Jane Eyre and Helen Burns: Two Representations of Celebrity

Excellent reading for tomorrow’s lesson, Year 11!

Victorian Women Writers & Celebrity

[Alexis Gaither]

When Charlotte Brontë published Jane Eyre under her pseudonym “Currer Bell” in 1847, the story of the principled yet solitary orphan became an instant success (i). Brontë faced the criticisms and assessments that occur with such a success, just as Jane’s character is confronted with similar threats to her reputation throughout the novel. While the superiors of Jane’s childhood and the elite of her adulthood challenge her on many fundamental levels, Jane has a habit of remaining steadfast.

An illustration of Jane Eyre being admonished by Mr. Brocklehurst. An illustration of Jane Eyre being admonished by Mr. Brocklehurst.

This dedication to integrity in the face of public adversity could not have developed in Jane without the guidance of Helen Burns. Helen transforms Jane’s ability to accept misfortune and handle degradation in the public eye. Jane’s arrival at Lowood is under the pretense of a dysfunctional relationship with her guardian, which is only fueled by the strict procedures of her…

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Year 10 Summer Holiday Revision

Use the links below to revise the Eduqas Poetry Anthology:


Use the link below to revise Romeo and Juliet:


And don’t forget to read Jane Eyre when you’ve got a minute.

Have a brilliant summer,

Mrs B.

Component 1 Sample Paper

Dear Year 11,

Here is my attempt at the sample paper you had a go at this morning:

Sample Paper Component 1

A1 Read lines 1-7. List five things you learn about Justo in these lines.

  • He has a reputation in Guernica and the surrounding area;
  • People say he is a ‘defender of causes’ – an activist;
  • People say he is a ‘wit’ – a witty or humorous person;
  • He enjoys / relishes having a reputation – he is ‘eager to create his own mythology’;
  • He is known for his strength and performs well at the ‘strength events’;
  • He once carried an ox into town and threw it in the river.


A2 Read lines 8-34. How does the writer show you Justo’s physical strength and power in these lines? (5 marks)

You must refer to the language used in the text to support your answer, using relevant subject terminology.

The writer uses verbs and adverbs to indicate Justo’s physical strength, for example, he ‘tore’ into the pine log, which makes it seem as if breaking a log in half is akin to ripping a piece of paper, it’s that easy for him. It also implies that he has the strength of an animal ‘tearing’ into its prey. During the ‘farmer’s walk’ event he ‘grasped’ the weights, which makes him seem steady and assured, and ‘marched without a struggle’, which emphasises his ease further. The way the writer stresses how easy he appears to find the task: his back is ‘rigid’ rather than being pulled into the ‘dangerous curve’ of ‘most competitors’. The writer compares Justo to the others – he ‘split the log well before any others’ and then marches ‘past the marks where others had fallen’. Other competitors are described as ‘little ones’ and ‘the boy’, which contrasts with Justo’s greatness, and his charismatic interaction with ‘the boy’, coupled with his ‘false drama’ for the audience, suggests that, far from finding the competition difficult, he is relishing the opportunity to show off. Finally, the writer structures this section to show Justo’s physical power: first we are given the impression that he will struggle: ‘his face straining as if he’d never get [the weights] off the ground’ and then we realise that he is only acting. This structure makes his strength appear even more impressive – superhuman, almost.

A3 Read lines 35 to 64. How does the writer show that Maria is interested in Justo in these lines? You should write about:

  • What Maria does to attract his attention;
  • The writer’s use of language to show her interest in Justo
  • The effects on the reader (10 marks)


You must refer to the text to support your answer, using relevant subject terminology.

