I’ve taken the time to try to accurately recreate Thornfield Hall in Minecraft. Having the description read to me from the book, I felt transported to the location (though that may have been part of being in quarantine at the time), and I started to draw it as I saw Thornfield in my mind. At first, it was all for fun, but I got to thinking about unessays, and here we are.
I mainly wanted to stay as true to the in-text descriptions as I could, but I think some personal bias wormed its way into the design. During our meeting, Professor Helms asked if Thornfield was supposed to look like a prison. At first, I laughed in disbelief, and let him know that it was unintentional, but thinking back, I do believe that I consider Thornfield to have been Bertha’s prison. Despite this being a subconscious series of choices, it seemed to ring through the building, no matter how hard I tried to push against it – though surely the figure my wife put in a window of the attic meant to represent Bertha increased the feeling of imprisonment. I think it’s visible in a screenshot or two, and catching a glimpse of it is unintentionally haunting, but I didn’t want to take it out, as my wife took the time to dye some purple clothes for the figure and position it there as a helpful contribution.
I spent at least two hours to start just finding textual evidence, choosing the perfect location in a new world seed, deforesting the area, and changing the landscape to suit the build before really digging into it. Around five hours were dedicated to the actual Hall, which is made of blocks (and stairs, where applicable) of stone bricks, chiseled stone bricks, blackstone, glass panes, smooth stone, spruce planks, and a healthy helping of attention to detail. It’s actually pretty much only a facade, the inside is nearly empty, and it only goes back to include the front rooms of the building. This structural technique is clear in a few screenshots, but I wanted to take as many as possible, so I added them regardless. After the Hall facade was all finished, I added the vines to make it look slightly more part of the environment and also add some age while still allowing it to look pretty well-maintained (by not adding cracked stone bricks or allowing there to be any missing pieces that would indicate heavy wear).
After that, the main lawn was planned and created. The fountain, which was part of the original sketch while I was listening to Jane Eyre, didn’t appear in the text, but I really do think it helps to enrich the atmosphere of the place. I took care to extend the gravel road out of camera-shot, and added shrubs around the property’s roadways to give it more of a restrictive feeling, as when Jane was running away after the failed attempt to marry Rochester. All of this was around another hour or so (with additional landscaping) before the three-hour-long Orchard build. The Orchard was honestly where I ran out of steam, but I’m pretty proud of the results regardless. Vanilla Minecraft doesn’t have fruit trees, so I just used oak trees (which drop apples occasionally, but don’t show apples in the branches) and avoided looking at them too closely for the screenshots. I had tried to put in those new Weeping Vines to look like fruit, which looked good at first, but once they grew to the ground it was very clear that they weren’t fruit hanging from the trees anymore, so I had to scrap them.
I spent a good portion of my time on the Orchard’s fencing, which I gathered from the reading was something like half-ish dense trees (I ended up using Birch, and only on one wall), half-ish tall fencing (Blackstone Walls and Iron Fences), with one wall being made of a “sunk fence”, which looked out into rolling fields. It was a good hour of just designing fencing and making it look pretty before I was happy with it. I think the same-ish feeling goes towards the “Chestnut Tree” (constructed of Oak Wood and Birch Leaves), where it took plenty of time to design, and I had to keep making and remaking it until I was happy. I still am dubious of the interior fencing around the tree, and I wish I had gone taller/more majestic with the damn thing, seeing as it’s pretty pivotal to the text, but sometimes, knowing when to stop can be necessary for your mental well-being. I also took some time out to design a little shady nook with a bench, where the conversation Rochester had with Jane about sending her to Ireland when he married Ms. Ingram took place. That scene also really stuck in my head, so I had to make somewhere secluded where they could talk fairly freely, and this really seemed to be the place. I should have consulted the text a little more before committing, but I still think it ended up looking cozy and lovely.
My original plan was to build even more buildings from the text (a few cut concepts being Jane’s School-Teacher Cottage or Mr. Rochester’s Home Post-Thornfield), in addition to burning down Thornfield Hall after I took these screenshots (part of the reason I took so many). However, by the time I had reached this point, everyone else had already finished reading Wide Sargasso Sea, so I clearly needed to move on. The plan to burn down Thornfield involved setting fire to the Orchard, cutting down all of the flowers in the yard, and ripping the Hall to pieces with TNT, but I equipped myself to do so after about an hour of setting up and taking these copious screenshots, and found that I was unable to rip apart my creation.
Thinking back, I could have done so and then not saved the game, but even a chance of losing that much initial care and work really unsettles me, so I don’t want to risk it, especially without the ability to control autosaving on the Xbox One. Thornfield Hall still stands, and, with it, Bertha. I’d like to imagine that she was able to escape properly at some point rather than just falling victim to a “kill your neurodivergents” trope, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part.
All that being said, enjoy the culmination of both my time, spent absorbing Jane Eyre, playing Minecraft, and loving literature, and my effort, in dragging the text for details and in making sure that my building skills were put to the test.
“The early sun shone serenely on embrowned groves and still green fields; advancing on to the lawn, I looked up and surveyed the front of the mansion. It was three storeys high, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentleman’s manor-house, not a nobleman’s seat: battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look. Its grey front stood out well from the background.”
Why does your response to this piece of literature matter?
While I’m tempted to say that my response to this literature doesn’t matter, I think that anything that gets you to engage with a text critically is important in solidifying your own understanding of that text. While it may not be important to anyone else, it holds value in that it’s part of your exploration of a text, and that in and of itself is an important process by which your (or in this case, my) engagement with the text begins to “matter.” Especially since my piece doesn’t delve deeply into any theme in particular, it’s hard to describe how the project helped me to understand Jane Eyre, but I genuinely think that it allowed me to create a visual display of how the text affected me, which, as I’m working to critically describe and explain, is revealing how I understood the text. It’s messy and complex to try to put into words, but engagement with a piece of literature is what will give it staying power, whether for the better or not, within a mind, and that makes all forms of engagement with a piece of literature matter.