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Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

Paper: British literature of the Nineteenth Century


Lesson: Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre
Lesson Developer: Trisha Mitra
College/Department: Hindu College, University of Delhi
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

Contents

 A Brief Biographical Sketch

 An Overview of Jane Eyre

 Missing Mothers of Victorian fiction and Jane Eyre

 Femininity and Domesticity

 Women’s Education and the Role of Governesses

 Female Desire and Jane

 Patriarchal Authority and Maimed Masculinity?

 Colonialism and the Mad Woman in the Attic

 Wide Sargasso Sea

 Chronology

 Bibliography
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre

“I told you I am independent, sir, as well as rich: I am my own mistress.”

A portrait Charlotte Bronte sketched posthumously by Daniel Webster Duyckinick in 1873

(http://www.google.co.in/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fimg.tfd.com%2Fauthors%2FbronteC.jpg&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fbrontec.th

efreelibrary.com%2F&h=281&w=232&tbnid=FLXqgG0DFHqGTM%3A&zoom=1&docid=hGkcqCoaG6-

odM&ei=O0xVVP39M4aJuASAzILwDw&tbm=isch&ved=0CCcQMygHMAc&iact=rc&uact=3&dur=1354&page=1&start=0&ndsp=22)
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

A Brief Biographical Sketch

Charlotte Bronte was Patrick Bronte and Maria Branwell’s third child who was born

in Thorton, Yorkshire on 21st April 1816. Her early life was marked by sorrow, loss and

adversity and the untimely deaths of her mother and sisters had had a profound effect on

Charlotte. Her father was a descendant of an Irish peasant heritage who had engaged in a

wide range of occupations, steadily bettering himself, and had finally gone to Cambridge

where he received education that helped him join the Anglican orders. Both the parents had

produced (Patrick had even published his) literary works that were not quite notable but

this does suggest that their interest in literary activities might have encouraged their

children.

Reverend Bronte had been appointed as the curate of Haworth, a town on the

Yorkshire moors. The moors feature quite significantly in Charlotte’s novel, as well as that of

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The ‘Bronte sisters’, as they are often called, had spent

most of their lives in the desolate and isolate environment of the moor which influenced

their lives and writings. After their mother succumbed to cancer, they were looked after by

their maternal aunt, Elizabeth, since their intensely Puritan and strict father was not as

involved in their upbringing. In Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell characterized them

as “six little motherless children” whose mother, in the last stages of her life, had not been

“very anxious to see much of her children” (Gaskell 5). After her death, Maria, the eldest

daughter had taken charge of the care of her younger siblings. However, she, as well as the

second sibling, had succumbed to tuberculosis while Charlotte was still quite young.

Charlotte’s father had taken it upon himself to teach his children the values of self-

abnegation and frugal living. He had hardly done much to improve the living conditions of
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

his family and like his wife, had believed that material poverty might be advantageous to the

religious concerns he beliefs he harboured. He actively pushed his children to forego

symbols of luxury and indulgence. Patrick Bronte had a considerable collection of books and

the children were encouraged to read from an early age.

Moors of Haworth

(http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/f0/8c/39/f08c394dfe6fc95ee4f9a4e0de654daa.jpg)

The isolation Charlotte experienced living close to the moors in Yorkshire, the overbearing

presence of a severe and austere father and the struggles of daily life in her formative years,

left a marked impact on Charlotte. The seclusion of their home in Haworth stimulated in the

sibling an urge to read and write and they voraciously read all the literature that was

available to them. For a virtual tour of the Haworth Art Gallery, please click on the following

link http://www.adsk.co.uk/haworth-art-gallery.html . Gaskell in her biography summons

up Haworth as a quaint and sleepy parsonage where the dominant colour is the shade of

gloomy grey. She notes that, “All round the horizon there is this same line of sinuous wave-
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

like hills; the scoops into which they fall only revealing other hills beyond, of similar colour

and shape, crowned with wild, bleak moors—grand, from the ideas of solitude and

loneliness which they suggest, or oppressive from the feeling which they give of being pent-

up by some monotonous and illimitable barrier, according to the mood of mind in which the

spectator may be” (Gaskell 3).

The Bronte parsonage, Haworth on the Yorkshire Moors.

(http://englandbooks.blogspot.in/2010/09/salisbury.html)

The young Charlotte was an undersized teenager but spirited and passionate, not

unlike the protagonist of Jane Eyre. She was known to be strong-willed and quite

imaginative but her life at Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head appeared to have changed her

into a quieter and more composed person. After her schooling, Charlotte, as had her sisters,

sought employment in schools and as governesses to wealthy families. The experience of

class difference in private homes where she was treated as an employee had left Charlotte

with a bitter taste in her mouth. In the following years, she found solace in her writing and

her friendship with literary figures like Mrs Gaskell and Thackeray. Mrs Gaskell was to later
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

write Charlotte’s biography, primarily to contextualize her life and her literary output that

had been heavily critiqued by her contemporaries because of the frank description and

handling of sex. Three of her novels, Jane Eyre (1847), Shirley (1849) and Villette (1853) had

been published during her lifetime and the one she had written first, The Professor (initially

rejected by publishers) was posthumously published in 1857. When Bronte was in Belgium,

she had aggressively and passionately pursued a married Professor, Constantin Heger,

although her affection was never return. Gaskell had neatly eliminated details about this

phase of Bronte’s life since it would have cast aspersions on her character since given the

Victorian social scenario, it would have ruined her reputation. The picture that Gaskell

paints of Charlotte Bronte is that of a desexualised being incapable of desiring or harbouring

lustful intentions. Her letters, however, reveal the side of Bronte that Gaskell would have

rather not revealed. In a letter to Miss Nussey discussing her iressitable urge to meet M.

Heger, her Latin professor at Brussels, she wrote- “I returned to Brussels after aunt’s death,

against my conscience, prompted by what then seemed an irresistible impulse. I was

punished for my selfish folly by a total withdrawal for more than two years of happiness and

peace of mind” (Shorter 108). The following is a video of the moors just outside Haworth,

near the Bronte parsonage:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDIs5Kxzdig

Charlotte had received a marriage proposal from Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls, who

had been her father’s curate for a while, in 1852. Ho333wever, she had had to wait till the

June of 1854 since her father had not been positively disposed towards their union. In

March 1855, within a year of her marriage, Charlotte succumbed to complications that had

risen due to her pregnancy, at the relatively young age of thirty-nine. Death had yet again
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

claimed a talented member of the Bronte family. One can find out more about the Bronte

sisters at the following websites http://www.bronte.org.uk/haworth-and-the-brontes

http://www.lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/~matsuoka/Bronte.html

The first page of the first edition of Jane Eyre

(http://www.google.co.in/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fupload.wikimedia.org%2Fwikipedia%2Fcommons%2F9%2F9b%2FJane_Eyre_titl

e_page.jpg&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FJane_Eyre&h=551&w=341&tbnid=nmjSOuhdGz6-

MM%3A&zoom=1&docid=b3CnvzThn2diSM&ei=Y05VVJKCE82puwTwxYLQAQ&tbm=isch&ved=0CBwQMygAMAA&iact=rc&uact=3&dur=2

338&page=1&start=0&ndsp=25)
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

