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Jane Eyre

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The Victorian Era is dated from 1837 to 1901, the years that Queen Victoria was the British monarch. The era was preceded by the Regency era and came before the Edwardian period. This time was one of incredible change in Great Britain. It was a long period of prosperity for British people, vast cultural, social, and technological changes occurred. People were interested in relationship between modernity and cultural continuities. Gothic revival architecture became increasingly significant in that period, leading to the Battle of Styles between Gothic and Classical ideas.

Popular forms of enterteinment varied by social class. Mostly middle class was interested in theatre, arts, music, drama, opera. Gambling in cards became very popular. Divided into four distinct classes, Nobility and Gentry, Middle Class, “Upper” Working Class, and “Lower” Working class, these women each had their own specific standards and roles. They were expected to follow these standards alone, and it was considered a high offense to adopt to the standards of another. A traditional woman of Victorian Society was seen as a caring mother and a loving wife. She was born to give and to love.

Often, the upper-class women were taught languages and the arts; this made them very well rounded and appealing to the gentlemen. Ladies were ladies in those days; they did not do things themselves, they told others what to do and how to do it. With Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte created a literary work that shook traditional conventions in Victorian England by showing the feminist view so clearly. It is a work that refutes denial and ignorance of women’s sexual identity and passion. Jane Eyre shows that women are capable of being passionate in a marriage where the partners are equals.

Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre contains many feminist views in opposition to the Victorian feminine ideal. She was among the first feminist writers of her time, and wrote this book in order to send the message of feminism to a Victorian-Age Society where women were usually looked upon. This novel stresses the ideology of equality between a man and woman in marriage, as well as in society at all. It was also written to support and spread the idea of an independent woman who works for herself, thinks for herself and wishes to be free.

Women had a few rights and few opportunities open to them for their self-support. For most women the only way to live well was to get married, and in many cases it wasnt up to the women to choose whom she could marry. If a woman didnt marry, the only way she could live otherwise than becoming a servant was either to become a prostitute or a governess. There are many strong and clear examples of feminist ideas in the main protagonist, Jane. Her personality, actions, thoughts, and beliefs… When Jane first meets Rochester, the whole scene presents a feminist portrait of Jane.

A woman walking alone in that era should never address a man, but Jane goes out of her way to help Rochester – she even lets him place his hand on her shoulder. Rochester tries to stop her, but she explains that she would never walk away without helping a person in need. Rochester later claims that this behavior attracted him to Jane, probably because it was so out of the ordinary. Upper-class Victorian women did not have occupations, ever. They didnt work. But Jane specifically tells Rochester that she will keep her job after their marriage because she wants to work – she doesn’t want to be dependent on a man.

In fact, Jane never relies on Rochester for money because she is independently wealthy when she marries him. Jane’s strength is shown by her lack of self-pity. She never dreamed about a profitable marriage as majority of women at that time. She just relied herself and wanted to become a teacher. There is no denying that Jane Eyre is a very radical in her opinions and actions about herself and her gender as a whole.

She is both visionary and revolutionary: it is, indeed, brave for a woman of her time to say: 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; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex”.

Jane Eyre, the main character of the so called famous and influential Victorian novel written by Charlotte Bront. An orphan from a good family looking for love and understanding of others. Although she is well-educated, well-mannered and sophisticated she isn’t appreciated enough. She has always been discriminate because of a social position in society. The development of Jane’s character is central to the novel. The novel breaks down into five sections which actually represents Jane’s periods of life: Gateshead – childhood, Lowood – student and teacher, Thornfield – governess, Morr House – cousins, and Ferndean – life with Mr. Rochester.

All these places have a characteristic meaning in the novel. Each section representing new phase in Jane’s experience and development. Starting in The Gateshead, first part where we first meet the main character of the novel, little Jane Eyre. This section is used to introduce the concept of narrative point-of-view. Charlotte Bronte took the inspiration from her life when writing the first part of the novel. The story of a little Jane was influenced by the experiences of the writer and her personal history. Author’s ability to re-create the child’s vision of the world is really convincing.

The most important feature of the first part is based on relationship between Jane’s aunt Mrs. Reed and Jane. Poor little Jane always hated and bullied by her step family. An orphan since an early childhood, Jane feels lonely. At the beginning she is also very conflicting child and has to learn how to deal with this behavior. She often speaks in a strange way for a little girl and she seems to be mature for her age. Cruelly treated by her aunt as well as by her cousins she feels alienated. Afraid that she will never find a true sense of home and love, Jane feels the need to belong somewhere.

She desperately seeks for autonomy and freedom in the first part of the book. At the end of this part Jane is send to school for orphans in Lowood where starts second important period of her life. The Lowood section is considered partly realistic. The image of life in many charitable or religious schools in the first part of the 19th century is perfectly portrayed here. Cruel treating with the pupils, lack of food, strict regime and other aspects leads to several problems. The most catastrophic trouble starts with health problems of many of the girls living in Lowood institute along with Jane.

