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The Bronte sisters are critically acclaimed as being the most innovative and revolutionary writers of their time. Bringing issues such as womens societal standing to the forefront and challenging the 19th Century views on women and their role.The Bronte sisters showed they were not afraid to make a statement and perhaps create some controversy along the way. Each book explores , in its own unique way , how the central female characters rebel against what is "socially acceptable" and live their life making up their own rules. "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte , highlights a woman's struggle in trying to upgrade her social standing. In doing so , Jane learns more about herself than she could possibly imagine and develops a deeper understanding of herself, those around her and her spiritual connection.
"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte , has undoubtedly the strongest and most independent character of all three novels. Helen Graham is the central protagonist of the novel and is intelligent , has an independent turn of mind ,self-confident but also comes across more than a little arrogant as she shows a complete unwillingness to listen to other people's views if they do not correspond with her own. In this novel , we see the central character Helen, and her son move into the near derelict Wildfell Hall. Her independent spirit and radical views set her apart from the staid rural community around her. We see Helen overcome slanderous gossip from the townspeople and gain a deeper understanding into how she became the woman she was .
"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte, could be said to have the strongest characters in the form of Catherine and her daughter Cathy. This could be argued to be true as even in death , Catherine still has the power to control , manipulate and torture Heathcliff's soul until he cannot live any longer. Furthermore , her daughter Cathy , seems to have inherited her mother's strong will , determination , bluntness and like her mother , is fond of the idea of having control over a man.
"Jane Eyre" opens to a ten year old Jane , reading alone as she has not been allowed to sit with her Aunt Reed and cousins after dinner and finds solitude in reading Berwick's History of British Birds instead. Unfortunately , Jane's sanctuary is disturbed by her pompous and hateful cousin John Reed. He starts by picking on Jane and hurling abuse her. This quickly escalates and results in John throwing a book at her , because of which , Jane bangs her head against the door and starts bleeding. This incident serves as the readers first insight into how Jane is alienated, hated by the rest of the Reed family and how they do nothing to make her feel welcome. The Reeds dislike of Jane is shown in John's statement to her , upon fetching the book Jane was reading for John to inspect, he announces :
"You have no business to take our books; you are a dependant, mamma says; you have no money; your father left none; you ought to beg , and not live here with gentlemen's children like usâ€¦"
In this statement , John claims the rights of the gentleman , insinuating that Jane's family was from a lower class than his. This highlights to the reader that the Reed children have grasped very quickly that social standing and power authorises force and brutality. This exclamation, introduces to the reader Jane's feeling of social inferiority and longing to "upgrade" so to speak. Jane appears to exist in a no man's land between the upper and servant class, leaving Jane in limbo regarding social class and standing. However, early on in this novel we see how Jane has a passionate and feisty personality. This is shown when Jane retaliates to John's speech by calling him such names like a "murderer", "slave driver" and "Roman emperor", by doing show Jane emphasises the corruption that is inherent in the ruling class. Janes retaliation also highlights to the reader her adolescence shown through her revolt against the Reeds. This verbal attack on John will result in Jane receiving harsh punishment but will reward her with independence from the family. Johns attack and Janes fiery counterattack symbolises the moment of rebellion for Jane against the Reeds.Her class difference translates into physical difference and Jane believes that she is physically inferior to the Reed children. Compare this isolation, alienation and hatred towards Jane , to young Cathy's upbringing in "Wuthering Heights". Although one may say that Cathy is hated by Heathcliff, this is only the case as she is a painful reminder of the love of his life Catherine and this torments him endlessly. Besides Heathcliff , Cathy is surrounded by people who love her. Cathy seems to possess the wildness of her mother , but her personality is tempered slightly, reflecting the nature of her father. A strong example of the contrast between Cathy's upbringing to Jane Eyre's is that Cathy finds a friend in Nelly Dean , Catherine's servant. Cathy is able to convince Nelly that she should take her to Wuthering Heights. This in itself illustrates the difference between Catherine and Cathy. Due to Catherine's selfishness and wilfulness , Nelly had no trouble contradicting Catherine and making her life miserable. However , with young Cathy is it is a different matter. Nelly is truly fond of Cathy and therefore can easily rationalise her decisions in agreeing to Cathy's requests. This shows the extent Nelly will go for Cathy as she feels a close bond with her and Cathy , at this point , starts to see Nelly as a friend. This highlights the difference to the upbringing of Jane Eyre to the upbringing of young Cathy.
