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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
It is a cold and dreary winter afternoon, and outdoor activity is impossible. Jane's aunt, Mrs. Reed, has her own children, Eliza, John, and Georgiana, happily gathered around her on a sofa in the drawing room of Gateshead Hall. Jane is excluded from the group. She steals into the adjoining breakfast room and sits in a window with Bewick's History of British Birds; the pictures in the book correspond to her lonely feelings.
John Reed interrupts Jane and drags her out of her hiding place. He is a fourteen-year-old overweight hulk, who is home from boarding school. He is pampered by his mother, who takes no notice of his bullying Jane, even when he does it in her presence. On this occasion John strikes Jane and tells her not to take liberties with the books. For her punishment, he makes her stand near the window and knocks her down. Infuriated by John's attack, Jane retaliates as never before and declares aloud what she thinks of John. Mrs. Reed and the servants separate the two children, and Mrs. Reed punishes Jane by locking her up in "the red room."
Chapter 1 presents Jane as an emotionally deprived child, completely at the mercy of the Reeds, who not only abuse her physically, but also torment her mentally by excluding her from the family circle. She is denied the freedom to escape through her imagination by looking out of a window or reading a book. In the process of defending herself, she becomes as self-willed as the Reeds themselves. However, loneliness drives her to cultivate the life of the intellect whenever possible. She has developed a love for books and by the age of ten has read Goldsmith's History of Rome.
The novel begins with a reference to a dreary day in November. It presents a scene of mist and cloud, wet lawn and storm-beaten shrub, with "ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast." It is an appropriate setting to begin the tale of an orphaned girl who is deprived of love and warmth. It is no wonder then that the passage Jane reads in Bewick's book describes the birds as "standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray." The description of the birds reflects Jane's own pitiful condition.