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The Ideas in ThingsFugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel$

Elaine Freedgood

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780226261553

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226261546.001.0001

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Souvenirs of Sadism: Mahogany Furniture, Deforestation, and Slavery in Jane Eyre

Souvenirs of Sadism: Mahogany Furniture, Deforestation, and Slavery in Jane Eyre

(p.30) 1 Souvenirs of Sadism: Mahogany Furniture, Deforestation, and Slavery in Jane Eyre
The Ideas in Things

Elaine Freedgood

University of Chicago Press

Abstract and Keywords

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

The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than “table-turning” ever was.

«KARL MARX, Capital, VOL. 1»

Thinking guides and sustains every gesture of the hand…. We chose the cabinetmaker's craft as our example, assuming it would not occur to anybody that this choice indicated any expectation that the state of our planet could in the foreseeable future, or indeed ever, be changed back into a rustic idyll. The cabinetmaker's craft was proposed as an example of our thinking because the common usage of the word “craft” is restricted to human activities of that sort. However—it was specifically noted that what maintains and sustains even this handicraft is not the mere manipulation of tools, but the relatedness to wood. But where in the manipulations of the industrial worker is there any relatedness to such things as the shapes slumbering within wood?


(p.31) From today's perspective, the subject of timber may seem a bit obscure, but to generations past it was exceedingly mundane. No contemporary resource can match timber's preeminent ranking in the pre-industrial world. Timber was not only the steel, aluminum, plastic and fiberglass of past ages, but oil, coal, and gas as well…. From the cradle to the coffin, the largest percentage of all past material culture has been wooden.

«SHAWN WILLIAM MILLER, Fruitless Trees: Portuguese Conservation and Brazil's Colonial Timber»

I. Furniture

Jane Eyre has been widely discussed as a text of empire; it has less often been commented on as a work about interior decoration. Yet this is a novel that is flush with the details of furniture and drapery; in particular, Charlotte Brontë seems to have been something of an aficionado of wood, and we would do well to note whose furniture is made of what. At Gateshead, the residence of the despicable Reed family, there is massive mahogany furniture. At Lowood School, the teacher's room is furnished in mahogany—undoubtedly in a plainer style and probably in a cheaper variety than that of Gateshead—but the students' dining room has long “deal tables.” Deal—planks of pine or fir—was the lowliest Victorian wood.

Indeed, mahogany and deal are two of the great class markers in Victorian fiction: mahogany, which is always being polished or burnished, represents tasteful opulence or nouveau riche groping for the trappings of bourgeois arrival; deal, which we usually find being scrubbed, can't approximate the luster of the much more expensive wood, but if it's clean it connotes honesty and employment in some form of hard work that doesn't pay well. A third kind of wood gets special mention in Jane Eyre: Thornfield has walnut-paneled walls, and the Rivers siblings have several pieces of walnut furniture. The “age of walnut” in English furniture history runs from 1660–1720, so that possession of walnut furniture in a novel in which empire has spawned much new richness indicates the relatively long duration of a family's gentility and lineage. The Rivers are cash poor now, but their walnut dresser (p.32) suggests they've got good blood (as does Jane, their first cousin, as it miraculously turns out in this most improbably plotted of realist novels).

Jane redecorates two residences in the last third of the novel: Moor House, the home of the Rivers siblings, where she is taken in by chance (no one knows yet that they are cousins) after she leaves Thornfield upon learning that Rochester is already married, and Ferndean, to which Rochester decamps when Thornfield conveniently burns to the ground, taking Bertha Mason with it. Jane avoids refurnishing Moor House too extensively; she allows this rural cottage to retain its own history and culture in the fact of its plain, but old and elegant, furnishings. She most aggressively tackles a few rooms that are only minimally furnished. Turning them, oddly enough, into replicas of the infamous red room at Gateshead, she fills them with the “old mahogany” furniture and crimson drapery that contributed to her terror during her imprisonment in the room where her kindly uncle died, taking all of her immediate prospects of happiness with him. She thus creates for herself a souvenir of the sadism she endured at the hands of her cousins and her Aunt Reed at Gateshead; she makes it her own. Jane also buys souvenirs of what might be described as another form of sadism: the deforestation, colonization, and implementation of plantation slavery in the two critical sources of wealth in the novel, Madeira and the Caribbean. “Old” mahogany is probably, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, furniture made in the age of mahogany, 1720–60, when this wood, and furniture made from it, was still being imported in large quantities from those islands.1

When Jane returns to the environs of Thornfield at the end of the novel (after the famous Gothic eruption in which she “hears” Rochester calling her name), an innkeeper tells her about the fire that has burned down the house: “Thornfield Hall is quite a ruin;” he says, “it was burnt down just about harvesttime. A dreadful calamity! Such an immense quantity of valuable property destroyed. Hardly any of the furniture could be saved.”2 (p.33) It is worth remarking that furniture is of paramount importance; it takes about five more pages for the innkeeper to mention Bertha Mason's suicide during the fire. And at the end of the novel, the first thing we learn about Ferndean is that it “has been uninhabited and unfurnished” (455). We can only speculate about Jane's designs on this new residence—no specific plans or purchases are mentioned—but the most important point for now is to notice the benefit of unfurnished space in this novel. Like the fictitious but still convincing “blank” spaces on the map of empire, the idea of empty space invites the exercise of habitation as a demonstration of power.3 The disposition of things in space is also a way of externalizing an internal arrangement of objects and of enacting, however unconsciously, a strict control over them. And it is no mistake that a character like Jane—tough, practical and resilient as she is—would choose mahogany furniture.

Because mahogany, according to a handy little book called Wood,4 is termite resistant; it is not subject to dry rot; it has little tendency to warp or twist; it is hard-hearted, which is a good thing for wood, making it dense and heavy; it has a fine straight grain and it polishes up beautifully to a reddish brown hue. It also takes glue exceedingly well, an important characteristic for Victorian furniture making. The great size of mahogany logs and the strength of the wood changed furniture design in the eighteenth century: very large and yet still delicate pieces could be made; the intricate carving and fretwork, skinny legs, and wafer-thin splats, seats, and table tops that characterize much eighteenth-century mahogany furniture (fig. 2) might be imagined as attempting to ornately reverse, in the light airy quality they produce, the literally and figuratively heavy legacy of this wood's arrival in England.

