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Category: English

Autor: anton 30 June 2011

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Charlotte Bronte has long been considered as an outstanding woman literary figure in the Victorian time. Despite of the largely autobiographical content of her novels, Charlotte Bronte breaks the conventional, and ignorant in the nineteenth century. Her novel, Jane Eyre, has been translated into many languages and is always high in reading popularity. The highly acclaimed Jane Eyre best demonstrates the breakthrough: its heroine is a plain woman who possesses the characteristics of intelligence, self—confidence, a will of her own.

Charlotte Bronte, as well as her sister, lived and died in the first part of 19th century. At that time, there had long been the rapid industry growth in England. Connected with the improvement in industry and transportation there came the rise of a kind of new ruling class, the owners of the mills and miners of the industrial age, who began to compete with the old landed gentry. In order to improve themselves, they tried to provide a good education for their children. This opened a new opportunity for the impoverished gentlewomen to take the career as governesses. In this economic and social situation, girls of good background began to go out to work. It was with this situation in mind that the Bronte sisters made their plans for earning their living, which would be necessary if they were unmarried when their father died. The position of the governess was as uncomfortable one, for, though they were of higher class than servants, they could not reach the level of family. Consequently, they often suffered from loneliness and humiliation.

Charlotte Bronte, the third and oldest of the “Bronte sisters”, was born in Haworth, Yorkshire in 1816. Her father, Mr. Bronte was a poor clergyman in a little village. Because there were so many children in her family and all were born in so short time, and because her mother become very ill with cancer, she and her sisters were let much on their own. Isolated in the moors, they cherished in their souls the love of liberty. After the death of the mother, Charlotte and her sisters, except the youngest, were sent in 1824 to a charity school at Cowan Bridge—the Clergy Daughters School for the daughters of poor clergy-men, which prevented the girls from having normal mental growth, for the school’s object was to bring them up submissive slaves to the rich, was just like a prison.” The site was low, damp, and unhealthy, the food unappetizing, and the rules very strict for children accustomed to affection and freedom.”

After two of the sister died in the school, Charlotte and Emily were brought home and educated by her father. And Charlotte had a good time with her sisters. Once the children’s chores and lessons were done, they were free to read or play as they pleased. Their powerful imagination added strange and marvelous fantasies to the fact they heard or read. Soon they began to invent their own stories. In 1847, Charlotte published Jane Eyre, which brought her fame and placed her in the ranks of fore—most English realistic writers. In the writing of Jane Eyre, Charlotte drew a great deal from her own life experience. And we can find that it was very extremely same of Jane’s life—experience and the author’s. Charlotte expressed her own feeling, idea and thoughts through the words of Jane Eyre. And the author used the first person in the novel to show the reality of the novel.

Jane first appears an orphan lodging with her aunt, who resents her and shamelessly favors her own children. Later, Jane is sent away to a charity school run by Mr. Brocklehurst, where through the harsh regime, she learns how to survive and eventually succeeds in becoming a teacher there herself. She advertises for a post as governess, and is appointed to care for Adele, the ward of Edward Rochester at Thornfield Hall. What attracts Rochester to Jane is not her looks, as she is small and plain, but the honesty with which she speaks her mind, and her practical common sense, which enables her to save his life; above all, her wit and sensitivity, which help her cope with social complexity. He proposes marriage, but she discovers at the altar that he already has a life, Bertha, a lunatic woman who is kept in the attic at Thornfield. In her mind, Jane does not think it right to become Rochester’s mistress and decides to leave Thornfield. At the critical moment of her life, she is rescued by the Rivers family, who coincidently turns out to cousins and tells Jane that she is the heiress to a decent sum of money sufficient to give her the economic security for life. St. John Rivers, who is planning to go to India as a missionary, asks her to marry him and follow him in his calling. On the point of accepting the offer, Jane hears a supernatural cry from Rochester. She rushes back to Thornfield only to find that the house has been burned down by Bertha, and Rochester himself has been maimed and blinded in an unsuccessful attempt to save his wife. Now Jane decided that it is time that she can marry him.

