Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte, is a typical Victorian novel engaging in many characteristics of things such as education, religion, and culture, which were focused upon at the time. Many characters are spread throughout the novel although it is the minor roles that keep the plot flowing. Jane is both inspired and put down by the minor characters, which helps her to become a more refined being. Even though these people are at a loss for dialogue purposes, they speak to great lengths in the ears of Jane.

At Gateshead, a man by the name of Brocklehurst, who was not only an “interrogator”(p.29) but also a large featured man, contributed to the plot by bringing the setting to Lowood. If Aunt Reed would have never brought him to see Jane, the story would have remained in the surroundings at Gateshead and the storyline would dwindle and not be as interesting. Once at Lowood for a long while, Jane was about to encounter yet another change in scenery, fore Adele in Thornfield Hall was in need for a governess. Little Adele, who is a ten-year old French girl, is the motive that Charlotte Bronte uses in order to bring her character, Jane, to this not yet accustomed dwelling. It is here where she meets Rochester. On the day of the wedding it was Mr. Richard Mason who helped to forward the everlasting episodes, having Jane move away once more to the Moor House. His sister, Bertha Mason, was the living soul that changed Jane’s future plans by her being Rochester’s wife already, and so the plot proceeds. At Moor House, a gothic and mysterious thing happens and Jane goes back to Thornfield, realizing that Mr. St. John Rivers is not the man she will marry. The late Mr. Rochester’s butler who was a “respectable-looking, middle-aged man”(p.456) came into connection with Jane at the damaged site and continued to tell her where her beloved had gone. This is the final transaction that the plot foregoes because it is in Ferndean where the two reunite.

In the Victorian times, novels were often called autobiographies so that the people looking at it could think of it in more believable terms. “Jane Eyre” is diverse from some other novels written at the time because it keeps away from the long descriptions that were accustomed to. The dialogue in this period was very formal and precise. People that were going to schools to become educated in the 1800’s could have probably related to the way that Charlotte Bronte depicted Mr. Brocklehurst’s character at Lowood. He brought fourth the poor ways that the children had to learn by making Jane humiliated in front of her friends and by being uncaring to the pupils that die at the institution from various diseases. Religion was dominantly Christianity and it was believed, as it is now, that if goodness were a part of life, admirable things would happen when heaven was reached. St. John Rivers comes into this field as being the one who is very religious because he wishes to become a missionary.

Women had it unfavorable in this era because everything that was done was a duty, which they had no objections to. The males distinguished that it was not correct for a woman to know about politics so they were not permitted this luxury. Instead, good housewives were always needed. Smart women showed off their knowledge by playing the piano, singing, or reciting poetry. Jane is tortured and tormented by many of the men like Brocklehurst, John Reed, Mr. Lloyd, and Rochester. Aunt Reed also told her children that “she is not worthy of notice”(p.23). Her cousin, John Reed, makes her call him her master and punishes her for nothing and Mr. Lloyd calls her “a baby after all”(p.19), just to be mean to her. Rochester is rude to Jane because of his moods and takes his anger out on her verbally.

Jane is described as being a small and not very pretty person who grows up gathering morals from each destination and applying them to the way that she takes on her life. Although she starts out with a poor life, the tables turn and she is finally happy. Jane becomes better by becoming rich, married to a loving husband, and by having a baby, which she will most definitely give it everything that she was unable to have.

The minor characters all make major influences on Jane Eyre’s life. If not for these characters, Jane’s life would have been an unsure road of unknown fate which may or may not have been as fulfilling for her.

The Supernatural in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Three main factors contributing to the supernatural in Jane Eyre are Jane's intuition and E.S.P., Bessie's tales of unearthly spirits, and the haunting setting of Thornfield.