The writer uses a wry, ironic tone of voice to describe Maria’s contriving to be in the vicinity of Justo: ‘It so happened…’, ‘And who could have imagined that…’ and ‘it was natural that…’ The implication is that none of her actions were coincidental; they were all premeditated in the hope of attracting Justo’s attention, highlighting her interest in Justo. The verb ‘unleashed her most feminine laugh’ make it clear that Maria is exaggerating her actions in order to attract Justo’s attention. This quotation also suggests that she is using her femininity to entice him. The writer uses superlatives: ‘most feminine laugh’ and ‘broadest smile’ to show how she accentuates normal behaviour in the hope of attracting his attention. She repeatedly contrives to be in Justo’s path, not only at the beginning of this section, where she ‘discover[s] the need to visit friends near the finish line’, then when she arranges to present the prize to the winner and finally when she ‘skirted the gathering so that he would have to pass her again’. The repetition serves to emphasis her determination to gain his attention. Structurally, her behaviour becomes less and less subtle; by line 49 she asks him outright if he would like to dance with her and flirtatiously appeals to his pride: ‘if you’re not too worn out from all the chopping and lifting’. This is a subtle way of challenging him; Maria knows that an appeal to Justo’s ego is the most effective way of getting him interested in her. When she defends him to her sisters: ‘He has character’, the writer makes it seem that her interest in Justo is not simply physical but that that she is attracted to his personality, adding depth to the ‘silence’ that characterises her as they walk home from the strength event.

A4 Read lines 65-87. What impressions do you get of Justo in these lines? (10 marks)

You must refer to the text to support your answer, using relevant subject terminology.

Justo’s behaviour with Maria’s family give the impression that he is a warm, friendly and confident person. The way he is described makes it seem that he is ‘part of the family’ from the start. He gives her mother a ‘vigorous handshake’ and ‘patted the father on his shoulder’. In this, the writer contrasts him with other suitors, who are perhaps more formal in their behaviour, bringing ‘flowers or sweets’. Justo’s failure to do so could make him seem rude, but rather, he just appears down to earth and relaxed. The fact that he wears his work clothes emphasises this. He uses his strength to help around the house, suggesting that he is keen to serve others and perhaps not as proud as we might have thought. I also get the impression that he treats women as equals: it is Maria’s mother’s hand he shakes ‘vigorously’, not her father’s, and he expects Maria to help him with the woodcutting, repairs, etc. When he proposes to Maria he does so in such a way as to emphasise his sense of humour, digressing from the course of the ‘farmer’s walk’ and holding both weights in one hand in order to retrieve the ring. This might make him seem arrogant or proud, but the way the text is structured (this episode immediately follows his helping with the household chores) ensures that we interpret his behaviour as good-natured and playful, rather than egotistical.

A5 Evaluate the way Maria is presented in this passage. You should write about:

  • Your own thoughts and feelings about how Maria is presented in the passage as a whole;
  • How the writer has created these thoughts and feelings.

You must refer to the text to support your answer.

Maria is ‘twenty’ and ‘the eldest of six girls’. Her behaviour is sometimes typical of the eldest sibling: she is confident and straightforward; she enjoys being in charge. We see this in the way she attracts Justo’s attention by placing herself in his path and arranging to present the prize. Both of these actions are bold, and suggest that Maria is someone who knows how to get what she wants. She seems to have a certain amount of power in the town as she is able to ‘arrange’ to ‘present the prize’ and also seems to understand men well for someone of her age. On one hand, she appears to be a bold, outgoing character, not typically ‘feminine’ at all. For example she asks Justo to dance and puts on her work clothes to help around the house. However, her feminine side is emphasised too: she ‘unlease[s] her most feminine laugh’ and smiles to attract Justo’s attention. These things suggest that Maria knows how to use her femininity to get what she wants. We presume that she is beautiful as it is common for her to have suitors at the house: ‘Others interested in Maria…’ so she is certainly desired by men in the town. This is perhaps why Maria seems so knowledgeable about men: she is used to their attention and this has given her the confidence to be able to flirt with Justo in the way that she does. Finally, she appears level-headed. When she walks home in silence, we are told that she her father is unable to word due to injuring both legs in a fall at the farm. Perhaps this is part of her motive: she feels the responsibility of looking after the family and this may be part of her motive for marrying a strong man like Justo who is dependable, competent and able to perform the household tasks (such as ‘heavy lifting’ and woodchopping) that her father is unable to do. This makes Maria seem shrewd – she chooses a husband well – and also selfless – she does not merely think of herself when choosing a husband, but of her family as a whole. Overall, she is someone who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. If Justo is a strong man physically, Maria is a strong woman emotionally. They are a good match!


