Engaging through Seeing


The opening scene of Charlotte Brontë’s best-known novel, Jane Eyre, reveals a young Jane pouring over the pages of Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds. Her eyes are drawn to the mysterious vignettes of the forlorn arctic and the lone ship on the rough sea. The images take over and inspire her imagination, but her deep connection to these images suggests something far more complex than a moment of childhood daydreaming. More than a simple literary allusion, the scene calls for a closer look into the relationship between imagination and illustration. This paper examines how both Bewick and Brontë understood the useful application of imagination in their roles as artists and as writers. It recognizes the nineteenth-century visual reading experience and argues that these authors intentionally used illustrations as integral parts of their texts. It also argues that young Jane’s ability to imaginatively partake in reading, and in life, make her both Bewick and Brontë’s ideal reader.


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