Victorian and Victorianism George P. Landow, Professor of English and the History of Art, Brown University
Jane Eyre Movie Trailer Jane Eyre was published in 1847, originally under the pseudonym Currer Bell Charlotte Bronte
Background It is hard to imagine what it must have felt like to live through the first half of the 19th century; things were so very different then. Author Charlotte Brontë was born in 1816. In the years before her birth, society had been transformed by 'revolution'. · There was the American fight for independence, ·The destruction of the monarchy and aristocracy in France ·Industrial changes that brought huge prosperity to some but radically altered people's way of life. · Agricultural revolution also brought a reliance on machines rather than people. The Britain that emerged from these changes was a world power, and very pleased with its prosperity. But while industry had created a rich middle class, the class structure had developed rather than disappeared - the aristocracy was still at its top. At the other extreme, there was great poverty, and the injustice of such a rigid system kept the desire for social change alive. Women were still second-class citizens who were expected to do as their menfolk wished. In 1792, the reformer Mary Wollstonecraft wrote a book in support of women's rights. Even 50 years later, and for many years after that, the battle had not been won. Jane Eyre must have seemed an impressively resolute and independent figure.
Genres T he novel recognisably spans three genres: Rochester and Jane are a clear example of a romantic hero and heroine. Brooding, and at once needing support and a little bit dangerous, Rochester does not need to be handsome, but he is a powerful figure. Jane and Rochester survive dangers and difficulties to be happily united at the end of the book. Jane has behaved as she should and learned to show greater warmth and trust; she is rewarded accordingly. Rochester was willing to break the moral code of his day by living with Jane as his mistress, even though she was not. It would be easy to judge him by the standards of today. But consider his actions against what most Victorians believed: that living with someone outside of marriage was morally wrong and Rochester owed a duty to the woman he had taken as his wife. Bildungsroman Romance Gothi c This is a novel that covers the moral growth and development of the main character, through a 'journey'. There is normally some kind of unhappiness disrupting their early life. After this journey, the character finds their role in society, but only once they have found a way to live as their true self; they have found their way around the conformity of society. The journey Jane follows is obviously in this tradition. But it is also true of Rochester. This genre was very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Although you could not really describe Jane Eyre as a gothic novel, as such, it contains a number of typical gothic features which would have been recognised and appreciated by readers: · Thornfield, as a setting, has something of the gothic mansion or castle about it. · The fragile heroine. Jane is often the reverse of this - she even rescues Rochester from the fire - but she faints in the Red Room and collapses outside the Rivers' home. · For much of the story Jane and Rochester have to endure frustrated love. · The mystery in the attic.
Setting in Jane Eyre The setting of the story is carefully divided into five distinct places, each of which has its particular significance in Jane's history and each of which is like an act in a five-act drama. · Her early childhood is spent in Gateshead Hall, the home of the Reeds; · from there she goes to Lowood, where she comes under the influence of Mr. Brocklehurst, Miss Temple, and Helen Burns; · as governess to Adele at Thornfield she falls in love with Rochester; · after the discovery of the existence of Bertha, Jane runs away and is taken into Moor House, the home of her cousins, the Rivers family; · in the conclusion of the book she and Rochester are united at his crumbling hunting-lodge, Ferndean Manor. There are, in addition, two scenes in which Jane returns to an earlier home to discover changes in both herself and those she has known in the past: from Thornfield she returns to the deathbed of Mrs. Reed at Gateshead, and from Moor House she returns to Thornfield to find only its blind windows and gaping walls.
