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LIT 4386 British and American Literature
by Women

Class 12

Reading Assignment:

    Jane Eyre (468-784),through conclusion
    POST #5 Group B

    Class Objectives:

  • To analyze the ending of the novel
  • To discuss Woolf's criticism of the novel

Notes and Discussion Questions:

1. Ferndean

    She travels to Ferndean. What happens to the relative positions of Rochester and Jane?

    Consider the passage on p. 771 bottom. Compare this with the description of Rochester's blighted physical abilities: p. 774 -775.

    Their love remains, but how do they renegotiate their relationship? see page 779.

    How have their roles changed?

    What does Jane receive from Rochester that she did not from St. John?

    what does she gain by Rochester's infirmities?

    What does Rochester gain by Jane in marriage that he did not before?

    Why is this power important to Jane? Why is Rochester content to be led by Jane?

    The story ends with a gesture of happy-ever-after -- the ideal relationship; or is it? What must happen before the "Happy ending" can take place? How does this affect the story?

    How does Jane’s class status change when she inherits her uncle’s money? Why is this important to the narrative?

    How does the remarkable coincidence of the narrative undermine the happy ending? Could this happen or is this simply a romance?

    2. Discussion of Bertha/Jane

    Despite Woolf’s criticism of Jane Eyre, we must recognize that it is an important novel, for us in this class and in British Literature, and in women’s literature, for the ground it breaks and the themes it introduces.

    In its history of reception, it has been read in many legitimate ways. A good piece of literature bears repeated examination.

    One of the ways Jane Eyre has been read in the last twenty years is with an eye toward the represessed or suppressed in the text. In The Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar took the figure of Bertha Mason as the iconographic title for their groundbreaking feminist rereading of women’s literature in 1979. What they achieved was going back to the women writers and trying to tease out of their texts what might have been hidden from view or suppressed because of the very types of patriarchal control that Jane was subject to.

    This opened up a wide range of meanings, enabled in great part by psychological readings of sexual desire, the most charged and simultaneously the most dangerous expression for the woman writer.

    Nancy Armstrong follows this lead and is not alone in reading Jane Eyre and Bertha mason as two versions of the same desire.

    We agree that Jane is passionate – what examples do we have of her passion overtaking her reason? Is this “madness”? Examine Jane’s words on page 690. She calls herself mad when passion threatens to take her over.

    “Believing that Jane’s night of madness as a prisoner in the red-room links her to the madwoman, many readers do not see Jane as Rochester does. To him, she is the embodiment of every virtue that his monstrous wife lacks. But many readers see the two women as more or less sublimated versions of the same kind of sexual desire - an intense ambivalence toward traditional male-female relationships that has its source in Bronte herself.”

    She goes on to suggest that the disclosure of the madwoman changes our understanding of the narrative. We can see Rochester’s motivations for Jane in a wholly different light and we can see Jane as a mirror of these repressed and suppressed female desires in the figure of the madwoman.

    Listen to Rochester’s comparison on page 678; also note the description of Bertha’s character prior to onset of madness (contributing to madness) page 683.

    Is this her future; is this her past; is this what she really is now? Armstrong writes “I will simply claim that with the disclosure of the madwoman, a whole set of possibilities for reading female desire opens up within the world of writing so that we can never take sexual relations at face value again. They have to be understood as part of a suppressed personal history” (195). Rochester’s, Jane’s, Bertha’s.

    How does this affect our understanding of Jane and Rochester’s sexual union? (As husband and wife)? What does Bertha represent? What does her removal represent for Jane?

    And what happens to Bertha Mason Rochester?

    Here is our first mad-woman (one of the motifs that will be developed in later works). Is it just an accident that this figure is a native of the colonized islands? What does this suggest about her racial or ethnic difference from Rochester and Jane?

    Here is an interaction between a woman of color in the white-man's world. What is her story? What do we know about her?

    What role does she play in the narrative? What is her relationship to Jane? How are the characters alike? How are they different?

    What has race to do with these differences? How do racial stereotypes explain Bertha Mason and legitimate her removal from the text?

    3. Evaluate Woolf’s criticism of the novel

    We will begin by reviewing in discussion Woolf’s criticism of Jane Eyre.

    You have read both texts, and therefore you are able to judge for yourself the value of each. Offer explanations for the judgment that you reach.

    Read Woolf’s passage on Jane Eyre: 69 and then on 73. Evaluate the problems Woolf sees. What are her literary values?

    Discuss your evaluation of Jane Eyre in light of Woolf’s criticism. What are the literary values you look for?

    4. Midterm -- review

    Reminder: there will be a midterm exam on Tuesday. Bring pens. No notes. No books.

    For hints on taking the essay exam, please review the following: Linked to this website, you will find a Writing Worshop: Writing Good Answers to Essay Questions. Please review this before class. You should focus on the essay questions and answers dealing with Jane Eyre. We will discuss these in class.

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