What are some aspects of feminist "voice" in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte?

Jane Eyre herself is an important expression of the feminist voice in the novel, and so is Rochester's wife, Bertha.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jane Eyre herself is an important expression of the feminist voice in the novel, and so is Rochester's wife, Bertha.

From being locked in the Red Room to exiled at the miserable Lowood School, Jane spends much of her life held in place and constrained. When she arrives ...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Jane Eyre herself is an important expression of the feminist voice in the novel, and so is Rochester's wife, Bertha.

From being locked in the Red Room to exiled at the miserable Lowood School, Jane spends much of her life held in place and constrained. When she arrives at Thornfield Hall, she one day gives vent to her feelings, thinking to herself that women should have more freedom:

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to 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.

Feminists from Virginia Woolf to Gilbert and Gubar in their groundbreaking study The Madwoman in the Attic have noted the anger at women's condition that Jane Eyre expresses. Woolf saw it as a flaw in the novel that Jane made such open statements of anger as the one above—Woolf considered these raw outbursts to interrupt the narrative flow of the story. (Although Woolf was equally angry as Bronte, she preferred Jane Austen's cooler approach.) Gilbert and Gubar argue that even Jane's last name, "Eyre," which they say can be pronounced "ire," expresses her rage.

But more than any other character, Gilbert and Gubar contend, it is Bertha—burning, slashing, screaming, threatening violence—who most expresses the anger women felt at their restrictions. In her "madness," her violent refusal to conform to patriarchal society, she enacts the rage that "normal" women like Jane are unable to express.

Jane herself also reveals a feminist "voice" in her agency or willingness to take matters into her own hands and make her own decisions. She speaks her mind when push comes to shove, from telling Mrs. Reed that she is a liar and that she hates her to telling Rochester that she will not marry him when she finds out about Bertha. She is willing to abandon love—traditionally the most important thing in the universe to a woman—to be true to herself and her own values.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Charlotte Bronte certainly brings to light the early sounds of feminism's voice in her novel Jane Eyre. Jane is a character caught like Bronte herself in the Victorian social dilemma of being a woman in a man's world. Throughout the novel, Jane faces many prejudices from social status to gender which are all mixed together to create a life of struggle against tough odds. Where many may think that feminists are anti-men, this isn't so much the case in Jane Eyre as it might seem. For example, other women in the story are just as prejudice towards Jane as men are. Ultimately, the femisit's voice might more assuredly be presented by whom Jane chooses to marry. Rather than marry St. John who tries to manipulate her into marrying her out of duty, she chooses to follow her heart and marry Rochester. It is interesting, however, that Rochester is completely dependent on Jane for his life at the end of the book. It is as if Jane will feel the most empowered by being the more dominant companion in her most important relationship. She would have hated life as a submissive wife to St. John, and therein lies the voice, that women should follow their hearts and live as they please and in a way that will not be subjected to anyone else.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team