The protagonist of the novel asks only for the simple---- “recognition that the same heart and the same spirit animate both men and women, and that love is the pairing of equals in these spheres.”1 (It’s quoted in George P. Landow’s article In What Sense is Jane Eyre a Feminist Novel, 2000) The famous plea that women ought not to be confined to “making pudding and knitting stockings, the playing on the piano and embroidering bags” (Jane Eyre,P111) is not propaganda for equal employment but for recognition of woman’s emotional nature and the independent state of her life.

Jane’s insistence on liberty of mind and feeling, liberty to develop oneself to the full is thoroughly illustrated in her declaration she makes when she believes Rochester will marry Blanche Ingram: “I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.” (Jane Eyre,P256) The fulfilling happiness of her own marriage to him is expressed in terms of freedom: “To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company.” (Jane Eyre,P456)

Chapter One Material independence

1.1 Jane’s poor situation

In Victorian England, a great stratification existed between the upper and lower classes. The upper classes claimed that the lower classes “cannot be associated in any regular way with industrial or family life.” And that their “ultimate standard of life is almost savage, both in its simplicity and it its excesses.”2 (P117-119, Reader, Victorian England, 1973) A lack of adequate nutrition, medical care and sanitary resources also contributed to the stigma attached to poor people. The disease and malnutrition that ran rampant among the poor caused “stunted physiques” and pale countenances that caused not only economic division between the classes, but also physical divisions as well.

The story line charts the progress of Jane as she starts at the bottom of the social scale as an orphan living off her aunt’s charity and eventually, becomes a lady with “virtuous, integrity, keen intellect and tireless perseverance broke through the class barriers to win equal stature with the man loved”.3(P5, Bantam Books, Jane Eyre )

Since her childhood in Gateshead, Jane has been suffering from the bitterness of such restraint brought with the dependent life under other’s eaves. The servants there keep admonishing Jane that she is under the obligation of Mrs. Reed. Consequently, she is no equal to Misses Reed and John. Jane recalls that her very first memory of existence is abundant of the hints of such things: “This reproach of my dependence had become a vague sing—song in my ear; very painful and crushing, but only half intelligible.” (Jane Eyre,P13) Mostly out of her instinct against oppression, Jane tries all out that a child could to struggle against bully John. She can’t take her fate down due to the lack of property, but her rebellious behavior is rather ineffective, though it shocks her aunt greatly. After the terrible imprisonment in the red room, Jane is even more eager than before to escape from such a life.

1.2 Jane’s struggle for a living

However, because of the limited comprehensive ability, she regards poverty as the synonymous of degradation. It will inevitably hinder her efforts for independent status, because without sufficient material supply, one can’t help degrading herself by relying on someone else. Due to Mr. Lloyd’s suggestion, Jane is sent away to Lowood, where she tries to enrich herself with knowledge and learn practical skills necessary for women in Victorian age. At that time, the characteristics expected of the white female were that she should be silent, unassuming, chaste, modest and blushing. As a child, Jane clearly anticipates the social reproof resulting from the inadequacy of property. As she is small, weak and plain, Jane can hardly meet the established standard of a beauty. To make up her disadvantages, Jane smartly endeavors to gain more aesthetic feminine accomplishment, and in the end, Jane is, in Bassie’s words, quite a “lady”. Her accumulation of knowledge gained from reading makes it possible for Jane to contemplate on her status rationally. Throughout the novel, Jane has never expressed her frustration for the lack of physical attraction. With no hope to better her appearance, Jane seems to have submitted herself to the “ladies’ achievement” necessary in a patriarchy society. Nevertheless, the purpose that drives Jane to learn so many popular skills is that she tries to gain these achievements to arm her with the practical skills and knowledge. She believes that women share the same potentials with men. She is trying to prove her ability by fulfilling her potentials. As is proved in Jane’s assertion: “Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do.”(Jane Eyre,P110) However, women at that time were suffering too rigid restraint. Such feminine capabilities mentioned above can only guarantee a better governess position for Jane rather than others. She has not yet stepped across the social territory boundary that society defines for women. Jane obtains a position as a governess with very little trouble. Placing an advertisement in a local paper, she receives an acceptable and respectable offer based in part on her training and teaching experience at Lowood. It appears that Lowood perfectly exemplifies the ideal of training school for future governesses. The owner of Lowood, Mr. Brockelhurst states the intention of his institute: “You are aware that my plan in bringing up these girls is, not to accustom them to habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient and self—denying.” (Jane Eyre,P63,) which exactly accords with the comments of Punch on the poor situation of governesses in the nineteenth century.