An Overview of Jane Eyre

Written in the form of an autobiography, the first publication of Jane Eyre in 1847

claimed to have been “edited” by a mysterious ‘Currer Bell’. It was revealed, only later, that

it had been written by Charlotte Bronte and that ‘Currer Bell’ was simply a pseudonym that

had been employed. In 1846, the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, had jointly

published a collection of poems under their assumed names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell:

adopting "Bell", the middle name of Haworth's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls and retaining

their initial. Charlotte, in “Bibliographical Notes on the Pseudonymous Bells”, explains that

they had deliberately assumed “masculine names” since they had been afraid that their

writing style and opinions were not what would be considered “feminine” by their

contemporaries and critics. Therefore, in order to evade censure and enjoy a degree of

liberty in their artistic expressions, they had assumed pseudonyms. They had observed how

“critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their

reward, a flattery, which is not true praise” (Bronte 8)

With this kind of sensitivity towards critical reception, Jane Eyre had been conceived

though the artistic result, not surprisingly, was the creation of a proto-feminist heroine,

Jane. Bronte had successfully created a Western cultural touchstone which has moved

generations of readers since its first publication. Even in the initial months of its release

when the identity and the gender of the writer was still under critical as well as general

speculation, the novel had managed to arouse intense critical appreciation as well as

condemnation. The first person narratorial voice of the novel engages directly with the

reader, inviting her/him to become privy to Jane’s private and social dilemmas and

challenges.
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

Statue of the Brontë sisters at the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bronte_Sisters_statue,_Haworth_Parsonage_-_geograph.org.uk_-_130978.jpg)

Jane Eyre is what can be appropriately termed as a Bildungsroman. A bildungsroman

is a novel that traces the growth of a character from her/his childhood to maturity. This kind

of novel explores the life of a character and investigates the incidents, experiences and the

encounters that contour the development of the person. Jane Eyre is a coming-of-age story

that focuses of the emotional, psychological, moral and spiritual growth of a little orphan

girl through her trials and tribulations from the age of eight-nine to the time when she is

around twenty.
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

Angelia Poon notes that in The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, quoting

from Harriet Martineau’s obituary of Bronte, had written about how Bronte had advised her

sisters against creating heroines whose beauty would be central to the narrative’s appeal.

When her sisters had responded to her objections stating that they would not be able to

make their heroines interesting otherwise, Bronte had apparently countered them saying

that “I will show a heroine as plain and small as me, who shall be as interesting as any of

yours.” This is in no way to be taken as a suggestion that the Jane in the novel is quite simply

Charlotte, but there are certainly several similarities between the two of them. Jane has

most definitely been endowed with features and personality traits that might have a

startling resemblance to that of her creator, but in way is she a direct projection of Charlotte

Bronte. Bronte had herself denied that the Jane in the novel was directly inspired by her

personal life but the autobiographical elements in Jane Eyre are quite pronounced. Whether

it the school, Lowood, which seems to have been drawn from her experience at Clergy

Daughter’s School or the self-abnegating Helen Burns’ personality that appears to have

been inspired by her eldest sister, Maria, the novel has scattered indications that Bronte’s

impressions had been taken from the world around her.

Gilbert and Gubar in their seminal work The Mad Woman in the Attic (the title has

been drawn from this novel) had observed that the plot of Jane Eyre had been borrowed

from the “mythic quest-plot” that was a characteristic of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

While in the Bunyan’s allegorical novel, the ‘Everyman’ protagonist, Christian, traverses the

challenging terrains where his devotion is tested and his faith in the divine examined, in

Bronte’s novel, she explores the daily realities of women in the Victorian Age. In this

uniquely female bildungsroman, the wilful and downright rebellious Jane is never one to
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

A recent photograph of the Roe Head School where Charlotte Bronte had briefly studied.

(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2e/Roe_Head,_Mirfield_-_geograph.org.uk_-_55901.jpg)

accept injustices quietly. The passage from childhood to adulthood is one where she faces

orphanhood, temporary confinement, poverty, starvation, the possibility of sinking into

madness and the chilling comfort of a religious bent. The stages of Jane’s emotional and

psychological development correspond with the spaces she inhabits. With the winding up of

every stage, either the narrative course ejects her out of that space or she rejects it in

favour of another. She flits from Gateshead Hall to Lowood Institution and from there to

Thornfield Manor, Moor House and finally, at the conclusion of this novel, is found residing

at Ferndean Manor where she seems to be at ease, reaping, if one may, the fruits of her

quest of desire and self-discovery. The following sub-sections will investigate the progress of

her pilgrimage of actualizing her potentials and her quest for liberation from the orders that

threaten to stifle her. An outline of the novel will now be provided, given that the narrative
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

of Jane Eyre can be roughly distributed into five sections according to the geographical

spaces that Jane inhabits.

 Gateshead Hall

It is at Gateshead Hall, as the name of the place suggests, that Jane’s pilgrimage begins. The

reader is gently introduced to the life of the protagonist, who quite clearly is very much

unlike the children around. The first person narratorial voice informs us that she was

conscious of her physical inferiority to that of her cousins, Georgiana, Eliza and her

perpetual tormentor, John Reed. Jane is evidently not like the “happy, little children”

around her and her aunt, Mrs. Reed, makes her painfully aware of that (Ch 1). Mrs. Abbot,

the lady’s maid, prefers Georgiana to Jane since unlike her plain features, Georgiana had

fine curls and blue eyes. Thus, from the very beginning, Jane is set apart and alienated from

those immediately around her and she seeks affection from the nurse, Bessie. Instead of

indulging in the activities that girls of her age normally indulge in, Jane is found seeking

nurture and comfort in the luxury of reading books and imagining distant climes and

cultures. She fantasizes about being like Gulliver, “a most desolate wandered in most dread

and dangerous regions” (Ch 3).


Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

F. H. Townsend’s illustration of Jane confronting Mrs Reed (1847).

(http://www.google.co.in/imgres?imgurl=http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/39/P30b.jpg&imgrefurl=http://commons.w

ikimedia.org/wiki/File:P30b.jpg&h=1011&w=700&tbnid=wpMEVNmR2uHEtM:&zoom=1&docid=VywrUAsmSZA_yM&ei=RXNcVJCQOcbgu

QSRxoHQAQ&tbm=isch)

The very first chapter reveals the kind of violence that Jane is subjected to by virtue

of the fact that she is seen as a dependant and an unwelcome one at that. John Reed snaps

at her for having borrowed a book from his collection and Jane retaliates, using expressions

she had learnt from literature, accusing him of being like a “slave-driver”. The parallel is

revelatory of the kind of equation that Jane had felt that she shared with her deceased

Uncle Reed’s surviving family. John doesn’t spare her and physical violence ensues where
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

Jane is left wounded on her head. Instead of the oppressor being punished, the helpless but

resisting Jane Eyre is carried away to be confined to the “red-room”. The narrator observes

that she was “a trifle beside myself; rather out of myself” suggesting that she was not quite

in control of her emotions and had not been able to channelize her anger better. In this

section of the novel, there are also other instances when Jane, unable to control her

impulses, had said or done things without appropriate care or fear of the repercussions. As

the novel advances, Jane is progressively more in charge and in control of her actions but

the streak of impulsiveness remains as one of her characteristic features.

