Friday, August 5, 2011

Freemasonry and Charlotte Brontë

My assignment in Victorian Lit was to write something interesting about Jane Eyre.  After reading through the novel, I noticed that two sections in the book (ch. 2 and 20) were similar in their religious overtones. I kept studying the few pages from each chapter that dealt with a form of ritual. Young Jane and later Mason suffered blows that drew blood; the effect of a real spirit haunted the red-room while, through the portrait of Judas, Satan threatened Jane and Mason; and certain suggestive words like "solemn" and "dreary consecration" aligned with "mystic cell" and "spellbound."  Jane's "consternation of soul" also matched both events. What religion and religious symbols was she using?  The entire puzzle would have remained hidden if I hadn't noticed that, after remarking on Rochester's "dismay" when he knew that Mason was at Thornfield, Brontë had written the following sentence: "Why had the mere name of this unresisting individual--whom his word now sufficed to control like a child--fallen on him, a few hours since, as a thunderbolt might fall on an oak?"  The man's name was powerful and it held a clue. What was it about his name that was so important? I suddenly saw that she could be alluding to Masons or Freemasonry in her rituals and symbols.  I rushed over to the campus library and hauled the huge Dictionary of Freemasonry down from the shelf and began searching for relevant terms and symbols.  Immediately, everything fit. But how could Charlotte know about Freemasonry, a secret male fraternity? My prof supplied the answer: her brother Branwell was a Master Mason.  To show how little I knew about this family, I said, "She had a brother?"

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