To what extent do you agree?

Dear Year 10,

Here is my answer to Q5 on the ‘Fun with a Stranger’ extract.

The writer encourages the reader to change their opinion of Miss Snell by the end of the story. To what extent do you agree?

The story is structured to change the reader’s mind about the character of Miss Snell. Firstly we hear about her before we see her as the class have been ‘warned about her’. This means that we, like the children, have certain expectations: she will be strict, draconian, old-fashioned, and not much fun.

Initially, the writer does nothing to challenge such views. Mrs Snell is described as ‘a woman with a man’s face’ which makes her seem harsh and aggressive (sorry, men) and as ‘strict’ and ‘humourless’. She gives ‘lectures’ and speaks in imperatives, making her appear ill-humoured and bossy. She even makes the ‘good girl’ burst into tears.

However, as the text progresses, we become aware of time passing: ‘Towards the end of autumn…’ and ‘Finally, it was the last week before the Christmas holiday’. Phrases such as this structure the text so as to indicate the changing of the seasons. As the seasons change, so do the children’s opinions of Miss Snell, and consequently, so do ours. Her ‘homely, shy smile’ hints at a warmth beneath the harsh exterior and when she tells them that she wants them to ‘have fun’ and has ‘made friends’ with them we feel that she is much more companionable than she appeared at first. We begin to change our minds. The loyalty displayed by the children makes it difficult to continue to dislike her: children, after all, are excellent judges of character. John Gerdhart’s defence of Miss Snell is particularly touching.

Finally then, as the text builds towards the end of the Christmas term, we are not sure whether or not Miss Snell will melt into a softer version of herself and allow the children a party. The writer hints that this is a day like any other, repeating the phrase ‘like any other morning’ and ‘like any other rainy day’. This, coupled with the setting of a grey, rainy day,  makes us feel that there will be nothing special about the last day of term and it is therefore a surprise not only to John Gerdhardt, but the reader too, when the door is ajar just enough to reveal the ‘neat little pile of red and white wrapped packages’ on Miss Snell’s desk. Pleasantly surprised, we notice that she has wrapped them in ‘white tissue paper’ which is delicate, and contrasts with her ‘man’s face’ at the beginning. She has thoughtfully wrapped and chosen them, with separate (if a little stereotyped!) presents for the girls and boys, and this might remind us of her treating them as individuals earlier on in the passage. There is no party, but she is clearly, as John thinks, ‘human after all’.

At the end of the passage we feel that our opinion of her has definitely changed. She is no longer the stereotype that we feared to meet at the beginning, but instead thoughtful and caring. Ultimately, she has become human.

What do you think and feel?

Dear Year 11,

Here is an example of how to answer the ‘What are your thoughts and feelings?’ questions in the Component 2 exam.

What do you think and feel about Mr. Heritage writing to Mr. Halmer instead of Henry? (10)

I think that Henry would expect a reply from his father, which makes me feel sympathy for him.  In his letter he says ‘I hope, my dear Father, you will write me a Letter as soon as you receive this’. The tone of voice is somewhat desperate; the phrase ‘as soon as’ creates a sense of urgency. Presumably, Henry will not be receiving a letter from his father ‘as soon as’ he receives it, as he will be waiting for a reply from Mr. Halmer before responding. We also know however, from Henry’s letter, that Mr. Halmer is a trusted friend of the family: ‘or write to my good Friend Mr. Halmer, who is very kind to me’. This makes me feel that Mr. Heritage’s decision to write to Mr. Halmer is a thoughtful one; he has chosen someone that Henry trusts and respects and makes this point at the end of his letter: ‘I know you have been very kind to the Boys.’  He could, after all, have written to the school directly. Instead he chooses someone that Henry trusts and likes, and conveniently lives close to the school and knows it well. In this respect, I feel his decision is a sensible one.