The uncertain social status of governess made the role a difficult one as the following historical description points out: the governess in the nineteenth century personified a life of intense misery. She was also that most unfortunate individual; the single, middle—class woman who had to earn her own living. Although being a governess might be degradation, employing one was a sign of culture and means… The psychological situation of the governess made her position unenviable. Her presence created practical difficulties within the Victorian home because she was neither a servant nor a member of the family. She was from the social level of the family, but the fact that she was paid a salary put her at the economic level of the servants.4 (Bonnie G. Smith, “Chapter 5: The Domestic Sphere in the Victorian Age,” Changing Lives) Only the salary of the governess and her usually low family position keeps her from being considered part of the culturally elite. The humiliating scene in which Blanch and her mother criticize governess in Jane’s hearing is typical of countless similar scenes in novels at that time, but Jane is not jealous of Miss Ingram at all, as Jane is clear that Miss Ingram is no better than her in all fields, except the appearance and the wealth. Jane does not degrade herself by attaching her values on the property in her posses. Before she can free herself from economic restraints, Jane will try to safeguard her sovereignty of spiritual world. From another perspective, such conflict reflects the hopelessness of human nature. Actually, as a means of struggling against the subordinate fate caused by the economic reliability, Jane is more alert than others to protect her spiritual liberty. It exactly illustrated one aspect of the modernity of Jane Eyre: she has realized the importance of property in controlling her fate; meanwhile, spiritual liberty is also crucial to keep her mental balance even when she is still in poverty. In her mind, Jane can’t bear to let the spiritual independence dominated by economic situation. Once she becomes a governess, Jane handles herself well in a gathering at Rochester’s house. Even though she is invited to join the group, she sits alone in a corner and doesn’t speak to anyone. However Jane has the audacity, to fall in love with her employer. By doing this, Jane breaks the stereotype of her rank and rises above the lessons taught at Lowood.

Jane is fully aware of her subordinate position in Thornfield. She is always observing people around her, via which, she is alert to the hypocrisy she is to abandon. The beauties as Miss Ingram and Jane’s cousins weigh themselves with the standards of man’s appreciation, which is no less than the degradation of themselves to the accessories of man. Not willing to give up her efforts for the mastery of her fate, Jane tries to seek her own fortune by writing to her uncle. So far Jane Eyre has been mentally prepared to handle properly the relation between wealth and women’s honor. Her engagement to Rochester is far from satisfactory for her, though it sounds like fairy tale romance for common governess to break a few rules of propriety to find happiness in the love of their employers. With an extraordinary consciousness to protect her liberty Jane rejects all possible lures, which might downgrade her to the passiveness of a housewife living on her husband. In this sense, she refuses any gifts of jewels, which, from her perspective, are the symbol of a parasite life. The desire for the fullness of a real economic independence, rather than the mercy or the overindulging love, prevents Jane from being overwhelmed by the impending happy life. She is so unsure about the easy—coming marriage that she constantly reminds herself to be calm and to keep a delicate distance to her would be husband. Jane is cool—minded to know that her acceptance of the generous gift will be at the price of her life—long dependence on Mr. Rochester. In her belief, women, who are always thought to be second to their husbands after marriage, should not give up their proper position as well as the spiritual independence. To certain degree, the property of women’s own can serve as the safeguard of women’s equality in their marriages. Jane’s allegation is surprisingly radical in Victorian age when marriage was widely thought as the springboard for a woman to gain economic security. Besides, the common thought dictated that a woman should be available at all times to care for her husband and children. She was supposed to be a housewife supervising the staff servants or nannies, if her family could afford them. The idea of a working wife was considered highly improper and thought to result in neglect of husband, children at home. Under such circumstances, Jane Eyre, once again takes out the incredible courage to challenge the convention.

