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Jane Eyre: a Critical Analysis of Gender Relations in Victorian Literature


Jane Eyre: A Critical Analysis of Gender Relations in Victorian Literature Modern society tends to see the Victorian era as one of oppression and restraint, despite the social and cultural turmoil of the time. This contradiction refers, in large, to the restrictions imposed on the female gender. Ladies in Victorian England were considered as inferior to their male counterparts, and were assigned plainly defined roles within society.

Their treatment is a subject that is checked out and critiqued throughout the literature of the time, and subsequent analysis by literary commentators.

As Maynard comments (1984 ); ‘Couple of observers of the Victorian Scene have stopped working to point out the unusual degree of sexual restraint enforced upon social life and released literature’. Nevertheless, it remains in the work of the Bronte siblings that one witnesses the most thorough, and sometimes startling account of the social and gender restraints of the time. This paper will focus on the unique Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte, and released in 1847 under the pseudonym Currer Bell.

The adoption of a male pseudonym in itself reflects an underlying social prejudice towards female novelists, as outlined by the author; ‘Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell … while we did not like to state ourselves women … we had an unclear impression that authoresses are accountable to be looked on with bias’ (Smith, 2000). This rather disturbing observation by the author sets the tone of the novel itself, and implies what it is precisely that set the Bronte siblings apart from their contemporaries; their ‘unfeminine’ design of writing.

Jane Eyre is, in impact, a romance, and concentrates on the primary character’s mission to find true love. It can not be classed, nevertheless, as an exclusively romantic book as the character’s mission for love involves a battle for equal treatment, social acceptance, and value. In doing so, she concerns and refuses to conform to a selection of social norms connected with the era. Jane’s desire to be enjoyed appears in the opening phases of the story, in her conversation with Helen Burn’s; ‘if others do not love me I would rather die than live …

I would willingly send to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to support a kicking horse, and let it rush its hoof at my chest’ (Bronte, 1847). This somewhat stressful insight into the young Eyre’s mindset captures her mission for ‘true love’, as opposed to the loveless relationships and marriages associated with the time. This association is experienced by Jane’s eventual husband, Mr Rochester, in his very first marital relationship;’Bertha Antoinette Mason, she was wanted by my dad for her fortune. I barely consulted with her before the wedding event. I coped with her for 4 years.

Her temper ripened, her vices sprang up, violent and unchaste’ (Bronte, 1847). Rochester’s summary of the ‘marriage’ is a troubling insight into the arranged, and socially acceptable, marriages of the time. Bronte sets her lead character apart from her peers in her views of love, however further cements this difference in her ongoing criticism of the mindsets of the Victorian class. This is apparent in chapter 17 in particular, when she questions her growing sensations for Mr Rochester; ‘You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than to get the salary he provides you for teaching his protege … o don’t make him the item of your great feelings’. (Bronte, 1847) It ends up being clear, however, that in spite of Jane’s efforts to restrain her feelings, she is fighting a losing battle and is becoming progressively blissful with Mr Rochester, responding in a heated way upon invoice of a letter from him; ‘And while she broke the seal and perused the file, I went on taking my coffee … Why my hand shook, and why I involuntarily spilt half the contents of my cup into my dish, I did pass by to think about’ (Bronte, 1847).

Jane’s employment as a governess by Mr Rochester even more complicates her situation and her increasing love for her company. Hedgecock sums up the role of the governess in Victorian society (2008 ): ‘in normal Victorian life, the governess is the genteel spinster, self-effacing, having no aspirations outside the home in which she goes through a life of dependency’. Eyre, however, was not happy to conform to ‘regular Victorian life’, nor was she happy to fit the mould of the simple governess.

Eyre’s continuous battle with her feelings for Rochester is impacted throughout by the standards of society at the time, and her resilience to them. She hesitates to marry Rochester while Bertha is still in the photo, as it would equate her to a girlfriend, a position that she wholly disapproves of and one which Rochester wishes her to take: ‘As a married man you will shun me, keep out of my method: recently you have refused to kiss me’. (Bronte, 1847). In spite of Eyre ultimately weding Rochester, when his better half has passed away, she declines throughout to conform to and adhere to the social rules of the time.

Similar to her creator, she is almost masculine throughout the unique, therefore portrayed through her individual values and strength of character. It can be comprehended that Charlotte Bronte portrayed herself through the life of Jane Eyre, and used her fictional character as one whom modelled and nearly mimicked Bronte as a person. Eyre had the very same strong drive in seeking equality and self-reliance as a lady. Her refusal in accepting the conformities of the time mirrors Bronte.

Bernstein (1997) sets the scene for those non-familiar with the Victorian age: ‘in the bigger cultural context of Victorian England in which women are not accorded by law or by customized much opportunity to act on their own behalf’. This supports the motive behind Bronte and her actions. It represents the gender functions, which highly influenced people’s behaviour and identities. This ‘social guideline’ fuelled women’s endurance of the condescending attitudes about a female’s location, intelligence, and voice. Hence, in turn, Jane became subjected to an uphill battle to become independent and acknowledged for her personal qualities.

Bronte attempts to illustrate how personal virtues are much better signs of character than class. The red-room pointed out in the novel is a metaphorical image for Jane’s entrapment in the life she is anticipated to lead. A life of entrapment from society, restricting her flexibility due to her independent streak, race and foremost– gender. Eyre’s struggles in trying to overcome the injustice are all of a display screen through the feminine motion, in which the Bronte sis each played a considerable function in triggering. Eyre shows attributes of masculinity, such of which in Victorian age would only be confined to that of male prominence.

The strong connection made in between both author and character appears to the reader. In conclusion, Jane Eyre catches the battle and oppression dealt with by the ladies of Victorian Britain. Despite the ultimate happy-ending to the unique, the protagonist is required to overcome rigorous social and gender limitations in order to be with her true love. We see throughout the unique, however, that Eyre is an exceptional character at the time and represents only a little number of ladies who were quietly moving versus society’s expectations of them.

Charlotte, the oldest of the Bronte sis, got reputably the most important recognition with her development, Jane Eyre. In general, the three Bronte sisters are highly understood in English literature for their historical prominence that made them substantial to the age of the Victorians. Their income painted the course in which their work followed and their upbringing considerably affected their beliefs and outlooks. The three sister’s strong and ready qualities aided them in delivering what can be viewed as staples in literature, and for centuries end up being just stronger with development and eminence.

As Winnifrith (1988) mentioned; ‘the Brontes had the courage to break away from the practically universal belief that sinners merited everlasting penalty’. This reflects upon their self-reliance and strength in pursuing their own beliefs and expressing their opinions. These opinions were of such strong stature, resulting in the power to in script their everlasting result on the literature of the Victorian era and even on English literature as a whole. Bibliography Bernstein, Susan David. Confessional Subjects: Discoveries of Gender and Power in Victorian Literature & & Culture. U.S.A.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. United Kingdom: Smith, Elder and Co, 1847. Hedgecock, Jennifer. The Femme Fatale in Victorian Literature: The Risk and the Sexual Risk. New York City: Cambria Press, 2008. Maynard, John. Charlotte Bronte and Sexuality. Fantastic Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Smith, Margaret. The Letters of Charlotte Bronte: Volume II: 1848-1851, with a selection of letters by friends and family. United Kingdom: Clarendon Press, 2000. Winnifrith, Tom. The Brontes and their Background: Romance and Truth, 2nd Edition. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1988.

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