Bessie's stories influence a young Jane on a conscious level (at least she thinks this looking back on the youthful imagination), and as she grows, the stories become part of her unconscious mentality. The descriptive observations she makes continuously reflect her superstitious beliefs. While Jane is locked in the Red Room, she realizes that Bessie's tales are affecting her thinking. She sees, or imagines, a tiny phantom that is with her in the room. She recollects the tales set in the ferny dells and moors in which such imp-like creatures appear. This image is brought to her courtesy of Bessie, and her wild imagination is set in motion by hearing such fantastical tales.

Jane has an innate sense about what forces are at work around her; sounds and sights, the wind, the rain, and what seems to be supernatural. She is very aware about things that make her alert to the supernatural. Many words associated with the supernatural are used in Jane's descriptions. She thinks in a paranoid way, hinting of spiritual and macabre things. Her train of thought often strays to the darker side of what could happen. For instance, when she sees the light that illuminates the darkness of the Red Room, she thinks it is some conjured apparition. When she looks back upon the event, she realizes that in all likelihood it is just someone carrying a lantern across the lawn. At the time she lets her mind visualize a ghostly apparition, as many children do. She even sleeps with a comfort doll after, as she puts it, she makes sure "nothing worse than myself haunted the shadowy room…." But even as an adult, Jane sees things from those childish eyes: she interrogates Mrs. Fairfax during her tour of the house and is disappointed to find there are no legends, ghosts, or spirits.

The setting at Thornfield reminds me very much of the typical Gothic mansion (both in literature and in film), such as the house in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and the film “The Others”. My imagination is left to conjure the metaphysical set of gothic houses in literature, but more and more in movies I view houses in situations meant to be supernatural. Were I in Thornfield, I would most certainly imagine it being haunted or inhabited by any number of paranormal beings. The supernatural situations in Jane Eyre are supernatural because of the descriptive method Jane uses to portray them. She sees things with a touch of awareness and I get a feel for her awareness through her choice of words and thoughts. This awareness lends credibility to her psychic abilities and E.S.P.

Having an innate sense of supernatural things makes Jane even more curious to such things that are characteristically abnormal. When the 'gypsy' pays a visit to Thornfield, Jane is very curious, not timid like the other women who go to hear their fortune. Without a hint of trepidation, she talks to the strange 'woman'. She wants to be told something; instead, she is disappointed about not being given any paranormal observations. She wants to have contact through a window; the 'gypsy' provides to the realm that so fascinates her. If only she would realize that she is already standing right in front of such a window, that the little paranoid feelings she gets are valid, that the macabre observations she makes are all too close to reality.

Jane's E.S.P. goes from small everyday mystic occurrences to hearing Rochester's cries when she is proposed to by St. John. She is very connected with what is happening all around her, so much that somewhere in her relationship with Rochester, she becomes connected with him too. The fact that she does not tell Rochester that she heard him illustrates that she keeps her supernatural observations to herself.

Jane's intuition leads to how I am to first interpret new characters. She often demonstrates her sixth sense to me to get an idea of a person's demeanor before she knows them well. This intuition is used to foreshadow later events. Some supernatural events are used to foreshadow, and sometimes Jane observes this, and sometimes she does not. When the chestnut tree splits in two, Jane does not see it as a sign to be wary of her upcoming marriage until later. I attribute this to the glee she feels upon the upcoming event of her wedding. But Jane is superstitious, and I expected her to connect the chestnut tree's wound to some omen of her relationship to Rochester.

The supernatural is prevalent in Jane Eyre. The fact that Rochester is hiding his secret wife in the house the whole time while Jane is there and falling in love with him is very frightening. I have a vision of Mrs. Rochester sitting in a rocking chair in a dark room, rocking back and forth, while, downstairs right below her in a bright sitting room, Jane and Mr. Rochester sit and talk. Mr. Rochester hears the rocking. Jane does not.

Some novels are seen as masterpieces today because of the groundbreaking and radical messages they contain. This is true in the case of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre due to its strong feminist message. In the novel, Bertha Mason is used as a symbol of the socially imprisoned Victorian woman.

