Souvenirs of Sadism: Mahogany Furniture, Deforestation, and Slavery in <i>Jane Eyre</i>

Elaine Freedgood

in The Ideas in Things

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2006 | ISBN: 9780226261553
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226261546 | DOI:
Souvenirs of Sadism: Mahogany Furniture, Deforestation, and Slavery in Jane Eyre

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Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre is a novel flush with the details of furniture and drapery; in particular, Brontë seems to have been something of an aficionado of wood. At Gateshead, the residence of the despicable Reed family, there is massive mahogany furniture. Some of the finest mahogany once came from Madeira and the Caribbean; indeed, in the Caribbean the word “madeira” meant mahogany (as well as wine) well into the nineteenth century. Both places were deforested of mahogany and planted with the cash crops that allow Jane Eyre to furnish her world with souvenirs, in the form of mahogany furniture, of the original material source of her wealth. The geographical coordinates of Jane Eyre—Britain, Madeira, and Jamaica—allow the novel to revisit and remember the violence that inheres in the history and geography of British colonization, slavery, and trade. This chapter argues that Jane's purchase and placement of mahogany furniture symbolizes, naturalizes, domesticates, and internalizes the violent histories of deforestation, slavery, and the ecologically and socially devastating cultivation of cash crops in Madeira and Jamaica.

Keywords: Charlotte Brontë; Jane Eyre; mahogany; violence; slavery; deforestation; cash crops; Madeira; Jamaica; colonization

Chapter.  8444 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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