The book contains a very vivid picture of Jane's emotional growth, because we see it from her point of view. 1. We see many examples of passion that is dangerous: John Reed, Bertha Mason and, in a different way, Jane, when she loses her temper as a young girl. 2. We also see examples of the danger of the intense and obsessive attitudes of Mr Brocklehurst and St John Rivers. The cruelty of Mr Brocklehurst is obvious. St John becomes a very successful missionary, but through his encounters with Jane we realise the cost of such a chilly lack of real human engagement. 3. Finally, we see portrayals of real feeling which Brontë offers as being admirable: The love of Jane and Rochester. The quiet but absolute faith and humanity of Helen Burns. The sisterly affection of Diana and Mary Rivers. The genuineness of the servants Bessie and Hannah. Jane Eyre is the eponymous heroine of the novel and all of the other characters are seen through her eyes. Characters such as Bertha Mason who are not seen by Jane are not encountered by the reader either. Emotion
External beauty versus internal beauty Throughout the novel, Brontë plays with the dichotomy between external beauty and internal beauty. Both Bertha Mason and Blanche Ingram are described as stunningly beautiful, but, in each case, the external beauty obscures an internal ugliness. Bertha’s beauty and sensuality blinded Mr. Rochester to her hereditary madness, and it was only after their marriage that he gradually recognized her true nature. Blanche’s beauty hides her haughtiness and pride, as well as her desire to marry Mr. Rochester only for his money. Yet, in Blanche’s case, Mr. Rochester seems to have learned not to judge by appearances, and he eventually rejects her, despite her beauty. Only Jane, who lacks the external beauty of typical Victorian heroines, has the inner beauty that appeals to Mr. Rochester. Her intelligence, wit, and calm morality express a far greater personal beauty than that of any other character in the novel, and Brontë clearly intends to highlight the importance of personal development and growth rather than superficial appearances. Once Mr. Rochester loses his hand and eyesight, they are also on equal footing in terms of appearance: both must look beyond superficial qualities in order to love each other.
Brontë uses many elements of the Gothic literary tradition to create a sense of suspense and drama in the novel. First of all, she employs Gothic techniques in order to set the stage for the narrative. The majority of the events in the novel take place within a gloomy mansion (Thornfield Manor) with secret chambers and a mysterious demonic laugh belonging to the Madwoman in the Attic. Brontë also evokes a sense of the supernatural, incorporating the terrifying ghost of Mr. Reed in the red-room and creating a sort of telepathic connection between Jane and Mr. Rochester. More importantly, however, Brontë uses the Gothic stereotype of the Byronic hero to formulate the primary conflict of the text. Brooding and tortured, while simultaneously passionate and charismatic, Mr. Rochester is the focal point of the passionate romance in the novel and ultimately directs Jane’s behavior beginning at her time at Thornfield. At the same time, his dark past and unhappy marriage to Bertha Mason set the stage for the dramatic conclusion of the novel. Gothic elements
The main quest in Jane Eyre is Jane's search for family, for a sense of belonging and love. However, this search is constantly tempered by Jane’s need for independence. She begins the novel as an unloved orphan who is almost obsessed with finding love as a way to establish her own identity and achieve happiness. Although she does not receive any parental love from Mrs. Reed, Jane finds surrogate maternal figures throughout the rest of the novel. Bessie, Miss Temple, and even Mrs. Fairfax care for Jane and give her the love and guidance that she needs, and she returns the favor by caring for Adèle and the students at her school. Still, Jane does not feel as though she has found her true family until she falls in love with Mr. Rochester at Thornfield; he becomes more of a kindred spirit to her than any of her biological relatives could be. However, she is unable to accept Mr. Rochester’s first marriage proposal because she realizes that their marriage - one based on unequal social standing - would compromise her autonomy. Jane similarly denies St. John's marriage proposal, as it would be one of duty, not of passion. Only when she gains financial and emotional autonomy, after having received her inheritance and the familial love of her cousins, can Jane accept Rochester's offer. In fact, the blinded Rochester is more dependent on her (at least until he regains his sight). Within her marriage to Rochester, Jane finally feels completely liberated, bringing her dual quests for family and independence to a satisfying conclusion. Family