R. W. Symonds, in English Furniture from Charles II to George II, recounts a curious anecdote about the advent of mahogany in England; he cites A Book of English Trades (1823) as his source.5 In the late seventeenth century, one Dr. Gibbons had a brother who was a “West India captain.” This brother brought some planks of mahogany back from the Caribbean because heneeded ballast on his return journey to make up for the weight (p.34)

Souvenirs of Sadism: Mahogany Furniture, Deforestation, and Slavery in Jane Eyre

FIGURE 2. Mahogany Settee (1760). From Herbert Cescinsky, English Furniture of the Eighteenth Century, Vol. II. (London: The Waverly Book Company, Ltd., n.d.—circa 1928).

of the slaves he had delivered. On his return to England, he gave the planks to his brother Dr. Gibbons, who was in the midst of building a house. Initially the builders employed by Dr. Gibbons found the wood too hard to work with, but eventually he prevailed on them to make a candle box. The beauty of the wood was so striking that he commissioned a chest of drawers, which visitors admired immensely, and from this humble start, according to Symonds, mahogany as a furniture wood began to be imported into England in large quantities.

Jane can afford to refurnish and refurbish Moor House and Ferndean because she inherits a large sum from her uncle, an agent in Madeira of a trading company owned, in another almost unbelievable coincidence of connection, by the Mason family in Jamaica. During this period, Jane's uncle, John Eyre, was probably exporting the very popular madeira wine to the West Indies and Britain. Thornfield and Ferndean can be maintained because of the proceeds of this trading company in Madeira and (p.35) because of the profits from a sugar plantation, also owned by the Mason family, in Jamaica. Curiously enough, 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. The world of Jane Eyre is decorated with the literal and figural proceeds of Atlantic trade in these two crucial locations. 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. I'm going to argue in this chapter 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.

In a recent book on consumer protest in the eighteenth century, Charlotte Sussman has argued that colonial products like tea and sugar made consumers anxious because they threatened to bring home the violence that attended their production.6 This anxiety suggests the ways in which acts of consumption were regarded as moral choices at a moment that seems to be prior to the development of the consciousness Marx called commodity fetishism. Rather than being disavowed in the form of fetishes, the social relations of production that inhere in commodities were still all too present to protesting eighteenth-century consumers: an anxiety-reducing containment system for such cultural knowledge had not yet been developed. And for at least some consumers in the following century, the social relations of production also remained available to consciousness, but quite happily in many cases. The symbolic compression of violence in mahogany furniture was not a source of anxiety for a character like Jane—a poor, small, female person—but a source from which to draw consolation and a sense of power. Jane's ability to buy this fetish means that she can avow and disavow its history, and so can we: it will hide in plain sight in the rooms of her home and it will hide interpretively as a reality effect for the (p.36) very readers of the novel who would otherwise have made this connection long ago, especially feminist and postcolonial critics who have been confined, by critical canons, to allegorical modes of reading.7

The ability to read fables of gender into the nineteenth-century novel, or to historicize the stories of poor governesses and creole madwomen, has revolutionized the criticism of the novel, and without it, the reading I do here would be impossible. But the intransigently allegorical mode of criticism blocks the reading of the material properties and relations of objects that don't give us immediate clues that will help us construct what we have come to understand as literary, rather than literal, meaning. For “the allegorist,” Benjamin reminds us, “objects represent only keywords in a secret dictionary.”8 In the secret dictionary of novel criticism—the dictionary about which initiates must prove their knowledge—objects are weak metonyms for the subjects they adorn or generic markers of the real they indicate. The method of this book, that of the collector, requires a moment of forestalling allegory, and of taking things literally. My project here is to imagine, like Benjamin's collector, that “the world is present, and indeed ordered” in certain objects.9 That ordering is not an allegory, but a history. And it is not the history that the novel narrates, but the history that the novel secretes: the history it hides and emits, the one it conceals and produces as it calls to mind the locations of deforestation and slavery for which mahogany is a metaphor, a metonym, and a literal representation.

II. Forests

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. The first step in these processes, wherever they take place, is to clear land. If, as ecology and now ecocriticism have taught us, civilization and forests have (p.37) been historically at odds with one another, empires and forests are particularly and chronically in conflict. Robert Pogue Harrison points out that “Rome…triumph[ed] over the great forest mass of the ancient world. The forests were literally everywhere: Italy, Gaul, Spain, Britain, the ancient Mediterranean basin as a whole. The prohibitive density of these forests had once safeguarded the relative autonomy and diversity of the family-and city-states of antiquity, precisely because they offered a margin of cultural privacy…. The forests were obstacles—to conquest, hegemony, homogenization…. [T]hey enabled communities to develop indigenously, hence they served to localize the spirit of place.”10 Deforestation had already become a serious problem in England by the sixteenth century. Measures were being taken for conservation, and books were being written on what would come to be called sustainable forestry. In 1598, for example, John Manwood (a person obviously destined to do such scholarship) wrote A Treatise of the Laws of the Forest, a work that anticipates descriptions of contemporary ecology: “Before this nation was replenished with inhabitants, there were many great woods full of all sorts of wild beasts then known in England; and after the same came to be inhabited, the woods were, by degrees, destroyed, especially near the houses; and as the land increased in people, so the woods and coverts were daily destroyed, and by that means, the wild beasts retired to those woods which were left standing, and which were remote from their habitations.”11 Acts for the preservation of woods were passed to “safeguard future timber supplies” even before Manwood's work appeared.12 The aptly named Manwood, in other words, is reflecting an environmental consciousness that is already well formed by the late sixteenth century.

Jane Eyre remembers the deforestation of England: Jane comes to understand, as a child reading Gulliver's Travels, that there are no elves left in England, because they have all gone “to some savage country where the woods were wilder and thicker, and the population more scant” (53). The deforestation of England (p.38) was initially the result of imperial aggression visited on Britain by Rome; it was extended by the need for firewood and building materials—especially for the ships of the Royal Navy, and by the aggression against the landscape produced by enclosure—a process that was reaching the culmination of its official, that is to say, parliamentary phase at the same time that Jane Eyre was being written and published.

