Jane Eyre is one of the most popular pieces of fiction ever written. At different periods since its publication it has been accused of immorality, of irreligion, of being unfeminine or too feminine, of alarming independence from convention, or too much reliance on it, of rejecting male supremacy or encouraging. It has been called an account for bad structure, bad characterization, lack of control, lack of ideas, lack of philosophy and for containing irreconcilable paradoxes.
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As times changed, so did the views of the readers. The author Charlotte Bronte has been criticized as well as praised about her writings. She was described by George Lewes to George Elliot as A little plain, provincial, sickly looking old maid, yet George Elliot added to her journal having been so overwhelmed by the novels What passion, what fire in her! Elizabeth Gaskell, her biographer as well as fellow female Victorian novelist remarked : In general there she sits quite alone thinking over the past . . .
She has the wild strange facts of her own and her sisters lives, – – and beyond and above these she has the most original and suggestive thoughts of her own: so that, like the moors, I felt on the last day as if our talk might be extended in any directions without getting to the end of any subject . . . Charlotte was born in 1816 and died at the age of 39 in 1855. Like her brother and sisters she died of consumption. She grew up on the moors in Haworth in Yorshire. For the Bronte children, they were poor and had very little to do. Their father was Reverend Patrick Bronte who had been appointed Parson there.
He was a strict martinet, very disciplined and self-righteous. All of the Bronte children were raised by their father alone without a mother. Their mother had died soon after the birth of the last child. TO offset the boredom of the parsonage life, the children lived rich imaginative lives. They spent whole days telling tales, creating their own towns, people and actions. In fact, each child in the Bronte family produced little books of closely connected series of stories and poems all concerning fictional characters they shared. Charlotte had two sisters and 1 brother.
Emily who was the most distinguished of the children, was a poet and a novelist who wrote Wuthering Heights. Anne Bronte wrote Agnes Grey and Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Their only brother Patrick did not write except for their personal manuscripts. The children lived a hard life which created all four childrens urge to elaborate their imaginary world. Some assumed pen names because it was a risk to write at any social status if you were a woman. If they had written using a womans name it would have been seen as cheap and unpure. Charlottes pen name was Currer Bell.
Jane Eyre was published in 1847. In England some major issues were the industrialization of factories and railroads as well as child labor, disease and money. English power was equal to Americas power after the second world war. Yet Jane Eyre is not about all that. Jane Eyre is a novel about love, about a girl growing up and her social constraints. Why is Jane Eyre still such a popular novel, even though it was published 152 years ago? Because it names something we still recognize today. We identify with Janes need to regain her old love as well as find friendship.
Jane Eyre is set in England in the early 1800’s. She is a plain and poor and small” orphan living with her cruel Aunt Reed. When she rebels she is locked into a room in which her uncle died. Her aunt sends her away to a charity school run by a harsh man, Mr. Brocklehurst. “do you know where the wicked go after death? ” “They go to hell” was my ready and orthodox answer. “And what is hell? ” “A pit full of fire” “And should you like to fall into that pit and burn there forever? ” “No, sir” “What must you do to avoid it? ” “… I must keep in good health and not die”
Life at Lowood is bleak but Jane befriends Helen Burns who teaches her the virtues if kindness and forgiveness. Jane continues at Lowood as a teacher for two years and then longs for change. She is offered employment by Mrs. Fairfax, as governess to young Adele Varens, ward of Mr. Rochester of Thornfield Hall. Despite Rochester’s cynical and harsh exterior, Jane finds herself drawn to him. A fire set in the house leads Jane to believe that Thornfield and it’s master are hiding a deep dark secret. Jane has fallen in love with Rochester when she learns he is to marry Blanche Ingram, a beautiful and rich woman.
Jane is then called to the bedside of her dying Aunt Reed. She learns that she has an uncle who has been trying to find her. A month later, she returns to Thornfield to find that the engagement is called off. Rochester declares his undying love for Jane and asks her to marry him. Jane’s wedding is stopped when it is announced that Mr. Rochester already has a wife, living in Thornfield Hall. She is a mad woman locked in the attic, the one who started the fire.
Jane flees from Rochester and days later, half dead and starving is rescued by St. John Rivers, a young pastor. St. John and his sisters nurse her back to health and when she is better she becomes a teacher at a small school. She later discovers that her uncle has died and left her a fortune. She also learns that St. John and his sisters are her cousins. She shares the inheritance with them, overjoyed to have family. St. John tries to persuade Jane to come to India with him where he is going to do God’s work. He thinks that she will make a perfect missionary wife. He persists and persists at his proposal and although Jane knows he would never love her, she is about to accept his offer when she hears the voice of Rochester Jane, Jane, Jane” nothing more.
