The Chronotype of the Victorian Fabula in Jane Eyre

Black and white scribble art depicting a hand holding a calligraphy pen, scratching on a sheet of paper. Source:

by Ghadah Alfualyj

This blog post explores how Charlotte Brontë crafts a feminist chronotope within Jane Eyre, from within the Victorian fabula of the hero’s journey, from Gateshead to Thornfield. With a thorough analysis of Jane Eyre, it appears to me that Brontë’s narrative is deeply focused on the chronotope, what Bahktin calls space-time, in the Victorian period. It is not wrong to say that Jane’s story is influenced by the period changes deriving from the story’s genre, as well as the characters’ behavior. This post also focuses on incorporating a feminist narrative perspective to discuss chronotopes and fabula of the novel. The fabula of a story is a sequential unfolding of events that makes a story plausible. In Bakhtin’s perspective, on one hand, chronotopes help us to study encounters and conflict within a story (Lawson, 2011; p. 380). From the fabula, on the other hand, the author manifests action or the structure of the story (Fludernik, 2009; p. 4). These two approaches are mixed together to provide a broader level of narrative insight into Brontë’s writing style.

Working with a rich fabula, like that of the Victorian novel, offers chances to make a story better by filling the gaps that earlier fables have left (Fludernik, 2009; p. 7). In specific situations, sometimes, the only solution is to rewrite the whole story with a separate narrative, for example, from a feminist approach. Moretti adopts a different approach to explain fabula; he thinks it is a chronologically consequential, complete, logical, objective, and simple term to understand narrative (Moretti, 2000; p. 210). On this point, I completely agree with him as the story of Jane Eyre moves forward, events unfold from which the story is derived, and not the other way around. The peculiarity of a novel’s structure is shown when a narrative’s functions, according to Moretti, are responsible for generating events that are asymmetrically distributed (Moretti, 2000; p. 201). This asymmetry leads to and can cause a disorder or defamiliarization which intrigues reader. The audience gets anxious when the main protagonist is stuck in trials struggling to keep order. At those moments, then the reader’s mind impatiently waits for the novel to reestablish peace. 

A Feminist Interpretation of Chronotopes and Fabula

The fabula provides the information of the events that move forward; it requires temporal and spatial settings to do so. The fabula itself is simple, or more like something that is plain, like when Moretti compares it with Jane’s appearance without makeup. It sort of adds a feminist prospect and perspective where a simple woman in the time of peak Victorian femininity was able to gain liberty and freedom. Brontë’s narrative is vaguely constructed in the feminist approach because, due to the British class system, women were still dependent on patriarchal society. Be it social or economic security, time, and space both show a stronghold of masculinity and persecution based on gender inequality. It also comes from and is seen in the romantic relationship that is partially toxic. We see this when Rochester dares to arrogantly utter demands in front of Jane, where she can only disagree, but cannot confront him due to the gender and social power differences (Brontë, 2018; p. 37). The time of the novel’s production and setting is the peak Victorian era that Haiyan argues was the time of men-centered authority. Jane has struggled throughout the novel for self-realization to fight for equality as a true feminist would. Until now, norms of that era or time, and our own, are being challenged but depict a need for reform. Here, I remember Neil Postman’s remarks about how storytelling enhances our civilization by indicating a need for change in societies (Postman, 1989). We see this need for change in Victorian society through Jane’s story. A feminist narrative is one of the many narrative threads that are formed in the search of an individual’s true narrative to resolve conflict and encounter in the real world (Lawson, 2011; p. 380).

Contrast between Fabula and Chronotopes

Fludernik emphasizes the point that a fabula is the rhetorical way of narrating the same story while changing narratives. Along with this approach, we have learned that it is also a chronological sequence of events where it appears as a pre-requisite of chronotope (Lawson, 2011; p. 386). The ‘same story’ concept is quite simple to understand and is like a feminist narrative perspective that tries to highlight every possible fact that is related to gender inequality and to analyze the novel with a subjective approach. Whereas this novel has inspired many movies based on drama and romance, the prime part of Brontë’s narrative (Herman, Phelan, Rabinowitz, Richardson, & Warhol, 2012) is rooted in the space-time expectations of Victorian England. Lawson discusses the dissimilarity between fabula and chronotope to explain Bakhtin’s idea. Fabula or ‘same story’ is dependent on narration that is influenced by the practical storytelling experience (Lawson, 2011; p. 388). Bakhtin tries to draw a line between both terms by calling chronotope the space and time when narration takes place. It means the chronotope could be crafted from the fabula which is the product of different narratives. The culture, time, and linguistic dynamics of the Victorian era have formed the base of the narrative of Brontë. From Gateshead Manor of Uncle Reed, Jane starts to describe the surrounding area, that includes but is not limited to,  vegetation, pavement, roads, the appearance of servants, and the structure of manor and room alignment (Brontë, 2018; p. 41). 