The famous “red-room” incident can be read as one of the most critical episodes in

Jane’s life. She is given a dark reminder by Bessie that if she doesn’t behave in a more

appropriate fashion, her aunt would cut her off financially and she would be sent to a

poorhouse. The poorhouse in the Victorian world was a place where beggars and people

dependant of the charity of the state would be herded into houses where they would live

under miserable conditions (the novel Oliver Twist by Dickens being a wonderful exploration

of the subject). The poor would live “bare lives” as Giorgio Agamben would put it, where

they would be given just enough nurture for to survive but not enough for them to actually

feel alive. Having heard such a threat, and not for the first time, Jane quietens down. She is

locked up in a dark chamber that has overwhelmingly red upholstery, red carpets, curtains

and where even the table of the foot of the bed is covered in red cloth.

What makes Jane all the more afraid is that that was the chamber where Mr. Reed

had “breathed his last” (Ch 2). He was the only father figure that Jane had ever had and the

only comforting parent-figure she had probably come across. The room is scattered with

relics Mrs. Reed had retained in the memory of her lost husband but what frightens the
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

little girl the most is the “great looking glass”, the mirror that stands tall in the very red

room. The adult Jane views the young Jane’s fears as something stoked by superstitions.

However, it is in this mirror that Jane is forced to encounter herself and this moment has

been interpreted by Gilbert and Gubar as the moment when Jane realises that apart from

running off or starving herself into liberation, she possessed the option of escaping her

conditions by descending into madness. Jane shuns this possibility, faints and wakes up to

the care of Bessie. However, this incident can be stylistically seen as a foreboding to what is

to come. Bertha Mason, Edward Rochester’s “mad wife” is similarly locked by and secluded

in a chamber in the Thornfield Manor.

Jane, the orphaned child, jeered at by Mrs. Abbot for being ungrateful and in a worse

than the servants since she did not earn her sustenance, is curiously aware of the economics

of her life. When asked by Mr. Lloyd, the apothecary, if she would like it better to live with

any remaining family member, who might be socially and financially weaker, she points out

that “I should not like to belong to poor people,” revealing a striking degree of class-

consciousness in a child of nine-ten (Ch 3). The adult Jane notes that she “was not heroic

enough to purchase liberty at the price of caste”. Jane does, yet again, almost involuntarily,

question her aunt, “What would Uncle Reed say to you, if he were alive?” When Mr.

Brocklehurst, the gentleman maintaining the Lowood Institution questions Jane about her

religious knowledge, Jane’s responses are prompt and exactly what organized religion had

ingrained in her, where piety is imposed. The rebel in Jane thinks “Speak I must” and

confronts Mrs. Reed for her misrepresentation of Jane’s character (Ch 4). While the little

Jane asks herself “What shall I do?- what shall I do?” a more grown up Jane repeatedly asks
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

Heaven to be her guide. Eventually, and gratefully, Jane is bundled off to Lowood

Institution, heralding the second phase of her life.

1854 photograph of Charlotte Bronte

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CharlotteBronte.jpg)

 Lowood Institution

The educational and spiritual care of Jane takes place at Lowood Institution which is

presided over by the superintendent, Ms. Temple. Mr. Brocklehurst, the man with the

“great nose” and “large prominent teeth”, a reminder of the big, bad wolf of Little Red

Riding Hood, was the chairman of the charitable institution for orphaned girls. Though his

daughters were dressed in flattering and elegant dresses, the girls at the institution hardly
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

had enough clothes to survive the harsh winters at Lowood. The place is aptly named since

the girls there were underfed, under-clothed and often ill-treated by the teachers who were

in charge of their care. Perhaps, Lowood was hardly any better than the poorhouse that

Jane had dreaded. According to Brocklehurst, he children were meant to become “hardy,

patient, self-denying” as “feeding their vile bodies” might “starve their immortal souls” (Ch

7).

This was the place where Jane Eyre had met her first friend, the self-effacing Helen

Burns, who had probably been endowed with the nature Maria Bronte, the author’s eldest

sister, was presumed to have had. Maria had suffered from tuberculosis in the last years of

her life and was said to have borne her pain patiently and quietly, thinking of her final

destination in the arms of her Heavenly Father. Helen is seen as a benevolent spirit given to

day-dreaming and forgetfulness of her surroundings. Not surprisingly, Jane’s first meeting

with Helen was in the garden enclosure where Helen was reading a book. Unlike Jane, Helen

does not ever question the orders given to her and neither does she complain when she is

punished for her minor flaws. Jane, on the other hand, often takes it upon herself to rage

against the establishment for the kind of treatment Helen is meted out. Whereas Jane

constantly raises objections and challenges figures of authority, either verbally or silently,

Helen is seen as the embodiment of obedience who patiently suffers all that comes her way,

imagining only her afterlife that might provide her some solace. Hoping for the day when

her spirit leaves her material frame, Helen carries on with her burdens, embracing every

punishment as just another opportunity to efface her sins.

Jane, however, does not harbour such sentiments. She recognizes that Lowood

provided her with an opportunity to educate herself and become self-sufficient. She strives
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

to equip herself with talents that would allow her to be financially secure, perhaps as a

governess. She doesn’t view the kind of punishment Helen or the rest, including herself,

were meted out as a humane strategy to correct faults that often seem so insignificant. She

is, however, reprimanded by Helen according to whom it was her “duty to bear it, if you

couldn’t avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be

required to bear” (Ch 6). Jane, however, does not possess such forbearance or power of

endurance. The angelic Helen Burns succumbs to consumption, hoping in her deathbed,

rather a crib, that by dying young she would escape greater sufferings than what she had

already experienced. She dies in Jane’s arms. The ever enduring Helen Burns’ grave was

marked by a tablet reading “Resurgam” i.e. Latin for “I shall rise again”.

The only other remarkable and influential figure in this section is the noble Ms.

Temple, who, as her name suggests, is a virtuous lady. Gilbert and Gubar note that she is “a

shrine of lady-like virtues: magnanimity, cultivation, courtesy- repression” (Gilbert and

Gubar 344). They note that she might as well have been an embodiment of what the

Victorian conduct books, like those by Mrs. Sarah Ellis or Coventry Patmore, would have

expected. Kind, gentle, caring and encouraging, Ms Temple, unlike several of the other

mistresses at Lowood appears to be truly involved in the well-being of the orphaned girls.

There might have been, as Jane observes, another side to Ms. Temple. The angry and violent

side to her might have been exposed when Brocklehurst complains about her kindness

towards the students but she successfully represses it and her lips never part. While Jane

might have as a young child allowed words of anger or anguish to emerge out of her

involuntarily, Ms. Temple had trained herself repress such words though the emotion might

be as thoroughly felt. This is the kind of training that Jane might have learnt but she never
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

does master it completely. She is inspired by Ms. Temple’s forbearance and kindness but

she does not ever do away with her spirited nature. Ms. Temple leaves the institution to

enter the fold of matrimony and sensing the tedium of life at Lowood, Jane, eventually,

prays for a “new servitude” (Ch 10).

 Thornfield

Before Jane enters into her “new servitude” as a governess at the Thornfield Manor, Bessie,

the nurse at Gateshead Hall, visits her. A significant bit of information is shared during their

exchange which Jane does not give much thought to that time. Bessie informs her that a

certain gentleman, ‘Mr. Eyre’, had come looking for Jane while she was away from

Gateshead. Bessie reveals that Jane’s father’s family was not as poor as Mrs. Reed had

always said they were but belonged to the gentry. The ‘Mr. Eyre’ was on his way to Madeira,

probably as a wine-merchant, but the significance of this information is revealed only

towards the end of the novel.