I might have said, “what is it? ” for it did not seem in the room, nor in the house, nor in the garden… it was the voice of a human being, a well loved, well remembered voice – that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain, and woe, wildly, eerily, urgently. ” “I’m coming” I cried, “Wait for me”…. “Where are you? ” She returns to Thornfield only to discover it a ruin. Mrs. Rochester escaped from the attic and set fire to the house. In a failed attempt to save her, Rochester is left blind and partly crippled. But, the lovers and reunited, and are never parted again.
I was in my own room and sitting by the window, it was open… I longed for thee… and I pleaded, and the alpha and omega of my heart’s wishes broke involuntarily from my lips in the words- “Jane, Jane, Jane! ” “Did you speak these words aloud? ” “I did… if any listener had heard me, he would have thought me mad: I pronounced them with such frantic energy… what follows is the strangest point… I cannot tell whence the voice came, but I know who’s voice it was – replied, ‘I am coming, wait for me… where are you? ‘” They were quickly married.
Two years after their marriage he began to regain sight in his one eye. When their first born son was placed in his arms, he could see the boy had inherited his eyes. “no woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh”. Originally the Jane Eyre was advertised from the outset by its subtitle, “An Autobiography,” and was received as such by its first critics. Blackwood’s reviewer (October 1848) said that it was “a pathetic tale, so like the truth that it is difficult to avoid believing that many of the characters and incidents are take from life.
G. H. Lewes found the same thing: “Reality–deep significant reality, is the characteristic of this book . . . . ” In JANE EYRE the author gathered together not merely the recent experiences of her adult years, but the unobliterated recollections of childhood at the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge. Confined as that experience had in reality been to a period of ten months in the author’s ninth year, it is given a duration and a prominence in the novel that cast its shadow over all the subsequent action.
At the orphanage the child forms a passionate attachment to an older and precociously intelligent girl, HELEN BURNS (whose prototype was Charlotte’s own eldest sister, Maria, who died of tuberculosis at thirteen), because Helen is good to her. What Currer Bell had done, and what many of her female contemporaries could not forgive her for, was to place truth before propriety and to recognize the equality of the sexes where passion was concerned. . . . Charlotte Bronte felt deeply about the oppressed status of women in her time, especially women endowed with intelligence but devoid of fortune or looks, like herself.
She made their (i) predicament her own when she chose to write a novel about a governess with a mind infinitely superior to her employer’s. Admittedly, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charlotte’s greatly admired contemporary, was doing the same thing in the same year when he created BECKY SHARP; but Becky is first and foremost an adventuress, and only a governess by expediency. Jane Eyre’s situation as governess is inherent in the conception of the character and in the conduct of the plot.
Her unprotected subordinate position is necessary to point the contrast with her independence of mind, her strong moral sense, her superiority over her “Master. ” For such a girl the expectations of happiness were remote, her right to be loved nil. It is in Jane Eyre’s proud declaration of her rights as a human being that the novelty lay and that a new voice was heard for the first time in fiction. Believing Rochester to be on the eve of marrying Blanche Ingram, the rich and fashionable beauty, Jane decides to leave her post, and tells him so.
Despite the carping of the moralists, Jane Eyre received a general and critical acclaim overnight. It ran into three editions in its first winter and the lending libraries were besieged for copies by their subscribers. Thackeray’s encomiums crowned its success and gave the author her most intensely felt satisfaction. “It interested me so much,” wrote Thackeray to the publisher, that I have lost (or won if you like) a whole day in reading it . . . . Who the author can be I can’t guess, if a woman she knows her language better than most ladies do, or has had “classical” education.
It is a fine book, the man and woman capital, the style very generous and upright, so to speak. . . . Give my respects and thanks to the author, whose novel is the first English one (and the French are only romances now) that I’ve been able to read for many a day. While Thackeray conceded the book’s excitement, what commended it to him was the quality of the writing, the clear, forceful, unartificial writing, so different from the usual productions of the lady contributors to the fashionable journals.
The other quality he especially noticed, the book’s “upright” character, is of its essence. Rectitude was a basic Bronte quality: the importance of what people are and believe in, as opposed to their sense of self-interest. Applied to fiction, it contributed a new dimension to popular literature. All unconsciously Currer Bell, with her scrupulous regard for truth and critical self-analysis, and advanced the novel by half a century.