1.3 Final economic independence

As her position of governess makes her helpless in getting enough money to guarantee the equal status to Mr. Rochester’s after their marriage, the information of her uncle John Eyre she got at the deathbed of Mrs. Reed, is no less than the exact salvation Jane is longing for. Without hesitation, she writes to her uncle, hoping he would adopt her and make her his legatee: “It would, indeed, be a relief,…if I had ever so small an independency; I never can bear being dressed like a doll by Mr. Rochester, or sitting like a second Danae with the golden shower falling daily round me,… if I had but a prospect of fortune, I could better endure to be kept by him now.” (Jane Eyre,P271) Of course, it is author’s purposeful arrangement for Jane, in the predicament of governess, to get the access to realize her economic independence. But in spite of the fictional plot, Jane Eyre does strive to maintain her liberty at any cost. She does not give herself any chance to rest on others, so Jane also requires continuing her job as Adele’s governess even after the marriage. Earning with her hands the board and lodging does not undermine her love for her master; on the contrary, it keeps their love from decaying to material reliability.

Good work will always find a home. Finally, God arranges the unexpected but valuable heritage for Jane, because in due time, Jane has clearly comprehended the relations between material fortune and spiritual liberty. Her sufferings of sour parasitic life; appreciation of human affections and torture of true love have helped Jane accumulate solid experience, which makes her rational enough to dispose the money belated for nearly eight years. Jane’s nerve has been tough enough to stand any impact, negative or positive. She knows how to make the best of such a reward, which, to certain degree, is also kind of challenge and responsibility. Her disposition of the heritage illustrates her readiness to equalize herself with her master in social status and affection role as well. Back to Mr. Rochester, Jane declares to the face of her fiancé that “I am an independent woman now… I am independent, as well as rich—I am my own mistress.” (Jane Eyre,P439)

Jane gets a firm hold on her economic independence, which further ensures her spiritual freedom. She never wavers in her steps toward the final liberty, both material and spiritual. Generally, economic status is theneessary access towards one’s spiritual liberty. As for Jane, poverty sometimes also works to steel Jane’s will, for the mere poverty saves her from belonging to any material things.

Chapter Two Spiritual independence

2.1 Manifestation of spiritual freedom in Jane’s early life

Jane, though physically small and weak, retains at bottom a stern confidence that saves her. She keeps her pride and dignity. As is mentioned above, she is reluctant to make her emotional independence overwhelmed by economic situation, and also she doesn’t allow herself to be swayed by authority or power, and submit to the dictates of custom. Surrendering to the convention is not her practice; instead, she makes her own choices and takes any consequences the choice might bring about without regrets. In pace with her growth, Jane interprets the spiritual freedom in different manifestation of desire. In the beginning, Jane Eyre demonstrates a strong need to be herself, to exercise her artistic talents, to take responsibility for her own actions, and to follow the dictates of a mature, developed sense of morality. While she lives with the Reeds and endures their daily assaults to herself—esteem, Jane tries to retain as much individuality as she can and retreats into reading and drawing; they become her refuge throughout her life.5 (P83, Cliffs Notes on Jane Eyre)

Since her childhood, Jane has been enjoying herself by broadening her horizon in reading. Though at that time, she is innocent of the significance of knowledge and chooses the reading content to the interest of herself, Jane cherishes the reading time as it can tranquilize her soul in the oppressive environment and benefit her thought in the transient sovereignty of herself. Knowledge can be understood as the premise of her spiritual entity, and in reading she is gathering power to struggle for independence. In the opening chapter, Jane is enjoying herself in History of British Bird written by Thomas Bewick. The position of a ward in such a family makes it even harder for Jane to pursue knowledge in reading. As Jane reflects on the scene twenty years later, she realizes that the result of an outburst of truth is remorse. Yet at the time, the ten—year—old orphan realizes a bonus from her outburst—a new found power over others. She stands her ground and refuses to be trod upon. Soon after Jane is settled at Lowood Institute, which is an accurate representation of a charity school in the 1820s, she finds the enjoyment of expanding her own mind, though her horror at the harsh punishments at Lowood is meant to prompt similar reactions in the reader. Most of the punishments at Lowood seem to be for minor and unavoidable infractions. Jane at first thinks she can’t bear such punishments and is mortified when she must stand on a stool and is accused of being a liar. The disciplining of Jane is completely unfounded as it is against her unrestricted nature. Jane sees these punishments as generally just being mean, and thinks that such mean people don’t deserve courtesy or to be obeyed. Jane explains to Helen Burns her view that obeying mean people encourages them to be even meaner: “If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way; they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again.” (Jane Eyre,P58)