The enclosure of common or unowned land seals the gate against one of the final vestiges of feudalism in England: “the commoning economy.” Commoners, the historian J.M. Neeson tells us, were the last of the English peasantry; enclosure made them into a working class.13 The “closing of the countryside”14 begets a new class thatmust figure out how to get its living within an economy that is unforgivingly modern and grossly underdeveloped, especially for women, especially in rural areas. When Jane leaves Thornfield on learning that Rochester is married, she arrives in the town of Whitcross, asks what the “chief trade” of the place is, and learns that some are “farm labourers; a good dealwork…atMr.Oliver's needle-factory, and at the foundry.” Mr. Oliver does not employ women, it turns out. Jane then asks, “[W]hat do the women do?” She gets the vague but nonetheless accurate answer for much of rural England at this time: “Some does one thing, and some another. Poor folk mun get on as they can” (353).

In Jane Eyre, enclosure is imagined twice. First, at Lowood School, where the whole system is writ small: “The garden was a wide enclosure, surrounded with walls so high as to exclude every glimpse of prospect; a covered veranda ran down one side, and broad walks bordered a middle space divided into scores of little beds; these beds were assigned as gardens for the pupils to cultivate, and each bed had an owner” (80). Part of the making of the modern individual, a process to which Jane Eyre the novel and Jane Eyre the character made, and continue to make, a powerful contribution, is this kind of competitive individuation: one girl, one plot of land, one set of results accruing to each owner.

(p.39) In this school and in its garden, Jane learns how to perform another kind of enclosure, the enclosure of the self. When she believes that Rochester and Blanche Ingram are going to be married, she forcefully reins herself in: “When I was once more alone, I reviewed the information I had got; I looked into my heart, examined its thoughts and feelings, and endeavored to bring back with a strict hand such as had been straying through imagination's boundless and tractless waste, into the safe fold of common sense” (190). Subjectivity has no limits or boundaries: it is a wasteland, a wilderness that must be enclosed by a strict “hand” reaching inside the self, ordering its contents, and closing its borders.

Enclosure requires deforestation; deforestation in turn guarantees the legible demarcation of space—its visibility and its representability. And yet the ugly remains of deforestation haunt Jane Eyre just as surely as its benefits underwrite crucial ideas and practices concerning the organization of subjective, domestic, and national space. In a desperate moment, after Bertha Mason attacks her brother and he is treated and removed from Thornfield, Rochester figures his home as a collection of the waste products of the deforestation process. He tells Jane that she cannot discern that the “polished woods” are mere “refuse chips and scaly bark.” Pointing to the “leafy enclosure” they have entered, Rochester continues, “Now here…all is real, sweet and pure” (244). This bit of artificial wilderness on the grounds of Thornfield promises a form of wildness that can be strictly controlled: arbors, hedges, gardens, and enclosures seem to offer protection from both civilization and nature.15 Or perhaps such cultivations promise a respite from attempts to balance what have long been imagined as the competing claims of the structures imagined oppositionally as “civilization” and “nature.” A novel haunted by the ecological devastation of two far-flung archipelagoes, by the advent of a particularly horrific system of plantation slavery, by an inability to properly—which is to say spontaneously—domesticate national space might well need such a respite.

(p.40) III. Trading Places

The Madeira Islands, an archipelago some four hundred miles off the coast of Africa between the Azores and the Canary Islands, were colonized by the Portuguese in the early fifteenth century, or more accurately, peopled by them, since the islands were uninhabited.16 Madeira, the largest island of the group, means “wood” in Portuguese, and indeed, when it was discovered, the lower reaches of this very mountainous island were thickly timbered with a variety of fine wood-producing trees, including mahogany. Colonists burned off much of this wood in legendary conflagrations that lasted between seven and ten years and that, perhaps apocryphally, sometimes sent colonists fleeing into the ocean to prevent themselves from being devoured by flames along with Madeira's trees. Once the island was adequately deforested, cash crops were brought in. Sugar cane came from Sicily, and it thrived (as sick Britons would later) in Madeira's mild climate, and by 1500, most of the sugar consumed in Europe came from Madeira.17 Grapes were also imported, from Crete and Cyprus, and by 1700, wine replaced sugar as the chief export, and this wine was largely exported to the West Indian and North American colonies, often in exchange for, ironically, timber—the resource Madeira had once had in abundance. The export of wine was facilitated by Madeira's critical position in Atlantic trading routes: ships from England headed to the east or the west often stopped at Madeira for revictualling.

Both the sugar and the grapes of Madeira were harvested by slaves. The first slaves in Madeira were Guanches, the indigenous people of the Canary Islands, who were taken as prisoners of war during Portuguese raids on the Spanish colony. In Ecological Imperialism, Alfred Crosby notes that only the Arawak Indians of the Caribbean compare to the Guanches in the earliness of their extinction due to the depredations of European colonization.18 Once the Guanches had been entirely killed off, Madeirans turned to Africa for their slaves, and Madeira became one of the first places in which African slaves were used (p.41) exclusively in a plantation system, marking an epoch in the history of slavery, forming “the pattern” that was then “to dominate the New World.”19

In an 1890 memoir that surveys much of the Victorian period, Leaves from a Madeira Garden, Charles Thomas-Stanford notes that “Madeira has indeed been long a household word in Great Britain. Its generous wine has played an important part in producing the hereditary goutiness of the nation; and its genial climate is remembered in many families as having mitigated the sufferings of an invalid relation.”20 Less happily, the Madeira diary of Fanny Burney's great niece, Fanny Anne Burney, is punctuated by a death count of Britons from tuberculosis: she notes how difficult it can be to procure traditional British mourning clothes in Funchal when “several invalids have died in a short space of time.”21 Such descriptions alternate with more typical travel writing, including enthusiastic descriptions of the “extremely picturesque” Vinhatico, or “island mahogany,” and minute detailing of the varieties of grape used in making madeira wine.22 The familiarity of Madeira to nineteenth-century Britons is also suggested by Jane herself: when Bessie tells Jane about her uncle, John Eyre, Bessie can't remember the name of the island where he lives, but Jane guesses it immediately based on the single fact that Bessie can recall: that it produces wine.

