Is Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre a feminist novel?
Feminism advocates that social, political, and all other rights should be equal between men and women. Bronte's Jane Eyre discusses many of the struggles and prejudices that nineteenth century middle-class women faced. All rights were not equal between men and women at that time, and Jane's greatest desire is to have a family and to feel accepted and loved. This does not necessarily mean that the novel is not feminist, but the main character's goal is not to change the legal and political world in order to gain equal rights for women. However, by the end of the story, she does not settle for anything less than the most equal relationship and living circumstances possible for the time period. And at the time, it must have seemed pure fantasy for a governess to acquire her own money and marry higher than her social class.
Erica Jong's introduction in the Signet Classic edition provides great insight into how Jane Eyre could be considered a feminist novel by saying the following:
"And indeed she cannot marry Rochester until he knows he is as dependent on her as she is on him. Their odysseys have equalized them: Jane has become an independent woman and Rochester has been cured of entitlement. Only thus can a woman and man become equals in a patriarchal society" (ix).
Bronte portrays Jane as a traditional woman who wants a husband and family while also maintaining her value as an individual in her own right. Many women today want the same things--to have a family and career. However, even though Jane isn't seeking social or political equality, she does find equality in marriage. This could be a big part of the message that Bronte wanted to convey, which would mean that her desired results would have, in fact, been one of the first feminist novels.