In "Jane Eyre" and "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" , the reader can a see a strong similarity in both characters ,Jane and Helen. In that they are deeply compassionate people , who will help out those in need, even if they previously harboured feelings of strong hatred towards them. The sympathetic side of Jane Eyre is shown throughout the novel , however the reader can see just how kind-hearted she really is, when she discovers the news of Aunt Reeds illness. Jane learns that her Aunt Reed has asked specifically for Jane's presence back at Gateshead. Jane has matured from the child who once declared " I will never come to see you when I am grown up," and agrees to go back to Gatesead. Upon arrival at Gatehead , Jane is greeted by Eliza and Georgiana and is told that Aunt Reed is in bed. Once Jane is in the room with Mrs Reed, she addresses Jane with the second person "you" and then changes it to the third person as she talks to herself about Jane; "I had better tell her". This suggests to the reader that Mrs Reed is distancing herself from Jane through shame of what she is about announce. After Jane reads the letter, Mrs Reed reverts back to the second person. Refusing forgiveness or compassion , her aunt cherishes only ill feeling towards Jane. Whilst Jane has matured and her fiery passions have been extinguished , her aunt maintains a deep and heated hatred for Jane until the moment she dies. It is revealed that Mrs Reed had hoped that Jane had died whilst at Lowood, Mrs Reed says :
"What did they do with her a Lowood ? The fever broke out there and many of the pupils died. She however , did not die: but I said she did - I wish she had died!"
This exclamation highlights the extent of Mrs Reed's hatred towards Jane but simply put this animosity is based on jealousy: She could not accept her husbands love of his sister or her child. It is ironic that Mrs Reed accused Jane of lying and now dies troubled by the lie she told Mr Eyre of Maderia. In a similar situation to that of Jane's , in "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" , Helen is required, or forced , to leave her new life at Wildfell Hall in order to take up her wifely duties towards her husband and care for him in his dying days to the best of her ability. To try her hardest to make him a more Holy person before he dies. Earlier on in the novel , Helen talks of her marriage to Arthur , by declaring that life with him was like:
" two persons living together, as master and mistress of the house, and father and mother of a winsome, merry little child, with the mutual understanding that there is no love, friendship, or sympathy between them."
This complete and utter acceptance of her , what would be seen today as a failed marriage , highlights how unhappy Helen was with Arthur and how brutal and disrespectful he could be towards her. Due to this it comes as a surprise to the reader that upon arriving back at Grassdale , Helen would so willingly take back up the role of being "the wife" and strive to work her hardest. However , we realise that Helen has not returned out of love for Arthur but out of love of God. All through the book we see Helen cling to the harsher aspects of Christianity- the damnation of the sinner rather than the redeeming love. Her letters from Huntingdon's death bed show her unrelenting in her sense of duty and in her efforts to call her husband to repentance. It is beyond her to hold to the dying man a hope of salvation if she believes him to be damned. These two example show that the main character of each novel has the ability to forgive and forget and , when faced with certain death , will come back with compassion and not a harboured hate towards them.
Whilst being Adele's governess, Jane starts to develop feelings for Mr. Rochester. Jane is very spiritually connected and one night has a strange dream. In this vivid dream, Jane is :
"Tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea"
As Jane's love for Mr. Rochester is becoming apparent to the reader and Jane is starting to realise herself her growing love for him , Jane's unconscious warns her that her relationship will be a rocky and testing one. Due to her jealousy , Jane imagines a past love between Mr. Rochester and Grace Poole - hence why Mr. Rochester covers up her mysteries. However from this , Jane hopes that Mr. Rochester is not overly fussed about looks as she is not beautiful but she believes he talks to her in a way which indicates he likes her. Jane has gained colour , flesh and vivacity from the friendship with Mr. Rochester. Jane especially likes that she has the ability to soothe and vex him , but always maintaining "every propriety of my station". All these things indicates to the reader Janes anxieties about Mr. Rocherster's hinge on the issues of social class and beauty. This in turn reminds the reader of Jane's earlier feelings of social class and feelings of inferiority. However, just as Jane is beginning to think about the possibility of a relationship with Mr. Rochester , her hopes are dashed as the reader is introduced to Blanche Ingram. Jane views Blanche as her "beautiful and accomplished rival". Upon seeing Blanche and Mr. Rochester together , Jane vows to be sensible and accept that Rochester does not love her. However , Jane cannot control her jealousy and in creating contrasting portraits of herself and Blanche , Jane empahsises her own plainness. Once more , Janes passions have become hyperbolic ; as she cannot fully discipline her jealousy of Blanche. In the portraits , Jane excessively empahsises the material differences between them , showing that Jane has not learned the value of her own spiritual superiority yet ; she still has a long way to go on her path of self discovery. Due to her strong feelings for Mr. Rochester , Charlotte Bronte gives Jane a masculine outlook and actions. This is shown when Jane reveals to the reader that she liked looking at Mr. Rochester , she says :
" I looked and had an acute pleasure in looking- a precious yet poignant pleasure ; pure like gold with a steely point of agony, a pleasure like what the thirst-perishing man might feel."
Generally gazing is a power men have over women but here Jane appropriates that power for herself. The mixure of pleasure and of pain , suggest to the reader the (for the first time) the erotic appeal of Mr. Rochester to Jane ; this is not just an innocent glance at him , but a gaze tinged with sexual tension. Whilst in "Jane Eyre" Jane is longing for a relationship with Mr. Rochester , in "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" Helen , is doing the complete opposite and escaping her married life and the wrath of Arthur Huntingdon. For a woman in the 19th century to leave her husband was virtually unthinkable , so for Helen to do so as well as have a child to look after emphasises to the reader how strong willed , determined and independent she is. Helen endures so much in her marriage with Arthur. He bullies her , disrespects her , manipulates her , physically attacks her, is unfaithful to her and encourages his son to drink , shoot animals and sing vulgar songs or in Arthur's words " make a man of him." The final straw for Helen came when Arthur announces he has set up for a governess for young Arthur, namely Miss Myers. Helen used her lessons with her son as an attempt to rid him of all the vices his father was encouraging. However , with the employment of Miss Myers , Helen became redundant and was no longer required to teach him and furthermore even see young Arthur anymore that much. Teaching young Arthur was "the only pleasure and business" in her life and was devastated and outraged at Arthur's unexpected addition to the home. Not only was Miss Myers taking away Helen's only joy , but she was , Helen learned through her maid Rachael , Arthur's mistress. This decides her and she declares :
"I longed to know the truth: the atmosphere of Grassdale seemed to stifle me, and I could only live by thinking of Wildfell Hall."
The strong will, determination and independence of Helen is made very clear to the reader at this moment. Arthur has unwittingly broken Helen's last nerve and she has made the decision to Grassdale and move to her childhood home Wildfell Hall where she and her brother grew up. By saying " I could only live by thinking of Wildfell Hall", Helen highlights to the reader how unhappy she is with her marriage with Arthur Huntingdon and longs for live away from him. Therefore , after making her decision to leave Grassdale , she writes a letter to her brother to get the Hall ready , packs her few belongings secretly , and , taking Arthur and Rachael with her , leaves undetected early one morning. So , unlike Jane Eyre who is trying to create or is longing for a relationship ,Helen is making the most unconventional decision for a woman of her time and has decided to leave her husband for the benefit of herself and her child. Similarily to both Jane and Helen ,in "Wuthering Heights" , Catherine has made herself alone with no companion , but longs for one with Heathcliff. Unfortunately , Catherine has left it too late to announce her love as she is on her death bed when she eventually tells the truth. As Catherines condition deteriorates , essential aspects of her character are revealed. Catherine admits to Nelly that she is "afraid of being alone". However , she is completely oblivious to the fact that it is her actions that is precisely why she is alone. Catherine is most cruel when she is most honest, telling Edgar, whom she married only because he held better social standing than Heathcliff :
" I don't want you , Edgar: I am past wanting you"
This reveals that Catherine expected Edgar to attend to her every need , oblivious to the torment and anguish she has subjected him to. Unlike Helen , Catherine in a way enjoys playing the martyr , feeling she will suffer for her love.