One of the characteristics of the ideal Victorian woman that Bronte stresses throughout the novel is that of physical beauty. Bronte places several beautiful women opposite Jane, including Georgiana Reed and Blanche Ingram. Each of these women is viewed as ideal, and even Jane forces herself to accept that Blanche is more deserving of and more likely to receive Mr. Rochester's affections. She chastises herself cruelly while drawing portraits of Blanche and herself, and tells herself that she must represent faithfully each of her "defect[s]," "harsh line[s]," and "displeasing irregularit[ies]" (163). It is society's expectations of beauty that cause Jane to become unsettled and to become obsessive, working for over a week on the protrait of Blanche. Thus, to a much lesser extent, Jane's lack of physical beauty causes Jane to become mad, mirrored by Bertha Mason's madness causing her lack of physical beauty. Bertha Mason is introduced to the reader and described in the most base and plain terms in order to further emphasize her lack of beauty. Bronte draws the reader's attention to Bertha's "shaggy locks," "bloated features," "red balls [eyes]," and "grizzled hair" (297-299). However, the reader soon learns from Mr. Rochester that Bertha was once beautiful, and "in the style of Blanche Ingram" (310). One can associate Bertha's insanity with her ugliness, and there follows the logical conclusion that Bertha, like many Victorian women, including, at one point, Jane Eyre, is "imprisoned" due to her inability to be as beautiful as is expected of her.

The reader learns through the actions of Mr. Rochester and St. John Rivers that an aspect of the Victorian romantic relationship was that of male dominance. Both Mr. Rochester and St. John attempt to and often succeed in controlling Jane, both physically and mentally. Rochester is said to have "seized [Jane's] arm, and grasped [her] waist... [she] felt, at that moment, powerless" (323). The dominance in Jane's romantic relationship with Mr. Rochester is made especially stark by Bronte because not only does he have control of Jane due to their romance, but also due to the simple fact that he is her employer, and therefore she is expected to be subservient to him. Thus, it is only natural for Bertha Mason, the embodiment of a Victorian woman, to be under the strictest of male control, confined to an attic until her death. It is interesting that Bronte chooses to give Bertha a female guard, Grace Poole, but in other ways it is appropriate. Grace Poole cannot keep control of Bertha, and her irresponsibility and inability to do so lead finally to her own death, the destruction of Thornfield, and the crippling of Mr. Rochester.

The area to which Bertha is confined is also representative of the life to which Victorian women were resigned. Bertha resides in the attic of Thornfield, on the third floor where Jane is told servants reside. Bertha is in this way likened to a servant, one who is lower in status and worth. The entrance to Bertha's room is through another room where Jane states there is found a "great bed" (297). This great bed is symbolic of sex and the institution of marriage, experiences which eventually lead, just as the room does, to a woman's imprisonment. Bertha's room is also described as being "a room without a window" (297). Bronte describes it as such to show that as a Victorian woman, Bertha Mason is shut off from the outside world, unable to glimpse any other opportunities. This also lends hope to the reader: it is not that there are no opportunities available for women, Bronte simply believes that society is this windowless room where women cannot see what they are capable of accomplishing.

Bertha's hatred of her imprisonment is indicative of Bronte's own feminist views. Her hatred is so strong that she goes so far as to attempt on two occasions to murder her own husband, and succeeds later in committing suicide. Bronte uses even Bertha's suicide as a device for satirical commentary: rather than let Bertha die and lose his control of her, Mr. Rochester loses his sight and hand in an attempt to keep her alive. This fruitless attempt at keeping Bertha imprisoned and its consequences for Rochester reveal Bronte's call to power for the women of her time. By killing the Victorian female stereotype, Bertha, the domineering hand and closely monitoring eye of one's husband, in this case, Rochester, can be destroyed.

Finally, Bronte hints at Bertha's status as a representation of the Victorian woman through her familiarity to Jane. The first time that Jane knowingly sees Bertha, she states, "I recognized well that purple face" (298). Why does Jane recognize and identify with a visage so alien to her own? Subconsciously, Jane experiences a sense of camaraderie and kinship with Bertha due to their shared label in the Victorian era: woman. Jane experiences this especially with Bertha because Bertha is not only a Victorian woman, but has been protrayed by Bronte as the Victorian woman.