Teaching in the monitorial system mostly involves memorization and verbal instruction. Both Burns and Jane excel only with great effort and by paying close attention. Lowood School is the epitome of the prevailing educational practice in Victorian time, which isn’t abolished until the publication of Jane Eyre. By this time the harsh discipline methods many monitorial schools advocated to study via various sensory experiences. The monitorial system had given way to class schools. Along with her efforts for spiritual wealth, Jane is true to human emotion. She never hesitates to confess her desire for it. When Jane sums up the eight years between the passing of Helen Burns and her own departure from Lowood, she treasures her education at Lowood, after its improvement: “During these eight years my life was uniform; but not unhappy, because it was not inactive. I had the means of an excellent education placed within my reach; a fondness for some of my studies and a desire to excel in all, together with a great delight in pleasing my teachers, especially such as I loved, urged me on: I availed myself fully of the advantages offered me.” (Jane Eyre,P84)

When Mrs. Fairfax replies to Jane’s ad she writes: “If J.E…possesses the acquirements mentioned…a situation can be offered her.” (Jane Eyre,P89) Having had a quality education and teaching experience at Lowood, Jane is better qualified than most governesses. Besides, Jane can also teach French, drawing, and music. Her qualifications for the governess job reinforce her self—confidence in the self—support effort. It’s the groundwork, on which Jane will achieve her goal gradually. She focuses on the works of her own hands. While she appreciates her simple life at Thornfield, she regrets that she doesn’t have the means to travel. Jane desires to see more of the world and have more interaction with its people. Compared with Jane’s contemporary girls, she is much more learned. As a result, her anxiety for spiritual liberty is more acute than others. As a mature girl with a sensitive heart, Jane claims for true love. Jane is disadvantaged in many ways as she has no wealth, family, social position or beauty. But Jane does have intelligence, and her disposition is such as to make Rochester fall in love with her. When Rochester first shows indications of affection to Jane, her reaction is quite different. Jane is quite overwhelmed with both her own passion and Rochester’s. The key element of the encounter however reveals itself in Jane’s emotional response. They both uphold true love as the foundation of marriage, which makes them defiant of their own social conventions. Yet because of her strong sense of self—respect, Jane is reluctant to show and indulge in her feeling for Rochester. She isn’t willing to give up the hard—owned satisfaction of spiritual independence when she is engaged to Rochester. She resists becoming dependent on him for economic reason. She doesn’t want to be a mistress with fancy gowns and jewels.

2.2 Jane’s emotional independence

Women are known as more ready than men to lose their heart to their beloved ones. Before long, they will be unconsciously reduced to men’s favorite belongs. To prevent herself from losing her identity and becoming an attachment to others, Jane deliberately keeps a reasonable distance from Rochester, for fear of being swallowed by the fever of love. Even if she and Rochester are married, she still hopes to remain as Adele’s governess, instead of her English teacher. She prefers to own her board and lodging with the salary of the work of the governess. Jane’s intense happiness and simultaneous confusion is likened a tossing and uncertain voyage of a ship. Jane slips from joy on a turbulent sea.