The most important Jane’s relationship comes with her first and best friend Helen Burn’s. For the first time Jane feels to be loved by someone. Immortal friendship between Jane and Helen lasts even after Helen’s death of typhus. The section is important also for its introduction of the theme of Christian love and forgiveness. Jane learns a lot from Helen Burn’s spiritual strength and humility. Helen is patient under suffering, and advises Jane to be less obstinate, defiant and teaches her forgiving. That’s why is Jane able to forgive her aunt Mrs. Reed at the end of the novel when the cruel woman dies.

Another important aspect of this part is emphasis on education. In the Victorian era women had the opportunity to get education more easily than in the previous periods. Subjects like French language, drawing, painting, singing, dancing, the piano and etc. were the most common ones in the first part of Victorian era while in the second part education was taken more seriously. Jane has become educated young women, able to take care of herself. After 8 years living in Lowood she becomes keen to leave this place and find better and brighter future. Gothic manor Thornfield, place carries the biggest importance in the novel.

The Thornfield episode and its elements of suspense, sexual conflicts and occasional violence have the strongest influence on readers. While reading this part you can feel many Gothic elements. Gloomy atmosphere, cold solitude place and strange behavior of the housemaid brings dark picture of the place. Jane comes to Thornfield as a governess full of expectations of new exciting life. She meets Mr. Rochester an ugly, rude and moody gentleman nearly 20 years older than her. Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester dominates the novel as it becomes the most important thing in Jane’s life.

She finds herself happy and partly a member of this household. She later falls in love with him becomes his wife. The climax of the novel comes with the moral conflict when Jane struggles between love and principle. Thinking about the modern reader who would be probably sympathetic to Rochester who was tricked by his own family, the reader of the 19th century would be definitely attached to Jane’s decision. This part leads some readers to see Jane in feminist terms. Jane is aggressively independent which seem unwomanly and unchristian in that time when she decides to leave Thornfield and Mr. Rochester.

Escaping from the place full of painful memories Jane comes into other part of her life which takes place in Moor House. Finding a help she later finds out that those nice people living here are her family. In the Moor House section reader can find cold spirituality of St. Jones Rivers (Jane’s cousin). His only interest is serving to God. Later we find obsessed intention to marry Jane for realization of his dreams. He represents the extremes of denial and self-sacrifice. The main point of this section comes when Jane chooses the path of life in which passion and principle win.

She decides to come back to Thornfield and get married to Mr. Rochester. Only love of her life. Religion is very important part of this section. There are also lots of Romantic and Gothic elements. Coming back to find her lover she gets into Ferndean the last part of the scene. She finds Rochester blind and harmed. He is not powerful and well-set anymore. He has become tired and harmed under all that suffering. Jane gets into the position of stronger and more powerful in their relationship. Jane can find fulfillment in loving service to a man who now depends on her which takes quite an important role in the novel.

Jane finds the equality and after inheriting enough money to take care of herself as well as of her family, she becomes self-confident and strong personality. Gothic is a literary genre that is connected to the dark and horrific. It became popular in the late Victorian Era, following the success of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, in 1764. Since that time, gothic literature has become very influential. Some elements that are typically gothic include ancient prophecies, mystery and suspense, supernatural events, dreams and visions, violence, and a gloomy or even desolate setting.

Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre, was greatly influenced by the gothic movement. The Haunted Castle Thornfield is neither haunted nor a castle, but this huge house has a mysterious atmosphere. Jane loves the house as she loves its master, but parts of it are dark and gloomy: “the staircase window was high and latticed; both it and the long gallery into which the bedroom doors opened looked as if they belonged to a church rather than a house. A very chill and vault- like air pervaded the stairs and gallery, suggesting cheerless ideas of space and solitude”. chapter 11) Madness, Secrets and Lies Thornfield is also the home of mad Bertha, Rochester’s secret wife. She is locked in the attic, and both Jane and the reader are unaware of her presence there for some time.

Thus when we hear her ghostly laugh, we are unsure how to interpret it. Jane thinks that the laugh belongs to servant Grace Poole, but the reader is unconvinced by this and knows that some terrible secret must be kept in the mysterious room. A similarly ghostly and frightening atmosphere is evoked when Jane describes her first sighting of Bertha: ‘It seemed, sir, a woman, tall and large, with thick and dark hair hanging long down her back. I know not what dress she had on: it was white and straight; but whether gown, sheet, or shroud, I cannot tell’ “. (chapter 25) The Hero Mr Rochester is a Byronic hero, a figure that has become familiar to fans of Gothic. He is charismatic, well-travelled, bad-tempered, and has a huge secret from his past.

The moment that Jane first sees him is significant, indicating Jane’s belief in the supernatural as well as Rochester’s elusive and mysterious nature: “close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog… t was exactly one form of Bessie’s Gytrash-a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head… The man, the human being, broke the spell at once. Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone; and goblins, to my notions, though they might tenant the dumb carcasses of beasts, could scarce covet shelter in the commonplace human form” (charter 12) Supernatural Aspects Jane Eyre is full of unexplained or partially explained moments: the light that she sees in the Red Room. She thinks is the spirit of her dead uncle but it might be somebody walking out side with a lantern.

The lightening splitting the oak tree just before the wedding may be considered as a symbol for the separation of Jane and Mr. Rochester. The novel has been criticised for its use of coincidence: Jane goes wandering and just by coincidence she ends up at the house of her cousins. The turning point of the novel is just an unexplained event. Jane returns to Thornfield because she hears Rochester calling for her help, and travels back to find the house burned down and Rochester blind and hurt. There are no ghosts in Jane Eyre, but every part of Jane’s life is preceded by her imagining a supernatural visitation from another world.

And Mr. Rochester’s telepathic communication to Jane towards the end of the novel is in fact a supernatural phenomenon used for the purpose of fiction. All of the aspects of a romantic genre novel are noticeably and clearly evident to the reader in Jane Eyre. A romantic novel is considered to contain high moral tone, an optimistic outlook, focus on action rather than character development, setting and nature which reflect the feelings of the characters, heroes struggling to attain ideals, and reading providing an escape from the daily routine of the protagonist.

There are many religious references in this novel. Jane follows a strict moral code and has a huge religion upbringing at Lowood School. Mr. Rochester, on the other hand, appears to have no concept of morality and chooses instead to ignore his problems and deny any religion. At the end of the novel, however, after Rochester becomes blind in the fire, his physical disability causes him to have a spiritual and moral resurrection. At the beginning of the novel, while Jane is at Lowood, she meets Helen Burns, a young woman with a huge set of morals and a deep belief in God.

Helen is strong and teaches Jane to trust God and develop her own sense of Christianity. Even after Helen’s death from typhus, she remains a strong religious influence on Jane’s life. The focus of optimism helps to create the romantic genre. Jane doesnt show only optimism in her beliefs, but also in her emotions towards Mr. Rochester. Jane finally matures and grows attached to another man. She sees him in the highest light and finds great joy in his presence. Jane has come to see that by the life and presence of someone else, she can feel happy and sees her relationships, God, and life in an optimistic light.

In literature, and in Jane Eyre, the changing seasons and setting cause the character’s attitudes and feelings to shift. Jane’s outlook on life during the cold, dreary winter she spent at Lowood School was unenthusiastic and negative. Towards the beginning of the novel the temperature outside was frigid and their “clothing was insufficient to protect from the severe cold. No one at Lowood had warmed up to Jane at this time, since she was a new student and had no acquaintances. The cold outside was a parallel to Jane’s inner thoughts as she faced the difficulties of making friends and fitting to the setting.

However, in the spring Jane found companion Helen, and was feeling lucky. For the first time in her life, Jane had real friend and was enjoying life. Summer and its accompanying warm weather was a hopeful time for Jane; the sunshine and heat lifted her spirits as she traveled back to Mr. Rochester’s house after her aunt’s death. She was cheered by the fact that she was going back to a permanent home to see the man she loved. Further proving that Jane Eyre is a romantic genre novel is the concept of the hero, Jane, struggling to attain an ideal.

Jane fights for such things as freedom, love, social equality, education, and spiritual wholeness. Jane also searches not just for romantic love, but also for a sense of being valued, of belonging. Towards the beginning of the novel, Jane says to Helen, “to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest”. (page 59)

Jane eventually finds both love and social class equality when she marries Mr. Rochester after he is blinded in the fire. She feels as though she is now his equal and the “master vs. servant” roles are no longer in place. Throughout the course of the novel, Jane finds an escape from her difficult life through the books as well as other forms of artistic expression, such as her paintings. During her time living at Gateshead, Jane reads to get her mind off the poor treatment that she receives from her aunt and cousins.

With arriving at Thornfield and discussing her artwork with Mr. Rochester, she states that she painted these works as an escape from her everyday life during the summer at Lowood. “I had nothing else to do, because it was the vacation, and I sat at them from morning till noon, and from noon till night: the length of the midsummer days favoured my inclination to apply. ” (page 108) The seemingly constant, although subtle, presence of the library at Thornfield creates an undertone emphasizing the importance of literature.

In addition, Jane encounters her beloved books again when she befriends Diana and Mary Rivers, and the literature helps her cope with the coolness that St. John appears to have, as opposed to the warmth of Mary and Diana. Did you think about all given aspects of the novel while reading our seminar work? Have you been influenced by acting of the main characters? Would you solve exact problems by different way than they did? We hope we helped you to understand all of these questions and gave you the impression of the Victorian era and living in these times.

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