Charlotte Bronte was a strong believer in feminism, but also a realist. She realized that the liberation of women from the shackles of society could not be accomplished within her lifetime, and acknowledged this when she published Jane Eyre with a male nom de plume so that people would read it without bias. However, as an isolated woman herself, Charlotte Bronte chose to immortalize the pain of the Victorian everywoman in one of her greatest works. Bertha Mason is not only a literary device and a plot element, but also Charlotte Bronte's gift and undying memorial to the English women who endured so much for so long.

A Marxist reading of Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was written during an era of strict moral standards and defined social class. Jane, the main character of the book, was set in a culturally indefinite social standing: that of a governess. Yet, through the book, she managed to find herself in other social standings; she rose from the lowly status of an orphan to a middle classed women earning her own wages as a governess, then to a rich women by inheritance. Despite her slow rise in social class throughout the book, she was still imprisoned by the social classes that confined her rank as a female, not just the rank of her wealth had earned her. This played a large part in her blooming relationship with an older and richer man, Mr. Rochester. This repression was caused mostly by the cultural standards set by the Victorian Era defined by the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. Women, sex, and religious deviance were heavily repressed. Women were seen as docile: being the victim of marriages and used only as social devices to please men. They were considered unreliable. They were shrugged off as passion driven opposed to using logic based on education or reason. Yet despite this, Jane Eyre is somehow different. The book represents the shift from the ancient feminist and social values. Jane had her own mind and values, which set her apart from other women in that era. She did not contradict Victorian values; she simply allowed a realistic conventional female perspective to the repressive time period. Jane Eyre was used by Charlotte Bronte to express morals that transcend Victorian values.

In the book, Jane uses morals and reason to make wise decisions. Because women weren’t seen as high as men in this era, this book debunks beliefs that all women are passion driven due to the amount of value and thought she sheds on most of her decisions. She is reliable and trustworthy, with more values than most of the other main male characters in the book. For example, Mr. Rochester had asked to marry Jane Eyre despite the fact that he was married to another women, though crazy. In this case, he had not used his best judgments in asking another woman to marry him due to the mistress status that Jane would have to undertake. Having such an illicit relationship like that of a mistress would be based on passion and sexuality, something highly forbidden for women in the Victorian era. Having mistresses and prostitutes were technically legal in this era, yet it would have proven to be socially detrimental. It would have been illegitimate also in a Marxist sense: Jane was of a lower class and Mr. Rochester would have been taking advantage of his class to coax Jane into an illegitimate sexual relationship. Jane, however, manages to take the high road and refuses to marry Mr. Rochester, despite her love for him. This reverses the role in traditional Victorian suspicions because the male in the relationship, Mr. Rochester, is the one seeking a lower class female to take advantage of when it is usually the female seeking a boost in status through association. Jane listens to her own reason rather than the rules set by society and passion: things that women were culturally trained to seek.

However, Jane is not set out to change the way the world views women. She is a new way to look at women even through a non-traditional lens; Jane simply lives and thinks differently without any outstanding statement of individuality. Dale Kramer proposes that:

The fact is that the motivating forces of Jane Eyre’s personality are not sexual concepts at all but personal concepts. She reacts as she does to erotic situations not because of repressions or desires to emasculate or castrate her menfolk, but because she fully understands her own motivations. She also comprehends the significance of alternatives she is presented with, and the states of life that her choice of action can lead her to. Unlike the actions of modern protagonists, whose lives are a continual process of self-frustration and self-discovery, Jane’s conform to her principles and her understanding of her moral and physical needs. (Kramer 288)

Kramer implies that the Jane’s personality would have been more rash and based on outside influences such as repression or desires to upstage her menfolk. In fact, Jane does not seem to be set to debunk her Victorian values at all: she seems to simply be indifferent to the Victorian repression without a separate agenda. Her values are personal and are the product of reason rather than the product of going through the wrong path once before. She was not easily influenced by her repressive society and does not respond to it by having the personality that she does. She is not rebellious of culture’s standards. All of her principles are based on her own morals, not reactions to frustrated misguidance and passion towards resurrecting her past mistakes within society.

