To what extent is the novel Jane Eyre an autobiography of its author? How is Jane a reflection of the author?

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A number of feminist scholars have seen elements of Charlotte Bronte's struggle to establish herself in a male-dominated literary world subtly woven into the text of Jane Eyre . Such speculations are by no means conclusive, but at the very least they are suggestive and provide an interesting angle on...

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A number of feminist scholars have seen elements of Charlotte Bronte's struggle to establish herself in a male-dominated literary world subtly woven into the text of Jane Eyre. Such speculations are by no means conclusive, but at the very least they are suggestive and provide an interesting angle on the debate concerning the presence of autobiographical elements in the story.

There is an interesting passage where Jane complains about being bullied and punished by John Reed, her good-for-nothing cousin. Some have interpreted this as an oblique reference to Charlotte Bronte's unpleasant experience with the famous Romantic poet, Robert Southey. Before she wrote Jane Eyre Bronte wrote to Southey, enclosing some of her poems and seeking his advice on pursuing a writing career. Southey, very much a man of his time, told Bronte bluntly that literature cannot be the business of a woman's life. A writing career would simply take a woman away from her "proper duties."

There are further passages in the book amenable to a similar interpretation. For instance, Jane refers to her wicked aunt's excluding her from the "privileges intended only for contend, happy little children." (i.e. her cousins). Again, one could reasonably argue that this is a reference to the numerous social privileges—including writing as a career—which men insisted on arrogating to themselves at this time.

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While Jane Eyre is clearly a work of fiction, it pulls heavily from aspects of Charlotte Bronte's own life. First, Jane shares with Charlotte such physical characteristics as being small and plain and, as Rochester describes Jane, dressing modestly, like a Quaker.

Second, the Lowood School is modeled on the Clery Daughters' School, a boarding school for the daughters of poorer clergymen such as Patrick Bronte, who sent four of his daughters there. Just as Jane loses her dear friend Helen Burns to disease at Lowood, Jane likewise lost her older sisters Maria and Elizabeth. They were especially important to her, as like Jane, Charlotte lost her mother at an early age.

Like Jane, Charlotte worked as a governess. Like Jane, too, Bronte was considered a "lady" because she was a clergyman's daughter and well educated, but like Jane, lack of money, connections, and beauty made her a very marginal figure in British society.

As writers from Virginia Woolf to the scholarly pair Gilbert and Gubar in their groundbreaking Madwoman in the Attic have noted, the anger Jane felt at patriarchy reflected Charlotte Bronte's own anger at how male dominated society limited women's choices in her time. When Jane, at Thornfield, has a furious inward outburst about women needing and wanting the same scope of life and opportunity as men, Woolf understood that as reflecting Bronte's own experience. Gilbert and Gubar go so far as to suggest that one pronunciation for "Eyre" is "ire" or anger—an anger they say both Bronte and Jane shared.

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Jane Eyre was originally published as Jane Eyre: An Autobiographyunder Charlotte Bronte's pen name, Currer Bell.  Several aspects of Jane Eyre are extremely similar to events from Bronte's real life experiences.

1. Tuberculosis-- Jane's friend Helen dies from tuberculosis, as did Bronte's two sisters. 

2. Poor living conditions-- The Bronte sisters attended a religious school with poor health conditions.

3. Over-bearing minister figure--Mr. Brocklehurst.  The Bronte sisters' school was run by an evangelical minister. 

4. Boarding School.  Jane attends Lowood, and Bronte attended Clergy Daughters' School in Lancashire.  

5. Alcoholism-- John Reed's alcoholism was probably inspired by Charlotte's brother Branwell, who was addicted to opium and alchohol.

6.  Being a governess--Bronte acted as a governess.

7.  Thornfield-- Inspired by a real place that Bronte visited in 1845, North Lees Hall. 

8.  Insanity-- Bronte learns on her visit to North Lees Hall in 1845 that the first owner was reportedly insane and kept in a padded room.

9.  Jane's reactions in the novel reflect Bronte's own personal experiences; Bronte lived through these trials and let them inspire Jane's handling of each situation. 

10. Moreover, the emotional and social expectations placed on Jane throughout the novel certainly mirror what Bronte experienced in her own life as a woman trying to make her own way.

 

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