Brontë uses the novel to express her criticism of Victorian class differences. Jane is consistently a poor individual within a wealthy environment, particularly with the Reeds and at Thornfield. Her poverty creates numerous obstacles for her and her pursuit of happiness, including personal insecurity and the denial of opportunities. The beautiful Miss Ingram's higher social standing, for instance, makes her Jane's main competitor for Mr. Rochester’s love, even though Jane is far superior in terms of intellect and character. Moreover, Jane’s refusal to marry Mr. Rochester because of their difference in social stations demonstrates her morality and belief in the importance of personal independence, especially in comparison to Miss Ingram’s gold-digging inclinations. Although Jane asserts that her poverty does not make her an inferior person, her eventual ascent out of poverty does help her overcome her personal obstacles. Not only does she generously divide her inheritance with her cousins, but her financial independence solves her difficulty with low self-esteem and allows her to fulfill her desire to be Mr. Rochester’s wife. Social position
Society and its values The novel offers a picture of many sections of Victorian society. While we have Jane and Rochester, and those closest to them, living happily at the end of the book, the novel levels substantial criticism at many aspects of contemporary society. Consider the following, for instance: · The cruel hypocrisy of Mrs Reed and Mr Brocklehurst. · The harshness of the regime at Lowood. · The cold snobbery of Blanche Ingram. · Jane's desperation when she has to leave Thornfield - the lack of any practical support. · Using religion to justify cruelty (Mr Brocklehurst) or emotional limitations (St John Rivers). Jane recognises her own snobbery when she feels conscious of the humbleness of her village school situation. However, she learns to respect the good qualities of the girls in her care - another measure of her social growth. Brontë does not seem to condemn the class system, simply its most negative features.
The book asks us to approve of the characters that have a self knowledge and integrity which gives them strength and makes them admirable: ·Jane ·Rochester ·Helen Burns ·Miss Temple ·Bessie It criticises those characters that are content with cruelty, hypocrisy, emotional barrenness, or a refusal to look around them open-mindedly: ·John Reed · Mrs Reed (even when she sends for Jane on her death-bed, she has not really changed.) ·Mr Brocklehurst and family ·The Ingrams, notably Blanche. Self knowledge
Alongside Brontë's criticism of Victorian class hierarchy is a subtler condemnation of the gender inequalities during the time period. The novel begins with Jane's imprisonment in the "red-room" at Gateshead, and later in the book Bertha's imprisonment in the attic at Thornfield is revealed. The connection implies that Jane's imprisonment is symbolic of her lower social class, while Bertha's containment is symbolic of Victorian marriage: all women, if they marry under unequal circumstances as Bertha did, will eventually be confined and oppressed by their husbands in some manner. Significantly, Jane is consciously aware of the problems associated with unequal marriages. Thus, even though she loves Mr. Rochester, she refuses to marry him until she has her own fortune and can enter into the marriage contract as his equal. While it is difficult to separate Jane's economic and gender obstacles, it is clear that her position as a woman also prevents her from venturing out into the world as many of the male characters do – Mr. Rochester, her Uncle John, and St. John, for instance. Indeed, her desire for worldly experience makes her last name ironic, as "Eyre" derives from an Old French word meaning "to travel." If Jane were a man, Brontë suggests, she would not be forced to submit to so much economic hardship; she could actively attempt to make her fortune. As it is, however, Jane must work as a governess, the only legitimate position open for a woman of her station, and simply wait for her uncle to leave her his fortune. Gender inequality
Published in 1979, examines Victorian literature from a feminist perspective. Authors Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar draw their title from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre , in which Rochester's mad wife Bertha stays locked in the atticThe text specifically examines Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson. In the work, Gilbert and Gubar examine the notion that women writers of the 19th Century were confined in their writing to make their female characters either embody the "angel" or the "monster." This struggle stemmed from male writers' tendencies to categorize female characters as either pure, angelic women, or rebellious, unkempt madwomen. In their argument, Gilbert and Gubar point to Virginia Woolf who says women writers must "kill the aesthetic ideal through which they themselves have been 'killed' into art". While it may be easy to construe that feminist writers embody the "madwoman" or "monster," Gilbert and Gubar stressed the importance of killing off both figures because neither the angel nor the monster are accurate representations of women or women writers. Instead, Gilbert and Gubar claimed that female writers should strive for definition beyond this dichotomy, whose options are limited by a patriarchal point of view. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination