In What Ways Might Jane Eyre Be Considered A Feminist Novel
Feminism has been a prominent and controversial topic in writings for over the past two centuries, with the view articulating in the “19th century meaning that women are inherently equal to men and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”[Kathryn Vanspanckeren. 2006] Many women throughout time have stood forward towards women’s rights, however none so much as Mary Wollstonecraft who changed idea’s about women’s intellectual and emotional life and their role in society in the 1800’s, through her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre was written in the Victorian era not long after Wollstonecraft influenced her ideas on the public. The novel contains a strong feminist stance, with the main character Jane Eyre making and questioning assumptions about the gender and social class, as a young independent woman. She ignores the expectations of society in the Victorian times and follows her own desires, which allow her to develop into the dominant and assertive woman that becomes the essence of feminism.
Bronte’s feminist ideas radiate throughout her novel Jane Eyre. There are many strong and clear examples of these ideas in Bronte’s protagonist, Jane, her personality, actions, thoughts and beliefs. From the beginning of the book, Jane’s strong personality and her lack of following social expectations are quiet clear. “Women of the Victorian era were not part of a man’s world, as they were considered below them.”[Pauline Weston Thomas. 2006] The class divisions between a man and a woman were very distinctive. Jane however ignores this. When Jane first meets Rochester, the whole scene presents a feminist portrait of Jane. A women walking alone in that era should never address a man, but Jane goes out of her way to help Rochester stating that “if you are hurt, I can help” [Charlotte Bronte. 2006], Jane even lets him place a hand on her shoulder. Jane believes that “women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel”[Charlotte Bronte. 2006], which showed her perseverance and persistence in being independent and proving that men should be equal to that of women. Individuality in Victorian era women was unheard of, as women had no rights or opinions, Jane nevertheless disregards this and stands by what she believes constructing this book into a feminist novel.
In contrast to today’s society marrying for love in Victorian England was not common. Instead “marriages were based on power, wealth, land, necessity, status and convenience.” Jane however goes against what society demand of her after she refuses the proposal from her cousin St John Rivers. St John claims that ‘God and nature intended [Jane] for a missionary wife”[Charlotte Bronte. 2006] but not even god’s wishes could determine Janes mind to follow her own morals. In the 1900’s refusing the proposal of a handsome and courageous man who would have been able to support her was nothing more than stupid, nevertheless Jane ignores society’s expectations once again and denies St John as she still loves Rochester and she feels it wrong to marry without love. Jane like Mary Wollstonecraft disagrees with the expectations of women in marriage, as they both believe “strength and mind should not be sacrificed”[Mary Wollstonecraft. 1986] for men. By Jane following her own choices, she portrays a very feminist idea to the responder about the novel as it gives women the inspiration they need to make their own choices and decide what is right for them.
Charlotte Bronte’s protagonist Jane also explores the depth at which women may act in society and finds her own boundaries. Take for instance the chapters following Jane’s engagement to Edward Rochester. Upper class Victorian women (as Jane would have been after marrying Rochester) did not have occupations, ever. They did no work, and were expected to be treated as a “kind of subordinate being”[Mary Wollstonecraft.1986]. But jane specifically tells Rochester that she will keep her job as his “plain, quackerish governess.” [Charlotte Bronte. 2006] Jane wants nothing more than to be equal to her husband, as she protests in her own way that she is as good as a man. Equal rights between men and woman is the main argument for the start of feminism, which demonstrates how Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is indeed a feminist novel.
Many of the idea’s present in A Vindication of the Rights of a Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft are prominent in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Throughout the novel, the reader follows Jane Eyre on a journey of development from adolescence to maturity to show that a desire for freedom and change motivates people to search for their own identity. However, both Jane and Wollstonecraft place utmost importance on education. Together they feel that women should be educated as fully as men, and that taking classes in things such as sewing are useless. This was a huge feminist idea as education in the 19th century was not equal- not between the sexes and not between the classes. A lady’s education was taken almost entirely at home, and academic studies where only studied by the upper classes. Jane as “a free human being with an independent will”,[Charlotte Bronte. 2006]. influences freedom on the women of society in both Victorian era and today, which recognizes Jane Eyre as a feminist piece of writing.
Throughout the novel, the author Charlotte Bronte makes and questions assumptions about the expectations women of society were obliged to uphold. Focusing in on marriage, women’s roles and education in the Victorian era Jane the protagonist takes a feminist stance, which shows her independence and self-determination to lead the way. With the notions of feminism often follow the subjects of class distinctions and boundaries; it permits the book Jane Eyre to be considered a feminist novel.
Bronte, C (2006 edn). Jane Eyre. London: Penguin Books Lts.
VanSpanckeren, K (2008). From Revolution to Reconstruction… and What Happened Afterwards. An Outline of American Literature. http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/lit/walker.htm
Weston Thomas, P (2008). From the Regency Era to the Victorian Era. Victorian Society. http://www.fashion-era.com/victorians.htm#Class%20Divisions
Wollstonecraft, M (1986 edn). Author’s Introduction. Vindication of the Rights of Woman. London: Penguin Books Lts, pp. 79-83.