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Novels Lecture Transcript

This lecture is going to talk about how you should prepare to read the novel Jane Eyre that we’re reading for this class, so make sure that you click that green arrow and move on through the different slides.


Similar to our lecture on fiction, when you read a novel, you want to pay attention to time. Now there is a difference between chronological time and novel time. Chronological time is the order of events in which they actually happened, so, that would be just starting at the beginning and going through the end. However, novels don’t always move like that. Sometimes a novel begins in the middle, sometimes a novel begins at the end, or sometimes you will have flashbacks, so there is a difference between chronological time and novel time. And when the author lets you know when an event happens maybe at any point of the story, so when we talk about plot we’re really talking about chronological time, but when we’re talking about events in the story then we’re talking about novel time.

Also as you analyze the setting, the place is very important. For example in Jane Eyre, we have different places - we have her original home with her aunt, we have Lowood School, and eventually we have Thornfield Hall. And so you want to take a look at these different places and the events that occurred there.

You also want to take a look at the different objects. For example Jane draws pictures, and these pictures reveal a lot about who she is and in fact, the master of Thornfield Hall actually comments on them. Take a look at the environment and the ambience in the novel as well. Pay attention to the way Thornfield Hall looks and feels to Jane when she first arrives and compare that to how it looks and feels when she comes back to it in the end of the novel.

Who is the Narrator?

As you read the novel Jane Eyre, you really want to pay attention to who is the narrator. Remember that when the narrator is first person, that’s where the narrator says I. As you read Jane Eyre, you’re going to notice that some of the novel has first person narration as Jane Eyre describes her circumstances and situation. However, narration often changes to third person with he and she. Now it’s limited omission, we don’t get everyone's feelings and thoughts but you want to pay attention to the people that we get to see what they are thinking. Stream of consciousness, we talked a little bit about that before in fiction, doesn’t really effect this novel, but do pay attention to the author. Does the author ever intrude? Now remember the author is Charlotte Bronte, that’s not the same as character Jane Eyre. So pay attention to Jane Eyre’s opinion, and then see whether or not you ever notice if the author gives her opinion, that would be Charlotte Bronte’s opinion.

Reliable or Unreliable Narrator

Now as your listen to that narrator, you have to decide should we believe what the narrator tells us. Is that narrator reliable or unreliable? For example, in the parts of the book where Jane Eyre’s giving her opinion, you have to remember that’s a characters opinion. That’s not necessarily the truth. Sometimes we have to look at more than one character’s thoughts and feelings to get to the actual truth, just like in actual psychology, three or four people who might see the crime and they each remember a slightly different story, so pay attention to not just what the narrator says, but the other events that might prove that what the person is saying is true or not true.


When we discuss plot, it’s very similar to dramatic structure and also similar to that of regular fiction. It is the order of events, and we usually start out with an exposition [which is the who, what, where, when]. So in the beginning of Jane Eyre, we learn who Jane is and about her aunt and her cousins, and what happens to her. The first conflict is that Jane doesn’t get along with her aunt, and her aunt sends her to this terrible school called Lowood. And, in addition to being sent to that school, Jane has a lot of other problems as she is growing up. Now, I don’t want to tell you what the climax is of the book, just in case you haven’t completed it yet, but that climax is very exciting. Remember this is the pivotal point of the action, so you have to imagine that Jane’s going to have a lot of problems and suddenly it’s going to look like all of her dreams are going to come true, but then again we know there is going to be another problem and so that’s probably going to be the climax. Then in the resolution, because this is not a tragedy, we’re going to have to resolve those problems and see how they all come together. So, in the resolution, Jane has to figure out how to solve all these problems and so we will see how all these characters come back together in the end.

Characters in Novels have more Depth

In novels, the characters tend to have much more depth. We still have those stock characters, like butlers who open and close doors, but we focus on main characters. We are going to learn a lot about them. How do we learn about them? Well, we learn about them through their dialogue [what do they say to other people]. We also learn about them through their physical actions [what they physically do]. Remember in Jane Eyre that we have limited omission, so we get some of the thoughts or mental actions of some of the characters and you want to pay attention to those. We also have the judgments of others. For example towards the end of the novel, Jane meets Saint John Rivers, so we’re going to get some judgment there on who people are and how they behave. Sometimes we get narrator judgment. Remember in Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre is the narrator sometimes, and so we might get her opinion of her judgment. And remember that an intrusive author, sometimes the author will come in and give his or her judgments, so you want to pay attention if Charlotte Bronte intrudes in the novel at all and gives her opinions. All of this is important to understand the story and what really happens.

Theme vs. Subject
Now in talking about novels, we often talk about difference between the theme versus the subject, and we’ve talked about themes before in literary motifs and fictions, so I’m not going to cover that again, but there is a difference between subject and theme. A subject in a book might be the general topic of the book, so for example in Jane Eyre, the subject might be governesses and how they live or in another book the general topic might be about marriage and people getting married. However, the theme is how the author wants us to think about that subject - do we think it’s a good thing or bad thing? For example in Jane Eyre, we learned that being a governess is pretty hard life, and that we have a pretty good idea that theme-wise, the author wants us to know that wasn’t really a good, happy profession. In thinking about if the subject of the book is marriage then the theme might be that marriage sometimes makes people unhappy and people aren’t always thrilled, we don’t always have happily ever after, so that’s something to think about when you read a novel.

Symbolism & Irony

Just as in reading fiction, when we read novels, we have symbolism and irony. Remember that symbolism can be personal or culture, right, like a red rose can equal love. But remember personal symbolism is in there too, so we’re actually going to learn a little bit about Charlotte Bronte, so maybe that we have a chance to pick up some of her personal symbols she puts in the novel.

We also have dramatic and circumstantial irony. Remember dramatic irony is where we know something that a character in the book doesn’t know. So you want to pay attention to that and circumstantial irony. For example if someone in the book says I shall never be happy and that person is not happy at the end of the book that will be like circumstantial irony.

Last Updated: 02/05/2015
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