Jane’s marriage was a large symbol of how her decisions were based on reason rather than reaction to society. Jane did deny her engagement with Mr. Rochester at first when she realized that her fiancé was married to another women. However, she did marry him once he became more undesirable both in appearance and social standings when it was a legitimate marriage. She loved him passionately, yet she did not allow this to overcome her ability to deny their marriage. Her reason allowed her to marry him later because regardless of his appearance and lack of wealth: they could be legally wed. It was not based on social standing like other Victorian marriages were arranged despite his wealth. Jane obviously did not marry him because he was wealthy; she denied his gifts. She was also uninterested in her rise of social standing due to his wealth; she denied the right to call him by his first name even when engaged and even continued to teach Adele as the house governess. She did marry Mr. Rochester, however, when she achieved her own wealth through inheritance and denied marriage to a younger and more handsome man. Jane seemed to have made a point to maintain her social standings in order to be considered by her personality rather than her rank as well as not letting this factors influence her own considerations.

Her ability to refuse the premarital gifts gave her the power of independence in her relationship, unlike other Victorian relationships. It was thought proper for the woman of the relationship to be completely dependant on the man. It was this way that the man would be financially responsible, due to a working woman being socially detrimental, implying that the family was too poor to sustain the wife. That act of refusing the gifts and preserving a lower social standing allowed her to, as Jane said, “maintain… that distance between you and myself most conductive to our real mutual advantage” (Bronte 276). Jane used this advantage to assure that she loved him for the right reasons, allowing the ability to test herself and her partialness of society’s values. As Ellis says, “By retaining her own class status, she is able to avoid Rochester's attempts to mold her into his image of her, an image that would go against her personality” (Ellis 138-61). If she did manage to allow Mr. Rochester to ‘mold her’ then she would be sacrificing her own person and becoming a vessel for social hierarchy for the man, like other women in confining marriages in the Victorian time period.

Marriage in Victorian times was considered a way to control and possess women. Most marriages were considered controlling and imprisoning to some extent, causing women to be subjects of ownership. This was described by English jurist, William Blackstone, “in law a husband and wife are one person, and the husband is that person” (Jones 402). Jane, however, managed to be her own person, choosing both to be married and her own worth in the relationship. She had proven her independence during their engagement, but things changed once they actually got married. In the last chapter of the book, Jane reflects on her marriage to Mr. Rochester. Her tone in this concluding section is eerily different: she is happy but seemed to give up her individuality in this union with Mr. Rochester. Lorna Ellis writes:

In Jane Eyre, the conventional aspects of the ‘happy ending,’ in which Jane acquires a fortune and settles down into a quiet domestic bliss serving the man she loves, is uneasily balanced by Jane’s continuing autonomy and control: her ability to gain marriage on her own terms, to maintain power over her husband by acting as his ‘eyes,’ and to write her own story in the form of an autobiography. (Ellis 138-61)

Ellis makes a good point: the ending is rather uneasy compared to the rest of the book. Jane is emotionally unruly and independent through most of the novel, but when she gets married, she becomes submissive and becomes emotionally one with Mr. Rochester. However, the difference Jane and the submission found in other Victorian marriages is that Jane chose to be in this situation. Her sacrifice was for love and not for the rise in social standing or wealth. Jane being a rich woman by inheritance at this point of the book adds to the extra amount of choice Jane demonstrates by marrying Mr. Rochester. He needed her due to his disabilities more than she needed him for his money. However, Ellis argument for this can be redirected. She did not maintain power by acting as Mr. Rochester’s eyes. She had to take care of him as if a servant. The story being written as an autobiography could easily be served as a way to advertise how a strong independent woman was taught to succumb to her husband as a one-dimensional wife of the Victorian era. The book, at this point, started to correspond with the culture at the time: regardless of her social status, she was still lower than Mr. Rochester because she was his wife. She lowered herself in rank by marrying a poorer, older man, but managed to marry him for the appropriate reason: love. Choosing love was in its own way, a statement against the Victorian culture.