For Jane, true freedom lies in submission to her small fate expressed in the image of “breezy” and “healthy” England, in contrast with “suffocating” in the superficially more attractive Marseilles. The familiar imagery of slavery and freedom, applied here to a new situation, shows that her decision is right emotionally as well as morally. Jane will not rebel against God or lose her self—respect and become Rochester’s mistress when she finds out that he is already married: “I’m not an angel…, and I will not be one till I die; I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither except nor exact anything celestial of me,….for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you, which I do not at all anticipate.” (Jane Eyre,P262) She says that she would “preach liberty to them that are enslaved”, declaring her per severing effort to safeguard her emotional liberty and heart—rending spasms of tormenting agony before setting off on the straight and narrow path.

Jane’s breaking of the limitations of custom doesn’t mean that she wishes to do away with convention, still less does she hold conventional morality in contempt. On the contrary, she shows herself ready to accept convention in her relationship with Rochester and to adhere to principles, despite her passionate love, both joyful and sad—and these are her reasons for abandoning Thornfield. The new world, which Rochester opens to her, is one in which she may expect to flourish as the wife of a man who understands and respects her. However, she is often shown to treat herself more sternly than she would wish to believe. She finally rejects Rochester and leaves Thornfield, because she thinks that he has failed her morally.

2.3 Jane’s eventual liberation of spirit

The eventual evolution of Jane Eyre into a full woman comes about after her experiences on the moors. There, she gains three necessary adjuncts to self—confidence and fulfillment----success in her school, acceptance to the Rivers family, and economic independence. When St. John asks Jane to marry him, she replies calmly and thinks that to be his wife means to keep the fire of nature continually low. It’s unendurable, as she has to suppress her passion without any complaints. She compares such life to “imprisonment”. Clearly St. John doesn’t meet Bronte’s standards for true love, since Jane’s passion would dwindle and die if she married him. After she breaks free from St. John, Jane is ready to return to Rochester and assume the role of his wife and his equal. It’s a new Jane who takes charge at Ferndean and reassures Rochester that she is an “independent woman now.” In control of her life, Jane marries Rochester. She summarizes their happiness: “All my confidence is bestowed on him; all his confidence is devoted to me: we are precisely suited in character; perfect concord is the result.” (Jane Eyre,P456)

For Jane, the quest for the independence is not simple. The decision she comes to is the result of a conscientious assessment of her choices: material wealth is worthless if it’s achieved at the expense of virtue; while the narrow life of a village school mistress retains the liberation of spirit, which goes with integrity. Moreover, freedom isn’t attained by enslavement to passion. The conscientiousness of independence lies deep in her personality.


In this novel, Charlotte has projection quite a lot of her own experience into the story. Jane’s declaration to Rochester of her equality with him is really a declaration of the women. After reading the book, one can hardly help from wondering about the plain novelty of its unconventional heroine with her strong sense of dignity and equality, her wide embracing sympathy and high intelligence. For all her obscurity, she stands out as one of he most remarkable fictional heroines of the time. It’s Jane’s rebelliousness, her dislike of servility, her insistence on equality with her master, which gives the book its force.

The topics of the novel, including personal development, education, freedom, even the conflict between reason and passion, retain it a strong appeal to readers from Victorian time to the present day. The feminism in Jane Eyre can be understood from many aspects. Throughout the novel, Jane Eyre spares no efforts to achieve the independence in terms economic situation and spiritual world. As an orphan girl without beauty and wealth, Jane Eyre lays the significance of her life on the persistent strive for the independent status, mentally and physically, which presents a strong tone far beyond her time’s hearing. Her effort for the thorough independence, including economic state and mental liberty, is no less than revolutionary in Victorian time, when men were allowed freedom to be more active, particularly in matters of marriage; while women had to wait passively until a man announced his desire. Jane affirms women’s equal state in a society, which still has its impact on modern readers. Jane Eyre’s pursuit of her liberty and identity does echo the modern tone of feminist movement.

Actually women’s pursuit of the independent social status, the recognition of their potentials and the humanized moral regulation are exactly the manifestation of upgrading progress of society. In Jane Eyre, these portraits of social and individual injustice are quite admired. However, it becomes immediately apparent that Jane Eyre is not the revolutionary text, which many revisionist scholars—particularly feminist scholars—have recently claimed it to be. Jane Eyre is not a saint. She struggles and rebels and fails just like the rest of the people in her days.


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