Jane Eyre is often regarded as a modern day fairy tale when viewed superficially . However, the complexity of the story lines and characters represented a phenomenal breakthrough in story writing techniques during the Victorian period. Brontes creation of a new and powerful woman created a stirr amoungst Victorian Critics. Raised in this repressive male-dominated society, some critics like Elizabeth Rigby,suggested that Charlotte Bronte’s characterisation of Jane Eyre demonstrated her rebellion against male repression .
Elizabeth Rigby was very critical of the woman portrayed by Bronte describin Jane as an ‘unregenerate and undisciplined spirit’, reflecting a typical critical Victorian response to Jane’s assertive and independent nature. To interpret this as a feminst critique reflects a more positive response to Jane’s independence. R. B Martin, a modern critic of the 1970’s, suggests that the most dominant theme in the novel Jane Eyre, is the fight for equality and that Jane’s character illustrates the emergence of feminism during the Victorian Period.
It has been argued that Jane Eyre is a wild and ‘undisciplined’ spirit. Jane’s ideals and actions greatly contradicted Victorian expectations of women’s social role. Her failure to be subordinate to men and desirew for social equality is clearly shown in her relationship with Rochester and St. John. This, together with frequent shows of aggression and wild temper were seen as a threat to the ideals of women in Victorian Society and were greatly and widely criticised. Sandra M. Gilbert aptly described Jane Eyre as a ‘larger than life emblem of passionate, barely disguisable rebelliousness. Critics of the late nineteenth century were angered at Jane’s absolute refusal to submit to her ‘social destiny’- a life of drudgery and conformity to the rules of society made by men.
With Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte introduced a new type of heroine to English Romanticism. Jane Eyre is a heroine endowed with intelligence and pluck; attributes all seen to be totally unacceptable for a woman at this time. From the opening words of the novel, the reader can experience the anger and brutish energies demonstrated in Jane’s aptly described ‘undisciplined’ spirit, as she dares to challenge the man of the house, Master Reed.
Janedares to confront Reed in an attempt to put a stop to the torment she endures from him. “My terror had passed its climax, other feelings succeeded “Wicked and cruel boy” i said. “you are like a morderer…. ” Janes lanugage in this passage is very abrupt, heartfelt and meaningful. it is almost as if this speech is the climax of many years of pent-up anger and frustration that has finally been released. Jane’s later use of the expression “you are like a slave driver” suggest her feelings of confidement under the authority of Reed and the other more poerful individuals within her household.
This speech along and violent episode represent Janes first rebellion against the suppressive powers in her house and to some critics this highlighted the view of Jane as ‘unregenerate’ as it not ony demonsrates power and agression from a young woman but using this ‘power’ against a man of higher social standing, a challenging concept in Victorian Society.
This violent episode highlights a view of Jane as being ‘unregenerate’ as it not only demonstrates violence from a woman, but violence against a man of higher social standing than herself, a most challenging concept in Victorian Society. nother challanging concept was janes different outlook on life compared to the other women srrondfing her in the novel. These other female characters, such as Blanche Ingram and Adele Varens, accentuate the description of Jane as a “larger than life emblem of passionate and barely describable rebelliousness”. Unlike Jane, they desire fashionable gowns, jewels and money rather than love or freedom.
“He produced a casket and opened it and showed magnificant bracelets and earrings; she acted astonishment amd admiration , kneeling he laidthe treasure at her feet; incredulty and delight were expressed by her looks and gestures. but these material gestures are certainly not what Jane desires. it is Janes implicit desire for love and freedom that sets her appart from these women, a desire that challanged the boundries set for women and the fulfillment of their needs; replacing jewels with equalty and affection. Critics of the late nineteenth century not only compared Jane with female characters within the novel, but other predominant female characters introduced onto the literary scene at this time. Dickens characters are a marvellous example of such women.
Dickens believed that men possess powers of intellect and will. Whereas women possess powers of the heart and emotions that would be best fulfilled within the domestic sphere. Dicken’s characters were therefore born upon this ideology creating a breed of ‘well trained’ women. on such character is Nancy from Oliver Twist , a womean who was killed by her violent partner because she felt the need to follow the ‘traditional path’ and stay with him. again in Great Expectations, Charles Dickens depicts men and women as existing in separate social spheres. ith the exception of Estella, all of dickens female characters withinn this novel are contained within the home.
With Bronte’s creation of Jane Eyre, came the total opposite. Jane’s disregard for the rules of society and wild passions created a stir in Victorian society prompting critics, such as Elizabeth Rigby, to look upon Jane extremely critically. In the eyes of society, Jane’s relationship with the male characters in the novel, in particular with Rochester, was arguably the most significant indication of Jane’s deviation from victorian norms.
In this, he suggested that the depiction of Jane and Rochester’s relationship would cause young women of the time to emulate Jane’s “romantic wickedness. this romanitic wickendness is proposed within the book ‘flatland’,in which Edwn Abbot depicts Victoirian society in a satric way. bbot states that ‘ queen Victoria during this era had set the supressive impression that all women should basically reproduce like her, take care of domestic buisnesses like her and marry a man of similar socil standing to yourself. ” both Jaenes relationship with Rochester and later with St John, suggests that she will not conform to this custom. Jane’s relationship with Rochester perhaps represents a fairly typical Victorian literary romance. A wealthy, “Byronic” hero, portrayed by Rochester, falls in love with his governess.