At Thornfield Jane is warmly welcomed and received by Mrs. Fairfax and is

considerably surprised at the reception since she had heard that governesses were generally

treated stiffly and with cold politeness by the upper class families that employed them. She

then learns that Adele, her future student, was not Mrs. Fairfax’s daughter. Eventually, she

finds out that Thornfield belonged to a Mr. Edward Rochester and not Mrs. Fairfax as she

had initially thought, who turned out to be housekeeper. Adele turned out to be Mr.

Rochester’s ward who had lived most of the life in the Continent and had recently arrived.

Even before she meets her actual employer, Jane hears the “distinct, formal, mirthless”

laughter of the yet unseen, mad woman in the attic, Bertha Mason (Ch 11).
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

An image of the hall that might have inspired Bronte’s Thornfield Manor

(http://tuckdb.org/postcards/125496)

Jane’s first meeting with Rochester is not only very dramatic but also quite

interesting since it seems to indicate the kind of equation they share in the subsequent

sections of the novel. One evening while Jane was exploring the environs of Thornfield when

a horse, which reminded her of Bessie’s folklore about the Gytrash, a spirit which often

came upon travellers, approaches her. The rider and his horse slip on a sheet of ice and fall

down and Jane, unaware that the rider is Mr. Rochester, offers help. Jane cannot help but

inspect the face and features of the rider and the narrator describes them in great detail. It

is a moment when Jane literally comes face to face with a desirable, masculine presence.

Rochester, concealing his true identity, interrogates Jane about her relation to Thornfield

and it is to be noted that Rochester, at several instances in the chapters to come, hides his

identity or his intentions in order to extract what he desires from Jane. Jane appears to feel
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

as if that seemingly insignificant moment had provided some change to the monotonous life

she had been leading, almost glad that she had been of use to someone in distress.

Jane, from the very beginning, is likened to a fairy, elf, and sprite and Rochester

repeatedly says that it seems as if she “were from another world” (Ch 13). The section of

Jane Eyre is where the Gothic romance is played out. The dark, eerie surroundings, a

mansion with secret rooms and endless passages, a brooding master who is himself full of

secrets – all add to the gothic element in this novel. Jane and Rochester’s exchanges during

the first few meetings are quite interesting as both seem to at times sparring with each

other and yet there’s a profound degree of mutual respect. Rochester almost lays out the

fact that there were things about his past that Jane would rather not know and that he had

the right as an employer to be “a little masterful”. There might have been an age difference

of almost twenty years but that does not appear to be a detriment to their mutual

admiration.

Thornfield’s secrets are slowly and steadily revealed. Jane, yet again comes to the

rescue of Mr. Rochester whose bed had been set afire by his “mad wife”, Bertha Mason. The

demoniac laughter of this woman haunts Jane and Rochester’s relationship. Jane gradually

falls in love with Rochester but does not dare to allow herself to admit to it since she thinks
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

"The Governess," from the Victorian period. Painting by Richard Redgrave, 1844.

(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d0/The_Governess_by_Richard_Redgrave.jpg)

of herself as just a governess, whose affections would never be reciprocated by a gentleman

like Rochester. Ms Ingram, she concedes, would make for an appropriate partner and

companion for him since she was not only unquestionably beautiful, but also quite

accomplished.

Jane, utterly enamoured by Rochester’s looks and physique, finally admits that he

“made *her+ love him without looking at *her+” (Ch 17). Ms. Ingram’s presence makes her

slightly jealous and appears to be a deterrent to the probability of the Rochester ever

reciprocating Jane’s love. Jane succumbs to a sense of self-pitying wondering if physical

beauty, that she believed she personally lacked, would have in way made a difference to her

situation of being so love-struck by Rochester since he seemed to be a very desirable man.


Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

In Chapter 18 the readers are introduced to Mr. Mason and are informed that he had

arrived from Jamaica, West Indies. Another curious incident it that of the Sibyl who claims to

have the power to tell people their fortunes. It turns out to be Mr. Rochester in disguise

who had taken it upon himself to find out whether Jane harboured any affection for him.

Jane realises that he had tried to elicit some kind of be confession from her but she

intelligently circumvents what is asked and they end up quibbling over subjects. Rochester

eventually throws off his disguise, with some assistance from Jane, and recognizes that

unlike the rest of the ladies, Jane had not been fooled by his costume.

In the following chapters Jane is asked to nurse Mr. Mason who, the readers later

realise had been violently attacked by his sister, Bertha Mason. Rochester does not quite

provide Jane with an explanation then and there but attempts to absolve himself of some of

the acts and errors he had committed in his youth, pointing out that those were his youthful

follies and yet he still suffered because of them. He also indicates that would be marrying

Miss Ingram which dashes Jane’s hopes.

After this incident, Jane goes off to meet her dying Aunt Reed and is handed a letter

that states how her uncle, Mr. Eyre, wanted to adopt her and bequeath his property to her

at his death. On her return, Jane is informed that she might be dismissed since Mr.

Rochester suggests that Adele would soon be sent away to a school and also that he might

marry Ms Ingram. Jane notes that “this was a blow: but I did not let it prostrate me”

retaining her spirit (Ch 23). Rochester appears to have, yet again, toyed with her in order to

get her to admit to the fact that she loved him and Jane objects to it in a powerful speech,

“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! And if God had gifted me
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it

is now for me to leave you. 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!" (One

can perhaps look at the following video where this exchange has been dramatised

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR36W2jq9fE This is from the 1973 BBC television

drama serial directed by Joan Craft, starring Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston as Jane Eyre

and Mr. Rochester respectively.

It is this insistence on equality that seems very striking given the circumstances of

the Victorian Age. It is especially so since Jane repeatedly refers to Rochester as her

“master”. They admit to their mutual love and agree to get married in four weeks time. Mrs

Fairfax question Jane, quite significantly, “Is it really for love that he is going to marry you?”

and Jane is moved to tears. Jane knows that Edward Rochester was keeping some dark

secret from her but she allows herself to be placated with the promise that she’d be

informed about it in a year’s time.

In an instance of “objective correlative”, i.e. the expression of a character’s

sentiments through its manifestation in the external world, the chestnut tree at Thornfield

is struck by lightning and split in two, almost foreshadowing what was to come. Jane also

has a dream of a Thornfield in ruin, a premonition of the future that does come true. It has

been suggested that this dream is a suggestion that Jane is at unease with the dynamics of

her relationship with Rochester and that she “carries her orphaned alter ego everywhere”

like the child she carries in her dream (Gilbert and Gubar 358-361). There seem to be

multiple splitting of Jane’s “self” into Jane Rochester, Jane Eyre and “her demoniac double”,
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

Bertha, who does what Jane cannot do. Bertha tears up the wedding veil that Jane didn’t

want to wear in the first place and burns Thornfield to the ground.