Both Helen of "Tenant of Wildfell Hall" and Jane of "Jane Eyre" , leave their past lives in an attempt to re-find themselves or escape the constant reminders of unhappiness their current lives hold. Both Jane and Helen are shown to be strong and unimpressionable when it comes to their powerful other halfs. After Janes acceptance of Mr. Rochesters proposal , he seems intent on transforming her into the ideal object of his affection. Mr. Rochester has sent for jewels and wants Jane to wear satin and lace etc. Due to this , Jane worries that she will lose herself if "tricked out" in these "stage-trappings" ,she tells him that she simply wants to be herself. Jane argues that if she accepted all these lavish gifts from Mr. Rochester , he would grow bored of her and she would become a "performing ape"; Jane would just be a kept woman. Instead , Jane wants to keep both her personality and her independence once married. Throughout the following chapters, Jane's anxieties about a loss of identity within a marriage become apparent. Her dream of a small child "too young and feeble to walk" , could easily represent her immature self , unable to create an independent indentity. Also , when she tried to speak to Rochester , she is "fettered" and "inarticulate" , feeling she will have no power and no voice within her relationship with Mr. Rochester. Upon finding out that Mr. Rochester is in fact still married -albeit to a nutcase whom he locks up in the third floor. Jane feels she is obviously unable to marry him and even live in the same room as him and so feels he needs to walk away from her relationship with him until he has learned self control and until she can enter the relationship on a more equal footing. To keep herself from the "temporary heaven" of Rochester's bedroom, Jane hears prophetic voices that put her on the path of moral righteousness. This voice instructs her to leave Thornfield, she does so to regain her identity , which was almost lost through her consuming passion for Mr. Rochester. When Jane leaves she takes very little with her , nothing to remind her of her past life. Jane is slowly but surely stripping herself down to nothing in order for her to re build herself from nothing; her future is now "an awful blank." Similarily , in "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall", Helen leaves her abusive and suffocating life with her husband Arthur in the hope she will be able to create a new life for herself and her son in the house in which she spent her childhood.
In "Jane Eyre" , Jane feels restless in her current situation. The quiet haven of Thornfield Hall has become stagnant and lonely , and the uniform ,still life offers "an existence whose very privilege of security and ease" that Jane is becoming unable to appreciate. Yearning for a life of excitement , variety and intellectual stimulation , she therefore spends a lot of her time daydreaming, opening herself to a :
"Tale my imagination created , and narrated continuously , quickened with all incident , life , fire , feeling , that I desired and had not in my actual existence,"
This shows that Jane relies heavily on her imagination to keep her interested , which links back to when she was reading Berwicks History of British Birds. Jane suggests her problems are gender related and that women require that same outlets as men. Arguing that a silent rebellion is brewing in womens minds , the novels message is revolutionary. Similarly Catherine in "Wuthering Heights" , like Jane also feels restless with her life. Being able to roam free across the moors , without a care in the world , best illustrates the wildness of Catherins characters. This rough freedom of Wuthering Heights contrasts with the dignified
calmness of Thrushcross Grange. (We are again reminded of how happy and free Cathy felt on the moors , when on her deathbed she wishes she was back the moors with Heathcliffe.) Catherine married Edgar mostly on the basis that he held more social standing than Heathcliff and she is drawn to the civility and luxary. She experiences a whole new world at Thrushcross Grange , a world the will not and cannot contain Heathcliff. On Catherine's return to Wuthering Heights , the outward changes are readily apparent. Her demeanour toward Heathcliff is both understandable and expected , now for the first time she recognises the differences in social standing. However , the intrigue soon wore off and Catherine grows bored in her life with Edgar at the Grange. Her reaction at Heathcliff arrival bothers Edgar as much as it pleases Heathcliff. As Edgars wife , she is able to be the socialite as Heathcliff's love, she is able to be true to innermost desires and passions. Catherine dies announcing she loves Heathcliff and does not need or want Edgar anymore.
In "Jane Eyre" , Lowoods main aim as an institution is to control the pupils by attempting to deprive the girls of any individuality and restrain their sexual desires. The main goal of Brocklehurst in draining the "vile bodies" is to create the immensely spiritual creature of the Victorian Era which was called the "Angel of the House". This ideal perception of women is personified in Helen Burns. Her desire for death presents a "masochistic" violence against oneself. Helen is the perfect victim and represents the idealistic femininity desired in a woman. Helen is a tribute to the Lowood system. In a way , Helen is one acute part of Janes personality as Jane too is intrigued by the spiritual world and also has a strong streak of masochism. Whereas , Bertha Rochester although alive in body but dead socially ally dead represents defiance of cultural laws that translates in a sadistic violence against those around them. Helen embodies Janes shy and frightened personality traits which ultimately must change to boldness. Likewise , Bertha too represents certain aspects of Janes personality- in extreme measure. For example , she represents Janes passion , damaging impulses of hate and revenge which must be amended.
To sum , "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte and "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte, explore the development of the central female characters in an innovative way. Through techniques such as setting , characterisation and dialogue , the Bronte sisters highlight to the readers through their female protagonists the struggles women faced in the 19th century , with regards to social standing and finding themselves and their role within society. In each novel , the central female characters develop and mature and find themselves and each book ends in a typical Victorian "happy ending" on a universal note , with love conquering hate.