What are the Victorian elements in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte?

Some elements of Victorian literature apparent in Jane Eyre include psychologically complex characters, an interest in social criticism, religious morality, and a love of domesticity.

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When we are asked about the "Victorian elements" of Jane Eyre, we're being asked to describe the primary themes that seem to have a lot to do with the Victorian era. The Victorian age is called thus due to Queen Victoria. She ruled England from 1837–1901.

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When we are asked about the "Victorian elements" of Jane Eyre, we're being asked to describe the primary themes that seem to have a lot to do with the Victorian era. The Victorian age is called thus due to Queen Victoria. She ruled England from 1837–1901.

What are the main "Victorian elements" of the classic Victorian novel Jane Eyre? One of the main topics of the Victorian Era was women. What was their place in society? What was their role?

We might ask the following questions: What is Jane's place in society? What’s her role? Jane is many things. She's an orphan, an abused child, and an abused pupil. She's also a governess, a teacher, and, eventually a mother and a wife. The whirlwind of subordinate identities link to how most women were expected to yield to men during the Victorian period.

Think about all the men Jane has to answer to and, however begrudgingly, depend upon: there’s Mr. Brocklehurst, Mr. Rochester, and St. John.

Another element of the Victorian age was isolation. We see isolation in Silas Marner, in Wuthering Heights, and we see it in Jane Eyre. From the start, Jane is separate and isolated. Her cousins bully her. She's confined to the red room. Later on, Jane isolates herself. She runs away from Rochester.

One more preoccupation of the Victorians was class. Class shows up in a subtle but substantial way in Jane Eyre. Think about what happens before Jane marries Rochester. What does she find out? She discovers she's inherited her uncle's money. You could argue that it's Jane's newfound wealth that makes her marriage with Rochester acceptable.

Those are three of the primary Victorian elements in Jane Eyre. Feel free to come up with more on your own. Also, feel free to contest ours.

For example, couldn't you argue that Jane was more dominant than the men? Didn't she outlast Brocklehurst? Didn't she stand up to St. John? Lastly, who's more powerful at the end: Jane or maimed Rochester?

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Jane Eyre shares elements of Victorian and Gothic fiction. Some Victorian aspects of Jane Eyre include psychological realism, social criticism, religious morality, and domesticity.

Psychological realism: Jane is a complex character with a rich internal life. Much of the novel is concerned with Jane's turbulent emotions and her struggle with identity. While Jane remains strong-willed throughout the book, it is also true that her character changes significantly and that she matures as a person.

Social criticism: Bronte's focus on a "poor relation" makes the plight of the disadvantaged central to her book. Her depiction of Mr Brocklehurst and the Lowood School highlights the brutality of the educational system, and Jane's status as a single woman relegated to the position of "governess" implicitly criticizes the status of women in British society.

Religious morality: Jane Eyre has much to say about religion and Christian duty. St John is a complex character whose moral scruples and ambition to "save souls" exert a powerful influence over Jane, who struggles with the notion of where her duty lies—with the church, represented by St John, or with herself and in being true to her own nature. For Bronte, hypocrisy is the ultimate sin.

Domesticity: Bronte shares with the Victorians a love of the domestic. Jane Eyre is full of domestic scenes: Miss Temple's room, St John's house, her cottage by the school house. These domestic places are contrasted with other, grander spaces—Mrs Reed's house or Thornfield Hall—that suggest something untrustworthy or insincere.

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Endeavoring to portray a realistic view of life that reflected the modernity of the age, the Victorian novel criticized aspects of society such as child labor and abuse, the nature and role of women, the Industrial Revolution and its resulting hardships and social developments. With industrialization, new opportunities and challenges arose for women, and some became writers, teachers, and social reformers, who fought for femal workers and challenged the femme covert laws in which women had to relinquish their property to their husbands as well as other rights. 

Many writers, and women writers such as Charlotte Bronte gave a voice to the emerging independent spirit of women and a distaste for the smothering Victorian life. In the latter period of the Victorian Age, literature often examined the burden of imperialism with its rebellions, massacres, and wars such as the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and the Jamaica Rebellion in 1865. In Jane Eyre, several elements of Victorian Literature are evinced:

  • REFLECTION UPON THE SOCIAL ILLS OF THE AGE

Poor conditions for orphans

Abused by her aunt after she is orphaned, Jane is sent by Mrs. Reed to Lowood where the children are ill-dressed and underfed.  Mr. Brocklehurst, a religious hypocrite and the proprietor of Lowood Institution, is cruel and sadistic. In a subtle suggestion about the girls' destiny, Bronte has Helen reading Samuel Johnson's Rasselas, a text examining the philosophical question of a person's inability to change one's existence.

The nature and role of women

Bronte's novel examines what the Victorians termed "The Woman Question"; this "question" involves how women are regarded as members of society, and Bronte explores this perspective as Jane examines herself as a girl, in her position as a governess trapped in a role that makes her little more than a servant--the role she will play if she marries Mr. Rochester and later her role if she marries St. John Rivers.  Ultimately, as the heroine of this Victorian novel, Jane depends upon her own intelligence and determination and principles to achieve self-fulfillment.  However, other characters such as Miss Miller, an "underteacher" at Lowood, does not approve of Brocklehurst's methods, but is powerless.

The Rivers sisters, too, are governesses and are portrayed in a positive light.

  • REFLECTION UPON THE MORAL ISSUES OF THE AGE

Religious hypocrisy

The character of the sanctimonious hypocrite, Mr. Brocklehurst, is based upon William Cams Wilson, an evangelical clergyman who founded a girls' school that provided only the poorest of conditions.

Religious fanaticism

Jane's cousin, St. John Rivers desires Jane to marry him so that she can help with his missionary work.

Women's morality

Because there were so few occupations open to women and because women so outnumbered men in Victorian England (so many men were soldiers, or had been killed as soldiers), many women turned to prostitution as a means of self-support.  Bronte's Jane Eyre, however, refuses to be the mistress of Mr. Rochester, citing a higher moral law as her justification as she tells Rochester,

"Laws and principles are not for the time when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise against their rigor. . .

The immorality of Imperialism

While not mentioned overtly, Bronte does allude to the Jamaica Rebellion of 1865 with regard to the characters of Bertha Mason and her brother and Rochester's arranged marriage to her in Jamaica.

 

 

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