An illustration of Bertha Mason by F. H. Townsend (1847)

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:P272b.jpg)

On what was to be her wedding day, Jane if informed about the existence of

Rochester’s first wife, the “goblin” Bertha Mason. It is not surprising that throughout the
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

novel Jane is likened to spirits and Bertha is thought as a “creature”, raving animal or “a

ragout”. Rochester, while introducing Jane and the rest to Bertha, quite unthinkingly and

insensitively explains that he “wanted *Jane+ just as a change after that fierce ragout” (Ch

26). This does make one question and perhaps echo what Mrs. Fairfax had asked Jane about

his honesty of his intentions. (A recent version of this encounter can be seen here

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpjvSmInWEg This is from the 2006 TV mini-series starring

Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre and Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester, directed by Susanna White.)

Rochester admits that he might have been a scoundrel in his treatment of Jane but that

he loved her. His explanation regarding his marriage to Bertha will be looked at closely in

one of the later sections of this unit. Jane, in a very assertive manner, tells Rochester that

she would set out in the world, once again even if there wasn’t a living soul who cared for

her. She impetuously claims, “I care for myself” (Ch 27) and daringly rejects all that

Rochester might have been able to offer in compensation for his unscrupulous and

unwarranted behaviour. What is most commendable about Jane’s decision is her refusal to

compromise on her morals and her faith that she would be able to lead her life on own

terms.

 Marsh End

It appears to be almost predestined that Jane Eyre would find some comfort and solace

after her trials at Thornfield. She meets, Diana, Mary and St John Rivers, a clergyman, who

turn out to be her distant relatives. Problems seem to be tapering for Jane but her final trial
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

comes in the form of the stern and religious St John. She is well cared for at the stable

home, their cottage, and is given a reason for her to feel spirited again.

Unlike Rochester, St John is presented as a cold, reserved and unsentimental person

whose only aim in life was to perform his duties towards his fellow beings and help others

Jane Eyre and St John Rivers. (An illustration by F. H. Townsend, 1847)

(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e4/P323b.jpg/411px-P323b.jpg)
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

embrace the fold of Christianity. He proposes to Jane who, according to his estimation,

would make for an appropriate wife of a missionary, unlike Ms Rosamund. His proposal

lacks the passion and sentiment with which Rochester had offered marriage to Jane. Jane is

never quite able to warm up to him or feeling intimate with this “Christian and practical

philanthropist” (Ch 30). Jane appears to very stoic in her acceptance of what the world had

dealt out to her but she aches for what she had experienced with Rochester.

However tempting might have been St John’s offer to marry her and take her to

India as a missionary’s wife, he does not seem to love. Jane, consistent with her character,

refuses to compromise of the fact that she would want love and passion in her husband. She

offers to travel with his as his companion for his missionary work in India but her proposal is

turned down. John Rivers, a symbol of organized religion, does not appeal to her heart or

her soul. Jane does admit that his work was truly commendable but realises that she could

not be a part of it and St John, on his part, refuses to turn away from his vocation and

calling. Towards the end of Chapter 33, we are informed that Jane had finally inherited a

part of her deceased Uncle Eyre’s property. It is important to note how information

regarding her uncle in Madeira repeatedly almost coincided with the beginning of every

new phase in her life.

Jane comes to the conclusion that St rivers was a kind human but would never make

for a good husband since he was single-minded in his aspiration. His proposal was

calculative and despite his injunction that “God and nature intended you for a missionary’s

wife”, we learn that Jane is no self-abnegating Helen Burns. She burns with passion for life

and love. He had misconstrued Jane’s potential to choose and had been severely flawed in

his assessment that she would submit to his declaration, “I claim you” (Ch 34). He
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enumerates her qualities carefully and coldly and Jane exclaims, “I scorn your idea of love.”

He entreats her again and Jane blurts out that if she “were to marry *him+, *he+ would kill

[her], suggesting that such a loveless union would stifle her to death. She does eventually

submit to his proposal, making peace with the fact that it might after all be “God’s will”. In a

seemingly supernatural interruption, Jane hears a voice calling out to her and she is stirred

to set out again into the wilderness of the world to seek Edward Rochester.

 Ferndean

“Reader, I married him” (Ch 38). In a manner that is characteristic of the narratorial voice,

the readers are informed that Jane had finally run back into the arms of Rochester. When

Jane had left Thornfield in the third section, she had in a fit of passion said that Rochester

would lose his right hand and right eye. Bertha, Jane’s seemingly more malignant double,

had succeeded in doing that when she had burnt Thornfield down.

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUYsmw7ybdU ) The following is a clip from the 2011

film directed by Cary Fukunaga and starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender as

Jane and Rochester respectively.

When Rochester reminds her that theirs might yet again be an unequal union, Jane

retorts that she had become independent and rich and was therefore in every which way his

equal and able to exercise her free will. She suggests that she would accept him in any form

possible, companion, nurse or wife, as long as he would accept her as such. This is the kind

of statement that had ruffled the feathers of several of Bronte’s contemporaries and critics.

Jane’s outspoken nature and Bronte’s uninhibited expression of female desire and sexuality
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

had not done down too well with several of the Victorian readers who found it

inappropriate and improper given the conventions that reigned at those times. The novel

concludes with the information that St John had gone away to India as a missionary, without

a companion and wife, and was probably on his way to meet his Maker.

Missing Mothers of Victorian fiction and Jane Eyre

In The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell introduces the Bronte siblings as

“six little motherless children”. Catherine Dever notes that “Gaskell’s first chapter climaxes

in the graphic reproduction of the Bronte family tombstone in Haworth Church” where

Maria Bronte, the mother, lay interred (Dever 2). She goes on to suggest that Gaskell had

constructed the death of Maria Bronte as the “organizing principle, central crisis and source

for dramatic tension” for her biography. Her mother’s death had certainly been a terrible

blow to Charlotte but this kind of structuring reveals something more significant about the

role of the mother in Victorian fiction.

The suggestion here is not that Bronte’s life began with the death of her mother but

the death of the mother is what can be used a primary point of entry into the life of a

person/character. With loss of the mother, a stock characteristic of the Victorian narrative,

the subject is examined and investigated throughout her/his progress back into the folds of

Victorian domesticity. The bildungsroman’s progress is quite heavily dependent upon

maternal loss for the interrogation of the child’s moral and psychological negotiation with

the world around. The construction of the Victorian ideal of motherhood and domesticity is

only possible if the “angelic” mother is herself absent. This absence opens up the space for
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

negotiations regarding the ideology of the age and the ideals can easily be projected upon a

figure that is materially absent. The “good mother” is a disembodied and mute figure while

the presence of the “bad mother” urges the subject move forward to explore other

possibilities.

Not surprisingly, Jane is an orphan, not like Oliver (from Oliver Twist) in a poorhouse,

but with a family which never embraces her. Motherless, Jane can hardly look up to Mrs

Reed as an alternative or a surrogate. She finds comfort in Bessie but she is well aware that

Bessie is a social inferior. Adrienne Rich notes that “Jane Eyre, motherless and economically

powerless, undergoes certain traditional female temptations and fins that each temptation

presents itself along with an alternative- the image of a nurturing or principled or spirited

woman on whom she can model herself, or to whom she can look for support” (Rich ). She

does look up to Helen Burns and Ms Temple but Jane has neither the unquestioning piety of

the former, nor the moderation and careful repression of the latter. She learns much from

both of these women but she does not mould herself into either of them.

