Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)

I always took Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre as an example of quintessential 'Englishness'. It might be influenced by contemporary media, as this setting of landed gentry or middle class on Victorian British Colonial time is often used as an example for a stereotypical portrait of an Englishmen – or woman.

Yet, after actually reading the book, I must partly revise my prior view - or prejudice – on Jane Eyre. Though the rules, values and habits of Victorian England are dominant in the novel, protagonist Jane is no mere 'Angel of the House' nor in attempting to be so, I'd say. Partly by own choice, partly by outside circumstances, Jane does not quite fit in, is in some ways 'outside' Victorian categories. At the same time she is living in, with and towards these moral ideal, conventions and expectations. In her position as a teacher, in her management of her relationship to Mr. Rochester and already as a small girl in Lockwood School, she is never 'improper' on own account. Yet, in a society built on hereditary status and heritage, she doesn't quite fit in as a self-dependent young woman. She seem to be trying to find her own categories for herself. She has no immediate family, no family support throughout most parts of her childhood. She cares for herself instead of relying on finding someone to marry. She is mainly led by her own moral and personal opinions, an often decides against otherwise promising options such as staying with Rochester despite finding out about Bertha Mason, or opting not to join her cousin St. John in matrimony and to go away from England as a missionary's wife.

Still, Jane is pretty much integrated into the society compared to the actual outside, haunting figure of the book. Knowing the information about the 'Bertha Mason' figure in advance, it was hard to see her as this haunting or ghostly figure or sentiment as she occurs in the book and I rather saw her as mysterious, but not in a ghostly way, but more as a unknown, as the actual outsider of a society that, although as I wrote above, Jane somehow positions herself as not fully integrated, but when comparing it to Bertha's position as 'mad woman', she is perfectly normal and integrated.

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