Charlotte Brontë Charlotte Brontë World Literature Analysis

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Charlotte Brontë World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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Brontë learned her craft from the available literature of the day and through practice. In childhood, she imitated the style of literary magazines and popular fiction while writing stories, plays, and poems with her brother and sisters. In these collaborative productions, she often chose to create the persona of a historical hero—a particular favorite was the duke of Wellington—and tried to speak in the elevated, stylized language that she imagined was appropriate to such distinguished public figures. The effort, although a considerable amount of imaginative fun, resulted in characters who sounded bombastic and unnatural.

In her mature fiction—four novels and an unfinished fragment of a fifth—Brontë found greater success creating narrators who shared a measure of her life experience. The most autobiographical of her novels, Jane Eyre and Villette, focus on the private world of women and their restricted choices in male-dominated Victorian society. Narrated by female characters, both Jane Eyre and Villette make use of the popular nineteenth century motif of the orphaned child who must make his or her own way in an antagonistic world. Brontë also successfully exploited elements of the romance novel and the gothic novel when she constructed her plots. Jane Eyre discovers a madwoman concealed in the attic of her employer’s mansion, and Lucy Snowe (the narrator of Villette) is frightened by the recurrent appearance of a ghost who haunts her school.

Feminist critics have been extremely interested in Brontë’s work because it exposes the limitations placed on women’s lives in the nineteenth century. Women of the respectable middle class had very few ways of earning their keep. Marrying, teaching, or serving as secretary-companion to a wealthy woman were nearly the only choices that a moderately educated woman could expect to have. Brontë, though not an outspoken feminist, regretted that women were not encouraged to make the same kinds of contributions as men and were often treated as intellectually inferior. Her characters, male or female, demand respect as individuals and strive to work in conditions where their potential will be fully realized.

Brontë’s ideas about nature were shaped by the Romantic poets and her life in the Yorkshire moors. In her novels, cities tend to be places of corruption, where human beings conspire against or neglect one another. Outdoors, there is a purifying element that allows people to approach one another honestly, and natural forces often act to promote correct moral behavior. Brontë makes use of the pathetic fallacy—nature mimicking human feeling—and personifies nature in various ways, most notably when the moon becomes a mother figure in Jane Eyre. Both techniques emphasize Brontë’s view that the landscape plays an important role in determining human action.

Jane Eyre

First published: 1847

Type of work: Novel

An orphaned, friendless governess achieves independence and finds contentment in marriage to her former employer.

Jane Eyre appealed to the Victorian reading public on both sides of the Atlantic. Published under a pseudonym, the novel had its London enthusiasts at first speculating about the real author, then marveling at the achievement of a little-known, isolated vicar’s daughter from Yorkshire. In America, the plot and narrative technique of Jane Eyre were quickly imitated by women writers hoping to capitalize on the novel’s popularity. The plot contains many elements to capture and maintain the reader’s attention: an abused orphan who rebels successfully against her oppressors, a mystery involving screams in the attic and a burning bed, a marriage stopped at the altar, sensual temptation and moral victory, and the reformation of a good man gone wrong.

The appeal of the book is not dependent solely on a lively plot; Jane Eyre herself is an engaging character. Unwilling to accept others’ definitions of her as an unattractive, dependent relation, Jane asserts herself against...

(The entire section is 1,668 words.)