Two hundred years after the deforestation and colonization of Madeira, that is, in the seventeenth century, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands were also heavily deforested and colonized for the purpose of producing cash crops, chiefly sugar. Just as Madeira had been the principle supplier of sugar to Europe until the seventeenth century, the Caribbean colonies became the principle supplier of sugar in the eighteenth. As it was in Madeira, and in Thornfield, I might add, much of the wood was cleared through burning, but fine furniture woods like mahogany were also exported in large quantities, causing what A World Geography of Forest Resources describes as a “heavy drain in precious woods,” which combined with “clearing for plantations and subsistence crops…led to the destruction of most of the accessible forests (p.42) [not only in Jamaica but throughout] the West Indies.”23 Jamaica, like Madeira, was also a major port of call in Atlantic trade and functioned as a distribution point for both slaves and sugar, so that it had a critical imperial role as both a trading and a plantation colony.24

One crucial difference between the two islands is that although Madeira's economy was unofficially but for all intents and purposes run by the British from the seventeenth century until the 1970s, it was not a colony.25 It was and is a province of Portugal. Madeira, politically (or theoretically) speaking, was free to trade with Europe and European colonies without protection or impediment from a home government. Jamaica was, of course, a colony of Britain, and like all the West Indian colonies, heavily protected until the beginning of the nineteenth century. The British government kept the price of Caribbean sugar high by barring imports of sugar into Britain (and British colonies) from other places. In other words, the West Indian plantocracy did not have to compete in an open or “free” market either in terms of production (since they relied on slave labor) or distribution (since their monopoly on British and colonial markets was government protected). Jane Eyre, in an implicit brief for free trade, suggests the result of this protection in the characterization of Richard Mason, Bertha's brother. He is weak, effeminate, and unable to tolerate the lack of central heating in Thornfield. The contempt with which Mason is treated in Jane Eyre by Jane—who knows nothing of “creole” stereotypes, and by Rochester, who finds them confirmed in this sickly and ineffectual man—suggests the extent to which the planter class became despised by many metropolitan Britons both for its wealth and for the fact that it was not earned competitively—even if those critical souls had not themselves earned their own wealth on a particularly level playing field.

Jane Eyre was written and published at the height of the free trade debates that raged throughout the first four decades of the nineteenth century; the Corn Laws were repealed finally in 1846, one year before the novel's publication. Free trade produced, (p.43) according to its advocates, a kind of wealth any Briton could be proud of because the competition involved in it was imagined as fair. And it is no mistake that it is wealth from the informal, or what some historians have called, often with intended irony, the “free trade empire,”26 that saves the day (and provides new furniture) in Jane Eyre. In the pro-free-trade argument, the non-colonizing form of imperialism is a far less expensive and less politically arduous way to get the stuff—the natural resources and the cash crops—out of various places in exchange for British manufactures.

The case of wood reveals starkly the uneven playing field of so-called free trade. Places that are deforested are put in the paradoxical position of then having to get their timber elsewhere. Either they can consider places in the north where conservation and property laws disallow the kind of ransacking that makes natural resources cheap in the south, or they can look to other parts of the south that are currently undergoing the ransacking of their natural resources by the north—Madeira, for example, turned to Jamaica for lumber in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. An ecological economist points out that “the environment, which is one of the factors of production, is owned as unregulated common property in the South, and as private property in the North.” She goes on to argue that “the south produces and exports environmentally intensive goods to a greater degree than is efficient, and at prices that are below social costs.”27 Adam Thorpe argues that although “the richest long-term resource of equatorial Africa is the forest…known officially as the Congo Basin Rainforest…. [W]e Europeans are busy getting rid of it. Most of the damage is done by European mining and logging companies, and most of the clientele are European—lovers of mahogany wardrobes.” He points out that “Nigeria, once a major exporter of timber, now has to import the stuff.” A “mature mahogany,” he continues, “is worth about $30,000, of which some $30 goes to its country of origin.”28 Compare this statement to a report in the London Times in 1823 of “the largest and finest log of mahogany ever imported into this country.” It is (p.44) purchased by one James Hodgson for 378 pounds, and afterwards sold by him for 525 pounds, “and if it open well, is supposed to be worth a thousand.” In free trade, practice seems to make for ever more perfect profits.

IV. Souvenirs and Selfhood

John Maynard Keynes described free trade as the “most fervent expression of laissez faire,” and we might imagine that, as such, it forms the global analogue for the nineteenth-century fantasy of an intensely self-determining individualism—a fantasy that arises, as Marx notes in the Grundrisse, at the moment of the “most developed social relations.”29 Gayatri Spivak has famously argued that in Jane Eyre, “[w]hat is at stake, for feminist individualism in the age of imperialism is precisely the making of human beings, the construction and ‘interpellation’ of the subject not as individual, but as ‘individualist.’”30 In this highly compressed formulation, Spivak links feminism, liberal individualism, and imperialism and suggests that the master narrative is imperialism. Imperialism dictates or requires a certain narrative of liberal individualism, and that becomes the narrative available to both nineteenth- and twentieth-century liberal feminists. She later calls this narrative “abject.” I agree to the extent that it is essentially contradictory for a nineteenth-century British woman to think of herself as an individual, although she can be an individualist. By this I mean that although socially, legally, politically, and economically women were not recognizably individuals throughout most the nineteenth century, they were still free to subscribe to the ideology of individualism and therefore could be individualists. They could be individualists without being able to be individuals themselves; they could aspire—like the poor, the colonized, the racially, ethnically or religiously disenfranchised—to a condition that they could not attain.

