes the the scene as especially celebratory:
“A joyous stir was now audible in the hall: gentlemen’s deep tones and ladies’ silvery accents blent harmoniously together, and distinguishable above all, though not loud, was the sonorous voice of the master of Thornfield Hall, welcoming his fair and gallant guests under its roof. Then light steps ascended the stairs; and there was a tripping through the gallery, and soft cheerful laughs, and opening and closing doors, and, for a time, a hush.”
Thornfield Hall, however, is the scene of Jane’s greatest maturation as a woman, and the scene of her greatest conundrum concerning her future. Rochester’s proposal of marriage does not initially sit well with Jane because his domain established his demeanor. Later in the novel, when Thornfield burns to the ground, its remains symbolize the destruction of Rochester’s façade. Without this visible symbol of affluence and strength, he is rendered weak and, consequently, sympathetic. Thornfield is a symbol of a time and a place in early 19th Century England. Its destruction could be viewed as a metaphor, but that might be reading too much into Bronte’s story.