Normally in marriage, the women are the ones that are asked to sacrifice. The separate social views between men and woman were described as men being, “competitive, assertive,… and materialistic.” Women were “pious, pure, gentle… and sacrificing” (Woloch 125). Jane, however, asked for a different type of union: one of which both partners are seen as equals. Slightly before Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester declare their love for each other, Jane says:

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 with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it 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! (Bronte 377-8)

Jane not only bridges the gap between men and women in terms of hierarchy, but she also does the same between those of higher and lower classes. She proclaims that she is human despite uncontrollable factors such as appearance and class standings. However, it was possibly improper to address Mr. Rochester in such a way considering the circumstances at this time: Jane was under the impression that Mr. Rochester was engaged to another woman and Jane was quitting her job to move to Ireland for another governess situation. The reason she said this was because she was confessing her love for Mr. Rochester, and did not care of what impression she made upon him. Becoming a governess to another household would not have affected her rank, but she still was able to articulate her feelings to him in what would be considered as improper in the Victorian sense. Maria Yuen says:

She might have said the same at the later crisis of emotion and event in which she actually leaves him. In this outburst of pent-up emotions, Jane is assuming for herself and her sex a position and an attitude never before granted to heroines in English fiction--equality in love. Charlotte Brontë believes that love between man and woman is an all-consuming passion shared not only physically, but mentally and spiritually--"to the finest fibre of my nature," as Jane says. What Charlotte Brontë is asking for is a recognition of the emotional needs of a woman--the right to feel, to love unreservedly. In a way, Jane is an ... unconventional heroine. She claims independence and rejects subservience. She will consent only to a marriage which is the union of equals in independence. Charlotte Brontë sees the relationship between man and woman as one of mutual need. (Yuen 215-26)

Yuen sees this confession as a way for Jane to declare equality when she wouldn’t have otherwise have a chance. With this dialogue, Jane did something that was never done before, proven that this sense of equality was not previously unheard of in female bildungsroman. It was not, perhaps, that the early Victorians did not want its young women to be loved. It was just always implied that the woman would be the one in the relationship to seek the man, and compete against other women. Charlotte Bronte did not seek to rebel against the Victorian values when considering the idea of love and marriage it just allowed for Jane to advertise the ideal and allow for it to be romanticized. This allowed her individuality and power which rose her past values set by the Victorian culture.

Jane wanted equality not only through her relationship with Mr. Rochester, but also with other people throughout the book. She wanted to be seen as more than what her ranking and beauty would allow her to become. Jane had learned as a child that she needed to treated equaly in order to be revered fairly amongst the rest of the children. The reason she could not was because she was not the real daughter of her benefactor, and was therefore despised to some extent as a burden upon the household. She had learned that despite the social class ranking differences, she still did not deserve to be treated unfairly even as a small child. She denied the proposal to St. John not only because he did not love her, but because she saw it as an unfair situation. Victorian rule would have deemed it proper for her to marry him as St. John suggests so that they may function in India together without conflict. With this stunt, she managed to once again, follow her own path of moral and reason rather than passion to make her decisions rather than following the Victorian cultural expectation of women to make decisions based on social advantage.

Jane Eyre was essentially about the woman having the ability to not having to conform to ideals and thinking for themselves. External forces such as class structure and female repression was not considered in this book; it gave an example of a young woman how was repressed due to these factors, yet allowed her inner reflection to make her decisions for her. Her inner most being, one of which she derived her morals and reasons did not make her any less female yet it managed to segregate her from other woman in the Victorian time period. With her decisions, she was able to move between class standings and repression in order to be true to herself and not just what society had set for her. She managed to become successful in society being very wealthy, and successful with relationships, being completely happy with her union with Mr. Rochester. Victorian values were not contradicted when she denied being dependent on a male and allowing her social class to restrict her decisions, but were merely expanded upon in order to give Jane feel unrestricted movement with only the confines of her own morals.