I also feel that Mr. Heritage’s concern and love for his children is clear from his letter. He says ‘We all have a great desire to see [Henry]’. The word ‘great’ intensifies his emotion here. Similarly, his comment that ‘George is a great favourite with us all’ implies affection for the ‘other’ brother. And his concern for George’s welfare is clear in his comment that he is ‘not so able to endure ill treatment as Henry’.

Year 11: ‘How does the writer…?’

Hello Year 11,

Here is a sample answer to the question we had a go at today in class:

How does the writer convince us that he was not very academic or good at school work?

The writer also uses humour, describing his grades as a ‘line of Pac-Men doing the Conga’. The simile is a very light-hearted way of suggesting that he got a series of G grades, but the humour is convincing; we do not feel that he is exaggerating the truth, but that he has a clear view of what the situation was. Similarly, his tone of voice is convincing; even when describing painful memories of ‘chilly emptiness’ he remains he isn’t particularly upset or emotional. He seems detached and objective, which emphasises his certainty and makes us feel that we have no need to doubt him.

Rayner uses emotive language to convince us of his past failures. Words such as ‘dread’ and ‘humiliation’ are suggestive of the intense emotions that he felt as a child when unable to complete the homework tasks set. They make it seem as if he really struggled with his school work, and that his efforts were very much below the standards of his peers, and therefore humiliating.

The journalist also uses triplication in the list of three memories, which lends a certain truth to his writing. Even though these are, indeed, memories (and distant ones from years ago, at that), the effect of listing three of them makes them seem factual. Structurally, this long sentence is then followed by a short one: ‘The fact is that I was not especially academic.’ This makes Rayner sound certain; he presents his opinion as fact.

When describing his attempt to complete his son’s maths homework, the writer comments: ‘This I used to be able to do. Or at least I think I used to be able to do this.’ This is interesting, because it suggests that his memory is not perfect. It is an admission of his humanity which, rather than suggesting that we should doubt his memory of the past, only confirms that he is flawed, like everyone else, and that in all probability he was never any good at maths at all.

A3: ‘What impression…’

Hello Year 10.

Here is a sample answer to the question we looked at this morning:

What impression do you get of Miss Snell in lines 7-22 of ‘Fun with a Stranger’?

I get the impression that Miss. Snell is a traditional, old-fashioned woman. She is ‘probably sixty’ and ‘seemed to smell of pencil shavings and chalk dust’. This makes her seem musty and old. It also gives us the impression that teaching is a big part of her life and has perhaps taken over her identity.

I get the impression that Miss. Snell is quite a harsh teacher. Her eyes are ‘sharp’ and when she speaks it is a ‘snap’. These words make us feel that she has edges – she isn’t soft. She speaks using commands: ‘Don’t mumble’ and ‘Stand up’ which give the impression of an authoritative, perhaps dictatorial figure and her tirades at the pupils are described as ‘lectures’ which emphasise her authority.

She is also highly perceptive; I feel as if she has eyes in the back of her head. They are ‘sharp’ and she ‘almost always’ catches pupils who are talking in class.

This also gives us the impression that Miss. Snell is experienced as a teacher. She4 is used to working with children and has her own idiom for teaching: ‘Proper Supplies’.

She also uses a lot of questions in her speech: ‘Is it…?’ ‘Have you…?’ which makes it seem as if she is interrogating her pupils. We get the impression that she is strict and intimidating. She certainly doesn’t seem much fun. The word ‘humourless’ suggests she never sees the lighter side of life and the word ‘determined’ implies that she will not let others do so either.

Finally, she ‘seemed to have no favourites, and ‘picked on’ one of the good girls. This makes her seem unfair and heartless, or perhaps even gives the impression that she is a bit of a bully. However, it could also imply that she is fair, which creates a slightly more positive impression of her.