During the Victorian Age, women embarked on a journey filled with forthright subordination towards men of the same social stature; with the mandate of society to submit, they openly accepted their fate. The range of what females could do varied from how much education they received (and that too had its limitations). Unable to stomach these restrictions, a number of female authors created a feministic revolution. In her novel, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte created a strong-willed and rebellious heroine to propose a feministic outlook and controvert the gender ideology of the Victorian age.
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It was crucial for females to be educated during this era. Aside from domestic duties and the role of a governess, work was pretty rare to come by; if uneducated, one’s only hope would be to wed a well-to-do man. Furthermore, the Victorian Age also set standards as to why women should be educated. As Teachman pointed out in his article, An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex, “The primary end of education is to train up the pupil in the knowledge and application of those principles of conduct” (67-68). This Ms. Teachman boldly states that education derives the proper character each Victorian woman should take on. The young girls at Lowood are learning how to complete domestic duties-proper cleaning, sewing, etc. Arguably, the basic academics they study are sufficient merely for the ordering of the domestic household. Any advanced education the young girls receive-painting, music, and the ability to speak French-is suitable for drawing-room entertainment, not the advancement of any profession. Upon arrival at Lowood, Ms. Eyre experiences indifference; the school is very unwelcoming. The environment is created, in part, to further eliminate all forms of defiant behavior stored within a child: temperature is intolerable, food is scarce, teachers are strict, unruliness is discouraged-all the conditions one needs to realize that life is hard and it should just be accepted as is.
Jane portrays her rebelliousness as she talks to Helen Burns, one of her schoolmates, about not accepting all of the punishments assigned to her. It is understandable that students would endure abuses inflicted upon them; indeed they were expected to endure punishments. Since Jane strongly disagreed of Helen’s submissiveness, she kept a vigil, in case Helen needed help. In other cases, she took the responsibility of taking care of others as much as she could (i.e. Feeding the smaller children by giving her portions away). “Lowood is where Jane ultimately learns to govern herself, for rigid self-control is the only way women can survive in the Victorian sexual hierarchy” (Anderson 1). Through the development of her self control, she was able to withstand many hardships and endure many endeavors pummeled at her.
As Jane progressed on to become a governess, she meets a man named Mr. Edward Rochester, someone who turned a blind eye towards society’s view on gender and treated Jane as an intellectual equal. An attraction developed between both characters as Jane realized Rochester’s openness and lack of prejudice towards her and the rest of his employees. This trait that he possessed created a more stable emotional build for Jane, lowering her defenses and allowing her to feel more vulnerability towards her employer. Although a decision of a mutual understanding between them was possible, Jane’s inability to hide her insecurities brought about a dilemma; Rochester’s acquaintance, Blanche Ingram, made her feel inferior. Ms. Ingram was of an equal social class as Edward, and Jane being a servant in his household felt that she was undeserving of him-something imbedded within her by society’s social standards. “In some respects, Blanche Ingram also represents a type of fallen women. Her social position demands she ‘prostitute’ herself for material gain,” something Jane doesn’t have and would not do, respectively (Anderson 4). In the end, Rochester rid of Jane’s apprehensive behavior by stating that Blanche had no part in his marital future; the one he loved was her, Jane. In contrast, the plot of being united with Rochester shattered as she found out that he had already wed a woman named Bertha Mason.
Another similarity that the two (Jane and Rochester) had was that they did not approve of the unequal treatment of females within the society. His previous wife, Mrs. Rochester, is the human manifestation of the Victorian woman. Placing her mental state into consideration, she was locked up in the cellar throughout the entire book-much like how women were forced to subordination by social standards. In lieu of staying with Rochester after finding out about his wife’s illness, she further showed her need for emancipation from Rochester’s emotional control over her. Peterson read “Jane’s departure from Lowood as a ‘pilgrimage toward selfhood’ and her experiences at Thronfield as ’emblematic’ episodes ‘symptomatic of difficulties Everywoman in a patriarchal society must meet and overcome” (Peterson 5)
A new man was introduced into our protagonist’s life. Mr. St. John’s character represented the oppressive behavior exemplified during the Victorian Age. He tried to push Jane into applying herself into a mission heading to India (and also tried to get her to marry him) Being a clergyman and a male, society dictated that he should be listened to . En contraire, Jane’s response truly reflected her personality: she accepted his request of her going with him to spread Christianity in India, for “British women did not see their missionary activity as secondary. They pointed out that the Christian religion had originally been ‘a Gospel to the poor’ and that women were the first to spread the Christian message” (Peterson 9). Upon the request of him taking her hand, she denied it; she believed that both parties had to be in love in order for a marriage to work.
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A few months later, after receiving the fortune handed to her by her uncle, she returned to Thornfield. She found Rochester physically impaired and widowed due to the fire at his manor. The true reason as to why she came back was that she still loved him. “Indeed, to many of us the ‘deep longing’ of a woman’s ‘lovely heart’ for the ‘brute/ Brute heart of a brute like a man appeared to be a radical weakness-a neurotic flaw-in the otherwise talented and politically correct Charlotte Bronte,” but is actually the reason why it made the character, Jane, so strong of a woman (Bloom 102). She decided to return, being on the same class as he was (ridding of all her possible insecurities), in order to reclaim her place in his heart. It was she who said that marriage can only work if the two loved each other; since any form of objections was terminated, they were wed.
Due to Jane’s ability to deviate away from the Victorian standards, she managed to live a great and fulfilling life. “I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest — blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully is (as) he is mine” (Bronte 384) The hardships she had undertaken created a more rewarding end for her: she is wed with the love of her life, has a child, and is no longer oppressed both by her family and society.
Bronte is considered as one of the very first feminist authors, as what is projected by her novel, Jane Eyre. She connected the character with what women of the era had to face and how much it took to defy such a grand system. The book became the cornerstone of future books devoted to the topic of feminism and is much celebrated now as it was before.
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