Similarity between Fabula and Chronotope

Lawson (2011) proves that narrative is what the narrator has experienced be that a process, or activity. He continues the argument by saying that this fact could lead the narrator to be biased while reiterating a story in his/her own words. Just for this case, think about Brontë as a narrator who is good enough to identify and criticize social problems of that era, including the social positions of women. Some of the good norms of that time, like male chivalry, originated during this same period as well. Chronologically, that era was developing to provide at least some rights to women than earlier times such as the Middle Ages did. Again, if we analyze the bias from the right perspective, I believe Brontë did an excellent job. As Lawson (2011) argues about the change of impressions when a narrative goes against the “parsimony” of social norms (p. 387), the narrative then becomes objective, more concrete, and complex as Jane Eyre’s strict classical tone does not let readers stray away from the main objective of narrative.

Chronotopes of Jane Eyre in detail

Bakhtin has identified four types of chronotopes: castle, salon, road, and the chronotope of threshold. Almost all of them are delineated in this novel. To talk about the road chronotope, the fabula has turned out in a way that Jane has to move from place to place. The theme of the novel indicates that she is searching for liberty and freedom. To achieve both she has to travel between five and six different places. The duration of her stay was not the same for every place, but she described every location quite well. For example, her first visit to Thornfield is described as “The roads were heavy …”  which tells it was a locality of high-class people who lived lavish lives (Brontë, 2018; p. 45).

The description of Rochester’s manner, at night and in the day later, and the complete overview of Mr. Reed’s house is an example of the castle chronotope. If seen with an angle of threshold, Bronte has made it more intriguing by adding trials in the way of Jane that match with Campbell’s approach of the Hero’s Journey. A few examples of these instances are when Mrs. Reed sends Jane to Lowood and when Jane’s marriage with Rochester is broken (Brontë, 2018; p. 48). 

Sanaz Tabrizi’s view of chronotopes in Jane Eyre

Tabrizi extends the chronotopic view of Jane Eyre and explores the possibility of Jane’s attained freedom and liberty or surrender to the patriarchal stronghold (Tabrizi & Khosravi, 2015). Her point of view questions the ending of novel, which is a happy ending, but it showed Jane’s economic needs fulfilled through the norm of the period. She inherited Uncle John’s money but, in the end, she had to give up against the chronotopes of that time, of the Victorian era. Tabrizi’s analysis of Jane Eyre concludes that Jane’s inability to achieve her identity as a woman within nineteenth-century constraints. Tabrizi, furthermore indicates that Jane Eyre reveals the chronotopes as recurring structures inseparable from culture deriving from the Victorian fabula (Tabrizi & Khosravi, 2015).

I conclude that the fabula is the narration of chronological events dependent on the author (Brontë). Brontë’s narrative style is based on romance, drama, and repetitive fantasy associated with the novels of the period in which she was writing. She draws from it proficiently to construct her plot inspired by cultural and chronological events. As the journey of the Hero, Jane is unveiled, as Brontë slowly crafts the chronotope from the fabula an echelon pattern that persists through the composition of the novel. Brontë’s creation of the narrative from the fabula offered the role of chronotopes in favor of gender equality and for addressing the social class dilemma of the Victorian era. It was because of new changes made possible in the fabula that affected her choices and development of the chronotopes of the story. 

Work Cited

Brontë, C. (2018). Jane eyre (pp. 53-72). CRC Press.

Fludernik, M. (2009). An introduction to narratology. Routledge.

Herman, D., Phelan, J., Rabinowitz, P. J., Richardson, B., & Warhol, R. (2012). Narrative theory: Core concepts and critical debates. The Ohio State University Press.

Lawson, J. (2011). Chronotope, story, and historical geography: Mikhail Bakhtin and the space‐time of narratives. Antipode43(2), 384-412.

Moretti, F. (2000). The way of the world: The Bildungsroman in European culture. Verso.

Neil Postman (1989). “Learning by Story (pp. 19-123).” The Atlantic Monthly: Print

Tabrizi, S. A., & Khosravi, R. (2015). A Bakhtinian perspective on the nineteenth century chronotope: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as a chronotopic counterpart for Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Theory and Practice in Language Studies5(Bartlett), 1945-1951.

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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