Works Cited

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Modern Library, 200.Chitham, Edward, "Jane Eyre: Overview" in Reference Guide English Literature, 2nd ed., edited by D. L. Kirkpatrick, St. James Press, 1991

Ellis, Lorna, "Jane Eyre and the Self-Constructed Heroine." In Appearing to Diminish: Female Development and the British Bildungsroman, 1750-1850, pp. 138-61. Lewisburg, Pa. and London: Bucknell University Press and Associated University

Kramer, Dale, "Thematic Structure in Jane Eyre," in Papers on Language and Literature, Presses, 1999. Winter, 1968, pp. 288-98.

Jones, Wendy. “Feminism, fiction, and Contract Theory: Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right.” Critcism XXXVI (Summer 1994): 401-14 Hellerstein, Erna Olafson, Hume, Leslie

Parker, and Offen, Karen M., eds. Victorian Women; A documentary Account of Women’s Lives in Nineteeth-Century England, France, and the United States. Stanford: Stanford University Press 1981

Yuen, Maria, "Two Crises of Decision in Jane Eyre, in English Studies, June 1976, pp. 215-26. Reprinted in Novels for Students, Vol. 4.

Charlotte Bronte took nine weeks of my life, and I want them back. Like thousands of high school students, I was promised a timeless Gothic romance filled with burning passion and, on at least one occasion, actual burning. Bronte provides a barely disguised tract on virtue and redemption. Which, apparently, can only be obtained by contracting malaria in the tropics or becoming permanently disabled. All this is force-fed by prose as patient and subtle,as the Spanish Inquisition. Which, at least, features burning.

The only unforgivable crime in the world of Jane Eyre is disliking a spectacularly unincendiary young woman with all the passion and intrigue of an end-stage tuberculosis patient. The standard issue cover shows her gazing wistfully into the distance, presumably longing for wild heaths and bonnie becks or at the very least a good marriage counselor, as if such things existed. Obviously, no psychologists were harmed in the making of this book. The title character alone suffers from an acute persecution complex, low self-esteem, and a crippling inability to sort out her emotional problems without fleeing the county.

Jane Eyre, by the way, is a heroine we should all admire and emulate. No English class is complete without paens to her courage, resourcefulness, and independent spirit. In the first few chapters, she courageously defies her emotionally distant foster mother by throwing a temper tantrum after a time out and is consequently forced to go to school. To be fair, this part of the book is a remarkably accurate facsimile of an angst-ridden teen dairy. A distant aunt who dares to send the spunky, courageous orphan to her room is an abusive monster; a school she doesn’t like is a disease-ridden hellhole. We’ve all been there, and said that. My life is in serious danger from the literal tons of homework that threaten to crush my soul and destroy my backpack- but a least I don’t have consumption.

Ms. Bronte misses the chance to make her character infinitely more sympathetic by giving her a merciful and poetic death in chapter twelve. Instead, she sends her off to a mysterious hamlet where she falls in love with a strange man named Edward, who is about seven hundred years older than her, obsessively controls her actions and dictates her appearance, and generally acts like an emotionally manipulative stalker. Whatever else can be said about romance novelists, they know what teenage girls want- sparkles and self projection. Whatever personality Jane may have had is completely overshadowed by Rochester. I could almost hear her internal spunky orphan’s pitiful death rattle as it was smothered by yards and yards of wedding dress material. In the end, adventure loving Jane is content to spend the rest of her life caring for her husband and child in the perfect domestic felicity that this book’s supporters are quick to point out is “a different kind of adventure.” I have nothing against these people. If they want to spend their old age changing their spouse’s diapers in a swamp justly forsaken by the rest of humanity while over-writing their memoirs, that’s their prerogative. As for my copy of Jane Eyre? Reader, I buried it.

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