At the time of its first publication in 1849, Charlotte Bronte’s masterwork Jane Eyre was considered one of the most rebellious pieces of literature ever written. Never before had a woman published a work of fiction describing an ill-fated love affair that was so melodramatic that the reviewers called it scandalous and unholy. The Quarterly Review, a London periodical, said of Jane Erye that:
“We do not hesitate to say that the tone of the mind and thought which has overthrown authority and violated every code human and divine abroad, and fostered Chartism and rebellion at home, is the same which has also written Jane Erye.” (Bronte [HughesHallett]: v)
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the controversy surrounding the novel, Jane Erye became an instant best seller. Women especially found the story of abject desire to be impressively polemical, resulting in discussions on sex and sexuality that had previously been thought of as taboo. While it would be presumptuous to state that Jane Erye managed to change women’s perceptions concerning their social roles, the publication and reception of this novel is definitely an indication of this type of change.
This paper shall review Jane Erye, and provide the reader with a clear synopsis of the story. It shall focus mainly on the roll of Jane Erye as a sexual woman, as it was this condition of the heroine that made the novel different than those others printed during the same period.
Jane Erye begins with the ten-year-old Jane being chastised for an imaginary crime. As an introduction to the title character, the reader is privileged to Jane’s thoughts as she places herself in imaginary desolate surroundings. This first impression of Jane indicates that she is more happy alone, confronting death in its own territory, than she is in the sunny room. We soon discover that Jane has every reason to want solitude, as although she herself is alone in the world, those who share her space wish her no good.
Jane is branded as a willful and disobedient child, and is sent away to a school where she is to be tamed and educated. It is at this school that Jane is more happy than she has ever remembered. Although there are bad times, she has made friends. Unfortunately, her years at the school passed quickly and ended with the death of a dear friend, and Jane was sent to the house of Mr. Rochester.
Here, a comparison to the character of Jane and the Bronte sisters must be made. Jane was always alone, motherless, and was moved from place to place against her will. The Bronte sisters were quite similar to Jane in that their mother had died when they were very young, and as the child of a reverend they were subject to constant moving. At a very young age, the girls were sent to a half-charity boarding school where the lessons and living conditions were cruel. Also, the Brontes had an older sister named Maria, who contracted a wasting disease and suffered for months before finally dying. Many authorities believe that it was the school that “broke” her. (Ratchford: 5)
Regardless, the school and its terrible conditions became a theme in the writing of the Bronte sisters, and Maria’s wasting sickness was remarkably similar to that of Jane’s friend Helen.
The advent of Mr. Rochester’s appearance occurred after Jane was asked to leave the school. Jane decided to hire herself out as a private tutor, and fate took her to his mansion at Thornfield. Jane’s first impressions of Rochester are mixed. For her first few weeks at the school, she has not seen her master but has listened to everyone speak of him with a combination of fear and respect. When she finally does meet Rochester, it was accidental and Jane found him so completely average that she was able to face him:
“I felt of fear of him, and but little shyness. Had he been a handsome, heroic-looking young gentleman, I should not have dared to stand thus questioning him against my will, and offering my services unasked” (Bronte: 123)
From that beginning, Jane was drawn to Rochester and he to her. Their relationship became like a dance, where one partner would lead and the other follow, yet never would they get close enough to actually touch. Bronte writes of this for several chapters, where the tension and attraction between the two characters builds towards its eventual, inevitable conclusion.
For a very long time, Jane conscientiously separated herself from Rochester. Over time, however, the forces that drew her and Rochester together could not be ignored. Rochester had already asked her to marry him, stating that his: “…bride is here, because my equal is here, and my likeness.” (Bronte: 213) Jane, as she loved him, agreed to the marriage. Here, and nowhere else in the novel, her sexuality is vindicated through the sanctity of wedlock. Although they are not yet married and the readers had reason to protest because Jane sat upon Rochester’s knee before the vows were spoken, the engagement had been made and thus the two were pardoned in the eyes of the public. (Fraser: 114)
However, the discovery of Bertha in the upper floors was a revelation, that this man with whom she was in love was actually still married. This made all of their love and desire for each other void. Jane was completely heartbroken, as the man she loved had lied to her for as long as they had known each other. What was worse, Jane was appalled at the way that Rochester had treated his mad wife. She could not comprehend that this man who she loved and wanted had made the decision to seal his wife away on the third floor of his mansion. That he had so wanted freedom from Bertha that he would pass her off as dead, even though she lived in a cage of his creation. This horrified Jane so much that she continued to question Rochester, thus discovering that he had had a series of mistresses.
Jane decides to leave, but listens to Rochester saying: “No Jane, what necessity is there to dwell on the Past, when the Present is so much surer – the Future so much brighter?” (Bronte: 412) Still, Jane is aware that Rochester has done evil, and listens to the dreams where the spirit of her mother begs her to “flee temptation”. Bronte: 416)
The remaining third of the novel does not address Jane Erye’s sexuality as much as it does her character. Although the two are inseparable, Jane does manage to suppress the majority of her sexuality during her period of mourning. She wanders, weak and lonely, facing the evils found in the watery St. John, until chance and fate bring her back to Rochester. Nees dissertation on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Erye? Of course, you can offer dissertation at PhDify.com any time
It is evident that time and the fire that destroyed Thornfield have changed Rochester, as he bears the mark of both on his body and soul. It was a cathartic experience, and it enabled he and Jane to finally be together.
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