Imperialism, ever productive of ideological bounty, offers Jane a second narrative, and this one is not abject, but instead usefully (p.45) sadistic. In this narrative, subjection, first of the self and then of others, makes for subjecthood.31 This narrative runs counter to Freud's trajectory of sadomasochism, in which sadism precedes and evolves into masochism. In Freud's account, aggressive impulses are initially directed at objects outside the self; only then are these impulses turned inward, against the self.32 But in the imperial narrative of sadism, the narrative that forms the structure of Jane Eyre as bildungsroman, and that suggests a template for female individualism, masochism comes at the beginning of the story. In this narrative, the psychoanalytic progression of sadism to masochism is reversed, destructive impulses are usefully remembered as originating in a relationship with the self, and, in a movement we think of as characteristic of empire, such impulses are then directed outward, in an ever-expanding scope, to objects outside the self.

I would argue that selves and empires are imagined to work from the inside out in order to provide fantasies of a tradition or a history of mastery. Nationalism is often imagined as prior to empire; this precedence is often referred to casually, as though it were self-evident that it is the originary, motivating and sustaining ideology of imperial expansion. But there is much evidence to suggest that nationalism comes after empire,33 in the same way that the word (and to some extent the concept) “heterosexuality” postdates the word “homosexuality.” In other words, a “normative” identity is often constructed on the run, after the need for it is realized because of the presence of something alien or something that needs to be made alien. In the early colonization of the Caribbean and South Asia, Britons initially formed new and hybrid cultures, however problematically, with indigenous people and with slaves—the terms “creole” and “Anglo-Indian” suggest such cultural mingling. It was not until the nineteenth century that a national identity took shape in a form we now recognize, and some historians have argued that what we regard as a nearly antediluvian “Englishness” is largely a late nineteenth century invention.34

(p.46) Jane, like the small island of England at the heart of a largely overseas empire, needs to remember herself as master of herself. Jane the adult recounts Jane the child executing extraordinary feats of self-discipline and control.35 Jane the child, for example, finds out how to tell her story to her beloved teacher Miss Temple in a way that will give it credibility. She learns (from no less of an authority on masochism than her tubercular schoolmate and romantic friend Helen Burns) that if she withholds the “wormwood and gaul” from her narrative, even though she genuinely feels the bitterness they evoke, she is more likely to be believed. Jane alienates her story from her self and imagines it as the object of another's attention. It becomes a souvenir of her self, an object through which she can remember her own mastery. She becomes the kind of first-person narrator of a realist novel that we now immediately recognize as somehow normative, as is the fact that this novel can be subtitled “an autobiography.”

In the process, Jane delimits a space for her own subjectivity; she sets the boundaries across which the self cannot venture, because she knows that selves, when left to themselves, tend toward an infinite vagrancy. The enclosure of the self makes a clearing, a space around the edges of which disorder is kept at bay. One of the lessons of Jane Eyre, and one of the reasons it is something of an owner's manual for the modern self, is that it imagines subjective interiority in terms of space: space that can be enclosed. Like the modern nation-state, the self has borders beyond which it will no longer be itself. But if the modern self follows the logic and ideology of enclosure in this novel, it also follows the logic and ideology of free trade. The bounds of the self must be strong and yet permeable, able to open up to exchange with others; subjectivity thrives when it can get from others that which it cannot produce for itself.

The subjective analogue to free trade occurs in the novel at the level of metonymy: its details are drawn from a truly international frame. The claustrophobic spatial limitations of Jane's life stand in remarkable contrast to the extraordinary range of reference her (p.47) intellect and imagination produce. Jane conjures up seraglios, harems, suttee, and slavery, and critics have responded with a usefully complex set of arguments about Brontë's alignments and nonalignments of Jane with “Oriental,” colonized, and enslaved peoples.36 What I want to point out here is that Jane marshals experiences of abjection to build her own sense of subjectivity and a sense of control over it. She transforms the practices of domination she has experienced and those she imagines into material out of which to construct and understand her self; there can be no limits placed on her use of this material and in this sense she is free to trade in that which she has discovered about the world and the conditions of oppression in it.

Jane's experiences of mastery are very specifically built on her knowledge of oppression in general and slavery in particular. She feels herself to be held unjustly captive by her cousin John Reed early in the novel and declares herself a rebel slave; she claims this identity again in the face of what she experiences as Rochester's oppressively intense affection. Jenny Sharpe and Susan Meyer have pointed out that Jane threatens to organize precisely the kind of uprisings that rocked the Caribbean throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.37 The novel invokes a metaphorical slavery to enact its metaphorical overthrow in a risky allegorical gambit: the rebellions of slaves have only recently overthrown French domination in Haiti (in 1803) and have very nearly overthrown European hegemony time and again throughout the Caribbean. And former slaves are still rebelling in the region when Jane Eyre is being written: the historian Woodville Marshall points out that “[r]iots were a commonplace of the post-slavery British Caribbean in much the same way that slave revolts were a feature of slavery.”38 In Jane Eyre, Brontë dares to use a pressing historical issue for secondary symbolic gain, and although women and workers have “harnessed” the language of the antislavery movement “for articulating their own struggles for equality,”39 the particulars of a very recent form of slavery come into scandalous analogy with the workings (p.48) of domination and submission in one of the emblematically heterosexual relationships of nineteenth-century British literature, that of Rochester and Jane.

V. The Politics of Shopping

Jane decorates, but she refuses to be decorated. On the prenuptial shopping trip to Milcote, she refuses to buy much of anything, she will not be “tricked out in stage trappings” to become one of the many characters in Rochester's busy imagination: “I will be myself,” she says flatly (288). But of course she knows that is not enough. Acutely aware of the fine-tuning that must be continually performed on the dynamics of power relations, Jane learns quickly how to maintain the upper hand with Rochester, teasing and torturing him to just the right distance from the edge of the brink: “[Y]ou master me,” Rochester says, “[Y]ou seem to submit, and I like the sense of pliancy you impart; and while I am twining the soft, silken skein, round my finger, it sends a thrill up my arm to my heart. I am influenced—conquered; and the influence is sweeter than I can express; and the conquest I undergo has a witchery beyond any triumph I can win” (289). In what might be described as a high-speed Hegelian master/slave dialectic, Jane and Rochester change places every other paragraph or so. Readers, like onlookers at a shell game, are never sure who is master at what moment, or if the apparent master is really the slave of a canny and apparently powerless master. Perhaps power is best held on to by someone like Jane, who can disavow and thereby maintain mastery behind a screen of cunningly convincing abjection.