If one looks at the other female figures present in Jane Eyre like Mrs Fairfax or Ms

Ingram, one realises that Jane could have hardly embraced their characteristics or their

nature. Diana and Mary do come across as figures that offer Jane comfort, but they cannot

be read as adequate surrogates. The Rivers sisters present Jane with a sisterhood that she

had, perhaps, last experienced with Helen. Bertha Mason, without doubt, can hardly be

considered as a mother figure for Jane. She is, after all, Jane’s frightening double. Maternal

loss serves as a supple tool in the production of ideological positions, but it also to be noted

that such an absence might have been exploited by authors like Charlotte Bronte in order to

present radical situations and conclusions for her heroine. Had Jane had a stable mother
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

figure, one wonders, would have she been able to set out to explore and accomplish what

she had? Jane, as the narrator presents it, marries for love, not out of duty or just for the

reproduction of a patriarchal family unit. One should also note that Adele, who might have

been a daughter-figure, is conspicuously absent when the novel concludes, and neither do

we ever hear of Jane embracing motherhood.

The parsonage in Haworth, where the Bronte’s once lived, is now the Bronte Parsonage

Museum.

(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e4/Bronte_Parsonage_Museum.JPG/220px-

Bronte_Parsonage_Museum.JPG)
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

Femininity and Domesticity

Jane Eyre had drawn the wrath of several critics and provoked several people into

publishing negative view of it. Elizabeth Rigby was quite notable for her virulent attacks on

the novel, aspects of which she believed were “unchristian” in their content. The novel was

said to contain love scene that were comparable to that of Sappho and the love-scene were

perceived as highly passionate, hence reproachable and objectionable.

If one looks at Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, one realises that there, too,

mothers and ideal maternal figures are noticeably missing. The children don’t have a person

that they could possibility look up to for comfort. More significantly, for the social structure,

there aren’t adequate parent figures to teach and instruct them in the ways of the world,

more importantly the social mores than reign and regulate. It is the domestic space that was

the site for instruction and reproduction of social codes and manners. Jane, in Charlotte’s

novel, had inhabited a rather unwelcoming and violent domestic space that had urged her

to seek the wider world.

The Victorian world is infamously known and widely quoted for its categorical

channelizing of desires and repressive social arrangements (though Michel Foucault does

pose a significant challenge to this lie of thought). Conduct books like those by Coventry

Patmore and Sarah Ellis were widely promoted and read since it contained instructions

regarding appropriate “feminine” behaviours and models. The conduct books sought to

create “docile bodies” or bodies that could be moulded in a socially desirable and

acceptable way. This distinct body of writing, Poon notes, was an attempt to stabilize and

create a normative behaviour model for women (Poon 27). Jane, however, is far from being

a ‘docile’ body or normative. Her acts of rebellion and “unfeminine discontent” drew a lot of
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

critical attention that condemned Bronte’s alleged “moral Jacobinism”. Cora Kaplan notes

that while Jane Eyre is not an overtly political novel about women’s rights, it “represents

something both innovative and disquietingly anti-political if not quite conservative” (Kaplan

28).

Jane, as her author had intended, is not the object of desire for her beauty but for

her intellect and the spirited nature. The first person narrator often self-reflexively analyses

that her behaviour might have considered as inappropriate at unacceptable by social

requirements but the very next moment she forgets about it does what she desires,

uninhibitedly. Georgiana is the apple of everyone’s eye since she has the right kind of curls

and blue eyes and Ms Ingram is desirable because she is stately as a queen, but what about

Jane? Jane does reflect upon her lack of beauty and natural femininity when she wonders if

physical attractiveness was the only factor that Rochester cared for. However, as it turns

out, Rochester is able to appreciate her finer, more cerebral and emotional, qualities.

Jane does navigate her way back into the domestic sphere but she does so on her

own terms and conditions. Her need for equality in such a union is quite admirable since for

a lot of the women of her age and times, marriage was mostly a means to an end or a social

requirement to be met.

Women’s Education and the Role of Governesses

It is Jane’s education at Lowood that make her a self-sufficient person and adds to

her faith that she has in herself. In the beginning of the novel we find her educating herself

using books from John Reed’s library. Her education and training as a governess helps her
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

find employment Adele’s teacher. Adele’s first teacher had been her own mother who,

given the trends of the Victorian narrative, had dies while she was very young. Jane had

learnt several lessons from her life with the Lowood Institution from the people around her,

primarily from Helen and Ms. Temple. Yet her situation demanded of her to try and improve

her situation in life and she moved on from there.

The Governess (1851), a painting by Rebecca Solomon

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TheGovernessRebeccaSolomon.jpg)

Apart from their age difference, it is also their difference when it comes to class and

had inhibited Rochester and Jane’s declaration of love for each other. When they had first

met, Rochester had not been able to place her in the class hierarchy. He had looked at her

and figured that she could not have been a maid at the Thornfield household, and yet had

known that she was a not a member of his class. He hadn’t been able to place her till Jane

had informed him that she was the governess to Adele.

Governesses held quite an ambiguous position in the upper-class Victorian

household since they could not be treated as domestic helpers and neither could they be
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

considered as members of the family. They inhabited quite a complicated place in the social

structure where they very often could not find any kind of kinship or emotional support

from either the people employing them, or the servants serving them as well as their social

superiors. It is here where a part of the dilemma in this novel lies. Jane, given the narrative

course, had to have her economic situation elevated in order for her not to become a

dependant of Rochester’s.

A governess’s position was a rather unglamorous one but Jane Eyre was meant to be

a Bildungsroman about an unglamorous woman who had nothing but her intellectual

faculties at her aid. Jane, the orphan girl, teaches the ward, Adele whose behaviours and

airs are not what were socially acceptable. We find Jane making a mental note of the

content and subject of the song Adele had chosen to sing, which were, according to her, “in

very bad taste” and inappropriate given the English social standards (Ch 89).

According to Mary Poovey, “Because the governess was like the middle-class mother

in the work she performed, but like both a working-class woman and man in the wages she

received, the very figure who theatrically should have defended the naturalness of separate

spheres threatened to collapse the difference between them” (Poovey). Jane’s position in

life had improved and the earnings had doubled because of the job she had accepted at

Thornfield. She tries hard to perform a middle-class femininity, Esther Godfrey notes, but

pales infront of women like the highly feminized Ms Ingram and the little girl Adele who

seems already trained in coquettish behaviour and feminine airs. However, since they were

not committed sexually to any man and neither were they married, governesses were often

viewed as lascivious and promiscuous women who might have predatory intentions towards

the attentions of the men of the house.


Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

A painting of the three Brontë sisters; from left to right, Anne, Emily, and Charlotte, done by

Branwell Bronte (1834)

(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a9/Painting_of_Bront%C3%AB_sisters.png/220px

-Painting_of_Bront%C3%AB_sisters.png)

Female Desire and Jane

What had been quite disturbing for several of the readers was Bronte’s frank

assessment and expression of a woman’s desire. Jane is never the silly romantic heroine of a
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

romance novel who swoons at the sight of blood or feels faint at the sight of a lover. She’s a

collected yet impulsive lover who is passionate in her expression of desire for Mr Rochester.

She is unhesitant and uninhibited in her declarations of love, something that was deemed

inappropriate by the social standards of feminine behaviour.

Maria Mitchell and Dianne Osmond write that “a central paradox of Jane Eyre is its

enlistment in two antithetical traditions, as progenitor of the modern romance and the

ringleader of feminist revolt against stifling conventions” (Mitchell and Osmond 175). While

she breaks with the conventions of traditional feminine performance and appears to be

rather rebellious given the heroines of earlier romances, Jane does conform to some of the

norms. It should be noted that Jane’s passionate pursuit of love is often mistakenly thought

of as sexual desire that seeks satiation. Jane’s is a foundling story of ‘Jane Eyre’ and not of

‘Mrs Edward Rochester’; the difference has to be highlighted in order to understand what

Jane truly desires.

Jane’s is a desire for companionship, something that St John Rivers in all his

missionary zeal, is never able to recognize or chooses not to deal with. He would have

rather had her desire channelized in a more universal recognized form that the institution of

marriage would have provided her with. However, it is only a man like Rochester, quite

aberrant in his own ways and desires, who is able to accept and understand Jane. He does

question her if she would be willing to remain as a companion to an ailing and maimed man,

to which she agrees. Unlike Rochester, Jane is never manipulative or designing in her pursuit

of love. Jane is most definitely a designing creature and it was this representation of a

woman’s desire that had invited an extreme degree of criticism. Gaskell had written
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

Bronte’s biography, partially, to try to recover and reclaim the popular image of Bronte

what had been often been maligned by her conservative critics.

Patriarchal Authority and Maimed Masculinity?

Jane had been subject to oppression and physical violence as the hands of her cousin

John Reed that had been her first encounter with male privilege. Her “slave-driver” had not

been punished for his outburst but instead Jane had had to pay the price for it. There are

three prominent male figures of authority that Bronte explores in this novel, Mr

Brocklehurst, Rochester and St John Rivers. The preliminary description of each of these

men begins with an assessment of their physical characteristics. Brocklehurst is likened to

“the big bad wolf” found in fairytales and special emphasis is laid on his physique which

resembles a “black pillar”. Rochester’s face is described in very great detail with indications

that Jane had found him attractive, though she denies it when he asks her so. St John is

described as having and aquiline face with features that seemed Grecian in their contours.

Brocklehurst, the hypocritical chairman at Lowood, is portrayed as a puritanical and

cruel man who tries in every which way to cut down the expenses of the orphans’ board.

The children are starved and left struggling in the cold climate of the location. There is one

instance that should be looked at in some detail. Brocklehurst chances upon a girl, Julia

Severn, and exclaims, “Miss Temple, Miss Temple, what—what is that girl with curled hair?

Red hair, ma’am, curled—curled all over?” (Ch 7). Ms Temple responds to his question

stating that Julia’s hair curled up naturally. He orders, “Miss Temple, that girl’s hair must be

cut off entirely” in an attempt not only to maintain the humility befitting of the “evangelical,
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

charitable establishment” but also to desexualize the body of a teenager. Ms Temple,

though kind and considerate (she crosschecks and absolves Jane of the crime she had been

accused of by Brocklehurst) is a woman who had been endowed with the responsibility of

executing the instructions of the patriarchal authority. She does, however, try to ease the

effect of such orders by allowing respite to the girls.

St John Rivers is characterized as a man who is steeped in sincere piety and is

unflinching in his missionary ways. He does provide Jane with a viable alternative to the life

she would have led with Rochester had their marriage not have been interrupted. St John,

however, expects Jane to lead a life of strict principles and spirituality. He seems to demand

of her to let go of her passionate side and submit to the order of God, and as an addendum,

his own. If Brocklehurst was a “black pillar”, St John seemed like a “cold cumbrous column”

that orders her, “You shall be mine: I claim you,” for the service of the divine. Jane almost

accepts his authority and offer but eventually realises that she needed to follow her heart

that stilled ached for Rochester. St John had perhaps felt that Jane’s exterior plainness was

just a manifestation of her lack of passion and desire, as opposed to the beautiful and

attractive Ms Rosamond. It is as if he had expected her to bury her sexual desire and turn

her towards a piety she never earnestly wished for.

Rochester, her first love, had been initially designing and manipulative in his desire

to possess her. She had realised that they were not equals when she had first accepted his

proposal. After discovering that he was still married, when Jane was bidding him goodbye,

he had held her as compared her to a reed. This is just one of the instances when

Rochester’s physical superiority over Jane has been described. Towards the end of the

novel, it is his little ‘Janet’ who is the one who nurses him. The maimed and completely
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

blind Rochester heals under her care and supervision and regains sight in his left eye. Ever

since Jane had abandoned him and Thornfield, Rochester had worn her pearl necklace

around his neck. When she arrives at Ferndean Manor and they reconcile, Rochester places

his gold pocket watch in her custody. It appears as if this little exchange of heavily gendered

objects indicates the changing dynamics of their relationship where the once physically,

socially and economically inferior Jane is no longer under any overbearing patriarchal figure,

nor is she obliged to submit to anyone. This might seem to an “optimistic imagining” on the

part of Bronte, as Gilbert and Gubar have observed, but it is still highly contestable if it

correct to claim Jane as a feminist. However, without doubt, Jane is able to make the best of

what life might have had to offer by negotiating and renegotiating with the patriarchal

figures around.

Colonialism and the Mad Woman in the Attic

The one character in Jane Eyre who has spurred a significant amount of literature

and has been the subject of several controversies is Bertha Mason. While Gilbert and Gubar

had explored the possibility of Bertha being the ‘dangerous double’ of Jane, post-colonial

critics have explored her presence from a very different angle. Through the course of the

narrative, Bertha unsuccessfully tries to burn her sleeping husband in a bed that he doesn’t

share with her, grievously attacks her brother, shreds Jane’s wedding veil and in act of fitful

vengeance, burns Thornfield to the ground and destroys herself in the process.

Gilbert and Gubar have interpreted Bertha actions as a performance of what Jane

truly desires and as expression of Jane’s repressed rage and rebellion. However, their

reading does not appear to make much of the agency that Bertha exercises against her
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

oppressor. Bertha, in their essay, comes across as a mere tool that executes the latent

desires of the Englishwoman, Jane. Bertha, of Jamaican heritage, had been critically

appreciated as an addition to the gothic element in the third section of the novel but a

careful appreciation of her character reveals much more of the relationship the Empire

shared with the colonies.

A portrait of Charlotte Bronte done by J. H. Thompson

(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d3/CharlotteBrontePortrait.jpg/418px-

CharlotteBrontePortrait.jpg)

Rochester’s narration of his marriage to this Creole woman gives us some insight

about his intentions to marry Bertha. He presents a picture where it appears that he had

almost been tricked into marrying Bertha and had not really known the person he was

getting married to. He compares her use of Creole language to the sound of ‘wolfish’
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

howling. In “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism”, Gayatri Chakravorty

Spivak notes that, “through Bertha Mason, the white Jamaican Creole, Bronte renders the

human/animal frontier as acceptably indeterminate” (Spivak 247). Susan Meyer has

questioned Spivak’s formulations regarding Bertha as a “white Jamaican Creole” whose not

really a native and yet a “native” subject. According to her, it is “the interconnection

between the ideology of male domination and the ideology of racial domination” that finds

locus in Bertha Mason (Meyer 462).

