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To what extent does Charlotte Bronte construct the character of Jane Eyre as a...

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lilian-0716 | Student | Salutatorian

Posted September 9, 2013 at 1:43 AM via web

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To what extent does Charlotte Bronte construct the character of Jane Eyre as a conformist in Victorian society in Jane Eyre?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 9, 2013 at 5:23 AM (Answer #1)

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Arguably, it is very hard to see Jane Eyre presented as a conformist in Victorian society. This is because of the way in which she is presented as constantly raging against the situation in which she finds herself. As a poor female orphan, she has no option except to find work and paid employment to support her life. This means she has to become a governess. Her options are incredibly limited, and this is something that Jane, as Charlotte Bronte reveals to us, finds incredibly hard to accept. Note, for example, what Jane says in the famous "stiller doom" passage in Chapter 12, which can perhaps be seen as Jane echoing the sentiments of her creator:

...[women] suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

Note the way in which this quote rails against "custom" and the way that it "pronounces" what is "necessary" for their sex. Jane here clearly shows herself to be non-conformist in the way she makes fun of the limiting socially acceptable list of activities that women are permitted to follow, and argues that women are just like men in their need to have excitement, opportunities and adventure in their lives. Refusing these opportunities leads to stagnation. It is hard for the 21st century reader to see how challenging and non-conformist such words actually would have been for Victorian society. It clearly presents Jane as a character who is determined to make her own way in life, and so she does, refusing at every step the easy options: becoming Rochester's mistress, or becoming St. John River's wife and fellow missionary. When she does marry, she marries somebody where she is actually dominant rather than he is, because of his physical disabilities thanks to the fire caused by another woman. There is very little, therefore, about Jane Eyre as a character that supports a conformist view of Victorian society.

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