When Rochester asks Jane to give up what he calls her “governessing slavery” once they decide to get married, Jane insists on continuing it. In this exchange, Jane Eyre and Jane Eyre do a quintessentially Victorian ideological thing: the novel and its narrator-heroine begin to make an actual historical problem into a part of a newly constructed unchanging human condition.40 In rendering a problem transhistorical, and thereby spiritual and (p.49) psychological and above all, individual, its solution lies also in the realm of the spiritual and what will become the psychological—in the realm of individual interiority. You don't have to be a slave if you don't want to be one; if you think of yourself as free, you are free. This is the language and ideology of much of the self-help movement, from Samuel Smiles's Self-Help of 1859 to the current crop of works that would teach us to how to live happily in the world no matter how terrible it is.

These radically individualist ideas were the paradoxical lot of smart women in the nineteenth century, some of whom refused feminism in any of its early forms because they did not want to be identified with or reduced to the limitations of their gender.41 Being a woman first and foremost and part of a group of women would be incompatible with being an individual. So returning to Spivak's idea of the centrality of Jane Eyre in the imagining of the female individualist, women are abject as women, but they are subjects as genderless individuals—a condition women can attain only in the privacy of their own minds, the place where novel reading goes on.

VI. Metonyms of Mastery

The curious thing about madeira wine is that like mahogany, like Jane, and like the individualist that Jane would teach us to become, it is almost preternaturally rugged and resilient. The wine of Madeira actually gets better during its passage across the Atlantic: “Madeiras do not spoil in hot weather; heat actually ripens and improves them, and a passage in the hold of a sailing ship, through burning tropical waters, results in a better wine. Madeiras do not mind being moved about, transported by ship or cart, and no amount of rough handling will damage them; quite the contrary, the more madeira is banged about, the better it tastes. Thus it was that the nineteenth-century Englishman demanded that his madeira be imported, not directly from the island, but by way of the West Indies or Brazil, where it would benefit from the hot and agitated voyage.”42 Madeira wine is thus (p.50) a poster child for Atlantic trade, perhaps the only “commodity” that actually benefited from the rigors of its journey Some of the cost of the millions of African people who died in the same passage is literally, symbolically, and horrifically recuperated by the extraordinary profits made on this peripatetic aperitif (or digestif).

These profits allow Jane to buy the furniture that remembers, as it were, the ubiquity of slavery in the geography and the history of Atlantic trade. Slaves—despite their problematic propensity to die in transit, to commit suicide from ships or once landed, to escape to what was left of the Caribbean forests and live as Maroons—are remembered, along with the mahogany that they cleared and to which brown and black people have since been likened endlessly, in the furniture that Jane buys as the sign of her own independence and financial freedom.43 They are remembered in this symbolic reification, despite the extent and near success of their rebellions, as permanently subject to British control. And the bad news continues: someone like Jane needs souvenirs of this kind of sadism. They are the coordinates on the map of selfhood drawn by a small, poor, plain girl who would be a rebel slave. She becomes instead a master, and a master of Atlantic metonyms of mastery. And this is not a paradox: it is the logical narrative trajectory in an individualist meritocracy.

Victorian novels would seem to proffer a limited set of narrative possibilities, tricked out, to borrow Brontë's phrase, in an infinite wardrobe of significant and insignificant detail. Our endless task is to undo what Susan Stewart has called “the hierarchy of detail,” the structure that generates various ideologies of the real, invisibly and insidiously: “Realistic genres do not mirror everyday life,” she writes, “they mirror its hierarchization of information. They are mimetic in the stance they take toward this organization and hence are mimetic of values, not of the material world.”44 What we “figure out” about a novel and its meanings has been prefigured by the order of detail, as well as by the (p.51) history of the literary novel and of novel criticism and the directions that criticism gives us about how to read, or more importantly how not read, those details. To fasten on certain details—and undoubtedly mahogany furniture is one such detail—is to risk making an incredibly goofy interpretive blunder. It cannot be a symbol, or fetish, or symptom: furniture, after all, is not “the superfluous, perplexing, derailing detail” Emily Apter describes as the fetish in fiction.45 There is nothing particularly confusing, alarming, or notable about the presence of wooden furniture in a Victorian novel: it doesn't stand out, it just stands.

I am trying to make the furniture of Jane Eyre into what Marx would call a “social hieroglyphic”: to treat it as a complex and partly legible sign, to help us get “behind the secret of our own social products.”46 The fact that furniture is not generally interpreted in all its woody splendor means that it can do lots of unapprehended symbolic work in the novel. An apparently innocent object like a mahogany dresser or a walnut panel decorates the moral and moralized space of the novel's winners, while sneaking in the true extent of their morally precarious triumph and evoking useful and self-protective memories of imperial mastery. Britons knew where their wood was coming from, especially that tropical treasure, mahogany. Even the slightest end table, the most unassuming side chair, could be a souvenir of sadism for Victorian readers of the novel. But like the hieroglyphic, or the fetish, it can also remain illegible, its knowledge disavowed. In literary criticism, this second option has seemed the most reasonable one for a long time in the reading of prose fiction: it is the one I am trying to make strange.

Because we contemporary readers of Victorian fiction have lost many of the possible meanings of the things of those bulky, item-ful novels, what might be called the social destruction of meaning47 in the novel has unwittingly been abetted by practices of reading that ignore the literal or material qualities of objects, the very qualities that might take us back in time to the meanings and resonances these objects may have had for earlier (p.52) readers. What we take to be our interpretive and theoretical canniness becomes a kind of disability: the long standing, and largely unnoticed, degradation of metonymy has moved “things” further and further away from the possibility of meaning anything. To interpret most of the things of realism means performing a kind of broad-based recovery effort: scouring archives of all kinds; following the things of the novel as if they might be significantly, rather than weakly, meaningful, as if they might have ideas about history in them that the novel does not and perhaps could not narrate explicitly. Eventually, metonymy might be removed from its place as the figure of hopelessly flighty contingency48 and reread as a figure of compellingly significant contiguity.

VII. Tourism and the Pastoral

At the end of Jane Eyre, Ferndean must be transformed from its former status as a hunting lodge into a haven of domesticity. Its wooded surroundings are initially described as “ineligible and insalubrious” (455), but in just a few pages it becomes a paradise found. Jane and Rochester, after deciding (again) to get married, “entered the wood, and wended homeward” (473). The novel seems to slip its generic constraints and enter the pastoral, symbolically undoing the violence to various landscapes and peoples that it has so faithfully recorded. Jane and Rochester, who have long described one another as various kinds of woodland creatures—fairies, sprites, elves, and brownies—return to what has been rhetorically invoked and evoked as their natural habitat. Their naturalization in this environment reaches its apex when they both agree that Rochester himself is something of a tree: not the “old lightning-struck chestnut-tree at Thornfield” (469), as he describes himself, but rather, as Jane has it, a “green and vigorous” tree around which plants will grow with the “safe prop” of his strength. And sure enough, some sketchily narrated reproduction follows.

(p.53) Like Jane and Rochester, Madeira and Jamaica are returned to a pastoral condition in the second half of the nineteenth century, even as they continue to be bound in relations of domination with the North Atlantic: both islands become, from the mid-nineteenth century, increasingly reliant on the tourist industry, which is, in the description of the historian Frank Taylor, “a South Atlantic system…of hotel chains and of profiteering based on a new kind of trade in human beings.”49 Indeed, in the nineteenth century, the two islands begin to compete for visitors. Both become places where invalids can regain their health, even though Jamaica had long been associated with yellow fever in particular and broken health generally. It becomes suddenly safe: Robert Baird, in his memoir, Impressions and Experiences of the West Indies and North America in 1849, observes that “Jamaica as a place of sanitary resort” is likely “if not to supersede, at least greatly to interfere with the island of Madeira in that respect, and certainly truth compels me to admit that there are few places to which an invalid from Europe could go with better hope or benefit than the salubrious island of Jamaica.”50 Visitors from the North Atlantic return to the scene of their collective historical crime, to enjoy and to benefit from that which they very nearly wiped out—the natural habitat. The habitat they find, and the one we find in tourist brochures, is of course a recent habitat, one created by heavy deforestation, cash crops, and an enrichment of the soil produced by literally working people—in all their nitrogenous richness—into the ground.

The social relations of these people, the nameless inhabitants of the Caribbean who do not find subjecthood in the Victorian novel or in histories of the “first world,” are recovered through reading the properties and relations of objects like mahogany furniture. Through such readings, we can move beyond the impasses that are soon reached in discussions of the identity and meaning that can or should be assigned to the mad creole woman in the attic. The explicit subjects of fiction are not the only subjects of fiction. The idea of reification as we have long understood (p.54) it ought to have indicated this to us before now: social relations hide in things. When we start looking into them, the long violence of empire reaches home, not only to Moor House and Ferndean, but also to the home in which we read Jane Eyre, the novel that teaches us how to be at home in a place as uncanny as the world it describes.


(1.) Mahogany was exported to Europe from Jamaica in the form of logs; Madeira, on the other hand, had a furniture trade: “Furniture shops are plentiful, and in some of these excellent wardrobes, chairs, and tables may be found of … Vinhatico [Persea indica, the Madeiran mahogany], walnut or plane….The manufacture of many articles in wickerwork has increased enormously within the last ten years. Sofas, tables, chairs, and baskets of all shapes are made, and shipped by thousands every year” (Ellen M. Taylor, Madeira: Its Scenery, and How to See It [London: Edward Stanford, 1889], 77–78).

(2.) Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), 451. All references will be to this edition and will be cited parenthetically in the text hereafter.

(3.) See Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 97.

(p.166) (4.) G. S. Boulger, Wood: A Manual of the Natural History and Industrial Applications of the Timbers of Commerce (London: Edward Arnold, 1902).

(5.) R. W. Symonds, English Furniture from Charles II to George II (New York: International Studio, 1929), 167.

(6.) Charlotte Sussman, Consuming Anxieties: Consumer Protest, Gender and British Slavery, 1713–1833 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2000), 13–14.

(7.) Susan Meyer comes close to breaking out of this pattern and actually reading things near the end of her essay on Jane Eyre when she notes that “St. John announces Jane's accession to fortune by pulling the letter out of a ‘morocco pocket-book’ and he is able to identify Jane as the heiress because she has written her name, on a white sheet of paper, in ‘Indian ink’” (“Colonialism and the Figurative Strategy of Jane Eyre,” in The Macropolitics of Nineteenth-Century Literature: Nationalism, Exoticism, Imperialism, ed. Jonathan Arac and Harriet Ritvo [Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1991], 180).

(8.) Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1999), 211.

(9.) Ibid., 207.

(10.) Robert Pogue Harrison, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992), 51.

(11.) Quoted in Harrison, Forests, 71.

(12.) N. D. G. James, A History of English Forestry (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981), 161.

(13.) J. M. Neeson, Commoners: Common Right, Enclosure and Social Change in England, 1700–1820 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), 12.

(14.) Ibid., 12.

(15.) Susan Stewart has pointed out to me that the gardening nationalism of the English centered on the idea that their gardens were more “natural” than those of the French. Lancelot “Capability” Brown pioneered designs that famously made use of “wildness”; this ideology obscures the fact that landscaping did cause deforestation, albeit selectively (personal communication).

(16.) For the history of Madeira, see T. Bentley Duncan, The Atlantic Islands: Madeira, the Azores, and the Cape Verdes in Seventeenth-Century (p.167) Commerce and Navigation (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1972); Desmond Gregory, The Beneficent Usurpers: A History of the British in Madeira (London: Associated Univ. Presses, 1988); and also the Victorian memoirs of Madeira, including Anothony J. Drexel Biddle, The Madeira Islands (London: Hurst and Blackout, 1900); Charles Thomas-Stanford, Leaves from a Madeira Garden, 2nd ed. (London: John Lane, 1910); and Ellen Taylor, Madeira.

(17.) Sugar was also grown in Sicily, North Africa, and the southern Mediterranean.

(18.) Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), 70–103.

(19.) Sidney Greenfield, “Madeira and the Beginnings of New World Sugar Cane Cultivation and Plantation Slavery: A Study in Institution Building,” in Comparative Perspectives on Slavery in New World Plantation Societies, ed. Vera Rubin and Arthur Tuden (New York: New York Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1977), 537. Slavery was abolished in Madeira quite early—1755—and replaced by a sharecropping system.

(20.) Thomas-Stanford, Leaves from a Madeira Garden, vii. A nice Lamarckian joke reveals more than it means to, I think, in this description of the effect of madeira wine on Britons: once it enters the nation's bloodstream it seems also to alter it genetically, attributing a power to tropical colonies and their products that also manifests itself in fears about racial change, including the apparent racial contamination or transformation of Bertha Mason and her sickly brother.

(21.) Fanny Anne Burney, A Great-Niece's Journals, ed. Margaret S. Rolt (London: Constable and Company, 1926), 209.

(22.) Ibid., 189, 193.

(23.) Leslie R. Holdridge, “Middle America,” in A World Geography of Forest Resources, ed. Stephen Haden-Guest, John K. Wright, and Eileen M. Teclaff (New York: Ronald Press), 189. See also G. F. Asprey and R. G. Robbins, “The Vegetation of Jamaica,” Ecological Monographs 23, no. 4 (Oct. 1953): 359–412.

(24.) My discussion of Madeira and Jamaica admittedly ranges across not only long geographical distances but also across several hundred years: this is a self-conscious attempt to meet the challenges set out in the recent work of the medievalist David Wallace, who has charged that literary historicism has been too cramped both in its temporal and spatial (p.168) parameters (see Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy [Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1997] and Premodern Places: Calais to Surinam, Chaucer to Aphra Behn [Maiden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2004]). It is only through taking a very long historical view, by engaging in what Wallace calls “diachronic historicism,” that we can begin to adequately appreciate the ways in which mahogany furniture haunts this novel.

(25.) See Gregory, The Beneficent Usurpers, for a description of the British economic domination of Madeira.

(26.) See John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, “The Imperialism of Free Trade,” Economic History Review 6, no. 1 (1953): 1–15. See also Bernard Semmel, The Rise of Free Trade Imperialism: Classical Political Economy, the Empire of Free Trade and Imperialism, 1750–1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1970).

(27.) Graciela Chichilnisky, “North-South Trade and the Global Environment.” American Economic Review 84, no. 4 (Sept. 1994): 851, 852.

(28.) Adam Thorpe, letter to the editor, London Review of Books, 25 Jan. 2001.

(29.) Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993), 84.

(30.) Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,” in Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1991), 897.

(31.) Judith Butler describes this narrative in The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1997.

(32.) The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1953), 7:157, 14:137–139.

(33.) See Gauri Viswanathan, “Raymond Williams and Colonialism,” in Cultural Materialism: On Raymond Williams, ed. Christopher Prendergast (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1995): 188–210.

(34.) See for example, Robert Colls and Philip Dodd, Englishness: Politics and Culture, 1880–1920 (London: Croom Helm, 1986).

(35.) Bette London reads Jane Eyre not as a “manifesto of self-creation but as [a] textbook of self-discipline” (“The Pleasures of Submission: Jane Eyre and the Production of the Text,” ELH 58 [1991]: 209).

(36.) In addition to the texts by Meyer, Sharpe, and Spivak cited in this chapter (see nn. 7, 30, and 37), see Mary Poovey, “The Anathematized (p.169) Race: The Governess and Jane Eyre,” in Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988); Sue Thomas, “The Tropical Extravagance of Bertha Mason,” Victorian Literature and Culture 27, no. 1 (1999): 1–17; and Joyce Zonana, “The Sultan and the Slave: Feminist Orientalism and the Structures of Jane Eyre,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 18, no. 3 (Spring 1993): 592–617.

(37.) See the chapters on Jane Eyre in Susan Meyer, Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women's Fiction (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1996); and Jenny Sharpe, Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1993).

(38.) Woodville K. Marshall, “‘Vox Populi’: The St. Vincent Riots and Disturbances of 1862,” in Trade, Government and Society in Caribbean History, 1700–1920, ed. B. W. Higman (Kingston, Jamaica: Heinemann Education Books Caribbean, 1983), 85.

(39.) Sharpe, Allegories of Empire, 40.

(40.) See Catherine Gallagher, The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction: Social Discourse and Narrative Form, 1832–1867 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985), esp. 113–186.

(41.) See Poovey, Uneven Developments, esp. 164–201.

(42.) Duncan, The Atlantic Islands, 38.

(43.) The wood has stood for dark skin from W. M. Thackeray's frequent description of the “mahogany” faces of the Schwartz family in Vanity Fair (1848) to Diana Ross's 1975 film Mahogany.

(44.) Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, and the Collection (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1993), 26.

(45.) Emily Apter, Feminizing the Fetish: Psychoanalysis and Narrative Obsession in Turn-of-the-Century France (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1991), xi.

(46.) Cited in Apter, Feminizing the Fetish, 1.

(47.) Thanks to Mary Poovey for this phrase.

(48.) See the first chapter, “Semiology and Rhetoric,” in Paul de Man's Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1979), for an extraordinary deconstruction of metaphor's aesthetic and epistemological precedence over metonymy in Proust's descriptions of summer. From his bedroom, Marcel hears flies buzzing and describes this “chamber music” of summer as linked to the essence of that season. De Man points out that (p.170) the buzzing flies are a synecdoche of summer that Proust renders as a metaphor. Metaphor is thereby constructed out of metonymy, and metonymy wins a kind of grammatical and semiotic precedence in de Man's argument, but it remains a figure of chance for de Man as for Proust and therefore is always subject to meaninglessness or a random and nonessential particularity.

(49.) Frank F. Taylor, “From Hellshire to Healthshire: The Genesis of the Tourist Industry in Jamaica,” in Higman, Trade, Government and Society, 139.

(50.) Quoted in Frank F. Taylor, “From Hellshire to Healthshire,” 142.