When the relationship is examined in more depth, it is possible to see why it caused a great stir amongst late nineteenth century critics. Jane’s absolute refusal to be subordinate to Rochester along with her disregard for his love and shows of material affection, disgusted many readers and critics who stated that Jane was ‘ungrateful’ and that she, as a young orphan without a respectable parentage, should count herself extremely lucky to have a wealthy lord in love with her. Unlike characters like Blanche Ingram, Jane does not enjoy being showered in jewels and fine clothing and makes frequent outcries at Rochester’s material excess.
Jane requests an end to the Rochester’s gifts. She does not enjoy being indebted to Rochester and she is too proud to accept gifts trying to buy her love. Critics stated that this was the ‘fullest measure of the worst sin of our fallen nature”- the sin of pride and the need to be recognised as an equal. Jane’s need to feel equal to Rochester sparked many criticisms as readers were astounded by Jane’s disregard for his love and that she did not feel humbled by her relationship with someone of higher social standing than herself.
Jane’s later romance with St. John also shows how Jane is determined to again go against society’s wishes, as Jane is not interested in his offer of marriage. this again angered contempary critics as it was staed that in te Vitian period marriage was the highest goal for young women” (beddoe 1847) Jane dismisses this proposal of marriage stating; “marry! i doint want to marry, and shall never marry! ” Showing to Victoiran critics, Janes true deviance from the idelas of the holy santaty of marriage and her position as a woman. After escaping Thornfield, many women would have accepted a marriage proposal from St. John even only for protection and security.
Jane Eyre states that she does not love him and refuses his offer of marriage, again avoiding the traditional path followed by women at this time. Jane Eyre is a very strong female character possessing an extrem,e sense of her self-worth and dignity,a passionate disposition and is in the upmost commited to justice and principle. This type of woman had neber before been unleashed into the lietrary scane and unsurprisingly created a large stirr amongst contempary critic both emale and female. ut also had a massive impact upon women who beagn to follwo Jane’s example by diversing from the traditional victorian female path onto a new road of feminism and equality.
With the rise of feminism during the latter part of the Victorian period, following this ‘traditional path’ became a less common experience for women as more and more women came to demand increasing freedoms. Jane Eyre is described as one such woman. While critisms have stated ways in which the novel embodies its narrator’s ‘undisciplined’ rebellion against confining custom; suggestions of the feminist angle of Jane Eyre were also erupting.
The writings of Richard Chase in 1948 support this approach to analysing the novel. In his critical works, Chase comments that Jane Eyre is a ‘feminist tract, an argument for the social betterment of governess’ and equal rights for women. Through Jane’s interactions with other characters, both male and female, the choices she makes and her inner thoughts shared with the reader, it is clear why Jane Eyre could be labelled as a feminist demanding equal rights and equality between the sexes.
Jane’s monologues throughout the novel allow Jane to share her sense of confinement as a woman: Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel… ” This passage marks the true emergence of Jane’s feminist ideas, her feelings on the matter of equality amongst the sexes becomes glaringly obvious. But, nowhere in the novel is this sentiment more obvious than in the passage in chapter 23, when Jane responds to Rochester’s callus proposal, “Do you think I am an automaton? a machine without feelings?… Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong — I have as much soul as you, — and full as much heart…
I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; — it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal, — as we are” A clearer plea for simple human equality could hardly be imagined. Brpntes adept use of the first person makes this sppech so easy to sympathise with. . What sustains the believability and emotion of Jane’s speech is that it is continually the readrer is asked to relate back to charcteistics of the character have grown to love through the course of the novel thus far.
In the middle of her monologue, Jane refers to herself as “poor, obscure, plain, and little,” reminding us of the characteristics of the girl being hurt here. Brontes use of lanugage and puntuation in this passage also accentuate Jane’s plea. her frequent use of punctutation question marks and hyphens give the impression of a woman desperate to make her point making this speech more seemlingly heartfelt. In 1966, R. B. Martin stated that Jane Eyre was the ‘first major feminist tract’.
Martin suggested that there was “not a hint of any desire for political, legal or educational equality” between the sexes, but that Jane Eyre merely wanted recognition that both sexes are similar and equal in ‘heart and soul’. However, Jane’s thoughts and views on the value of women gave way to many campaigns fighting for political, legal and educational equality strengthening the argument that Jane Eyre was a feminist novel. When Jane Eyre was published in 1848, critics had a field day. Bronte’s creation of Jane Eyre challenged every boundary set for women in Victorian society.
Jane’s failure to be subordinate in a patriarchal dominated society, wild passionate nature and belief the female status is at the very least equal to that of men, all created a totally new model for women in the late nineteenth century. In spite of efforts to repress this new model woman, once the candle is lit, the flame is never extinguished. She portrayed a new type of female challenging traditional stereotypes in the latter part of the nineteenth century. This ‘new woman’ developed by Bronte helped contribute to the rise of feminist ideology making it fair to judge that Jane Eyre was the ‘first major feminist novel. ‘