It is actually a matter of inheritance that had compelled him to accept her hand in

marriage since he was not the eldest Rochester. According to the property laws in England,

he would not be allowed to inherit his father’s property and keeping that in mind, he had

gone of the West Indies to seek his (mis)fortunes. His father had introduced him to Mr

Mason, Bertha’s father, who had promised to give his daughter and inheritance of thirty

thousand pounds (which no doubt her husband would have access to).

Rochester claims that he had not known the existence of a single virtue in her and

youthful rashness had led him into such a trap, denying that it might have been greed that

had spurred him to commit such an act. Rochester, while condemning her for her race,

accuses that, “her family wished to secure [him] because [he] was of a good race, and so did

she” (Ch 27). Though he had been “dazzled, stimulated” he had never loved her or held her

in high esteem since her “cast of mind *was+ common, low, narrow and singularly incapable

of being led to anything higher.” After the death of his father and brother, he had inherited

much but also the misfortune of wife going mad had begun plaguing him. Men of the

medical sciences had advised him to keep her locked up in a chamber and he had done so

without perhaps having the sensitivity to sympathise with her condition or provide personal
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

care. (For a short discussion on Bertha by Professor John Bowen (University of York), you

can try the following link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJ7QzRBuZ8c)

Spivak notes that it is imperative that Bertha “must play out her role, act out the

transformation of her "self" into that fictive Other, set fire to the house and kill herself, so

that Jane Eyre can become the feminist individualist heroine of British fiction” (Spivak 251).

In order for Jane to have her almost ‘realist’ fairy tale ending, Bertha is the colonial subject

that must die for her English counterpart. Bertha burns down the very symbol of masculine

domination, oppression and imperialism that exists in this text, Thornfield Manor. However,

it should also be noted that Jane’s inheritance, yet again, signals towards the workings of

19th century British imperialism. Her uncle Mr Eyre had made his fortunes in Madeira and

Jane enjoys the luxury of the riches earned abroad in the colonies, to buttress and improve

her socio-economic situation in the highly class conscious Victorian England.

In her assessment of St John, Meyer had made some interesting observations,

particularly about his opinion of the heathen in India. St John had evangelical intentions of

going to the colony to tame the “savage tribes” in order to bring them under the wings of

Christianity. When Jane rejects his proposal in Chapter 38, he asks her to watch out for her

spirit and soul lest she “be numbered with those who have denied the faith, and are worse

than infidels.” It is here that we clearly see masculine domination and imperial tendencies

connecting and revealing a pattern in both forms of hierarchical systems of domination.

This is not the first time, however, that Jane had been aligned with the “infidels” for

her actions or decisions. Timothy L. Carens has explored the significance of the word

“juggernaut” in Jane Eyre. Brocklehurst, unjustly accusing Jane of being a liar, had declared,

“This girl, this child, the native of a Christian land, worse than many a little heathen who
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut—this girl is—a liar!” (Ch 7). He

exercises his disciplinary command, Carens notes, using “an imperial rhetoric of shame”

(Carens 63). What is interesting to note is how the text double-backs since while the

sentences connect Jane to the “little heathen... *who+ kneels before the Juggernaut”, when

the class is dismissed, Jane states that she “lay again crushed and trodden on”. Brocklehurst,

therefore, can be seen positioned as that very brutal god of the infidels that the imperialistic

patriarch in him so fervently hates. Later, Jane breaks this association, saying that

“Brocklehurst is not a god” indicating more towards the power domineering men exercise

upon women who are in no position to raise any objection.

Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, published a hundred and twenty years after Jane

Eyre, seeks to compensate for this deficient reality of Jane Eyre through a vocalization of the

silenced ‘other,’ here the ‘mad’ Creole first wife of Rochester, Bertha Mason. Rhys, through

a re-presentation of Bertha as Antoinette back in the West Indies, challenges the discourse

of race in Jane Eyre in order to force her readers to consider the story of Bertha Mason in a

socio-historically contextualized setting, so that the fact of her madness becomes defensible

and understandable. This is quite unlike the picture of Bertha that we get from Rochester’s

version of the story in Bronte’s novel where her congenital madness is linked to racial

impurity. However, Wide Sargasso Sea not only does it not complete the reality of Jane

Eyre, it also creates some of its own silences and contradictions.


Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

In an interview, Jean Rhys had said, "When I read Jane Eyre as a child, I thought, why

should [Bronte] think Creole women are lunatics and all that? What a shame to make

Rochester’s first wife, Bertha, the awful madwoman, and I immediately thought I’d write the

story as it might really have been. She seemed such a poor ghost. I thought I’d try to write

her a life." Spivak notes that “critics have remarked that Wide Sargasso Sea treats the

Rochester character with understanding and sympathy. Indeed, he narrates the entire

middle section of the book. Rhys makes it clear that he is a victim of the patriarchal

inheritance law of entailment rather than of a father's natural preference for the firstborn”

which is not the way Bronte had presented his argument (Spivak 251).

Rhys’ heroine is the sensitive, vulnerable and attractive Antoinette, a clear contrast

to Bronte’s raving madwoman in the attic. One should, however, take note to the dynamics

between Antoinette and her Jamaican slave Christophine. “Christophine is, of course, a

commodified person. "'She was your father's wedding present to me' " explains Antoinette's

mother, "'one of his presents” (Spivak 252). Wide Sargasso Sea is curiously quiet about the

slaves who had been freed after the enactment of the Emancipation Act of 1838 in Jamaica.

Antoinette had, after all, once put it quite darkly, “There is always the other side, always”

(Rhys 35).

The general assessment of Jane Eyre in the Victorian Age had both condemned and

congratulated Bronte for her creation of a daring heroine who successfully wades through

the trials of the “Everywoman”. It will not be incorrect to state that recent interventions in

critical thought might have even displaced the primacy of Jane as the most significant

character and tilted towards Bertha Mason. While several of her contemporaries were left

uncomfortable with her frank assessment of the relationship of Jane and Rochester,
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte did successfully create a heroine who has been admired and well loved by

her readers through the ages.

The Bronte family’s vault in The Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Haworth, West
Yorkshire, England.
(http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1708)

Chronology

1816 Charlotte Bronte is born at Thornton, Yorkshire.


Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

1821 Maria Bronte dies of cancer.

1824 Charlotte is sent to Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, Lancashire. Maria
(the eldest Bronte) and Elizabeth succumb to consumption.

1831 Charlotte attends Miss Wooler's school at Roe Head.

1832 Returns home to teach her younger sisters.

1842-1843 Charlotte and Emily go to Brussels to study French and German at the
Pensionnat Heger. Charlotte meets Constantine Heger, who might have been an
inspiration for Rochester’s characterisation.
1846 Charlotte, Emily, and Anne publish at their own expense a joint volume of
poems using pseudonyms, an effort that proves futile. Charlotte begins writing
Jane Eyre.
1847 Jane Eyre is published and it enjoys immediate success.

1848 Branwell (brother) and Emily die.

1849 Anne dies of consumption.

1851 Travels to London where she meets Thackeray and visits Elizabeth Gaskell, her
future biographer.

1854 Marries Reverend Arthur Bell Nichols, her father's curate.

1855 Dies in Haworth.

1857 The novel she had first written, The Professor, is published posthumously.

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Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre

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