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LIT 4386 British and American Literature
by Women

Class 9

Reading Assignment:

    Jane Eyre (468-784)
    POST #4 Group A

    Class Objectives:

  • To discuss the NOVEL
  • To introduce key themes in the Jane Eyre
  • To review sections on Gateshead, Lowood and the beginning of Thornfield

Notes and Discussion Questions:

1. Charlotte Bronte 1816-1855

Read the editor's introduction. It is especially lengthy and well-written, providing details on the moving biography of the author and its relationship to Jane Eyre.

This is the first novel we are reading this semester.

It is the only novel in the first section of the class, and as the longest and most complex work on this part of the syllabus, the work takes on added importance. It will be a large part of the exam.

Examine the form of the work.

What is a novel?

Why, when Virginia Woolf goes to the shelves of books in the library, does she nothing by novels by women?

What is the relationship between novels and women?

There are two types of novels that influence Jane Eyre

Domestic novel or romance - standard plot of heroine in hapless circumstances falls in love with grand hero, and the two for a variety of reasons cannot get together. In the end they marry - end of story.

Gothic novel - usually a hapless heroine falls into the hands of an evil monk who locks her away in a castle where she becomes a plucky survivor until rescued by the hero - who has been battling said evil monk in a variety of ways - and the hero and heroine marry. End of story.

The first parts of Jane Eyre offer a new sense of realism and social critique with its devastating expose of the cruelties of social inequality and the physical and moral oppression at the charity school.

When Jane arrives at Thornfield, the romance and the gothic take over. We will discuss these more on Wednesday.

This is a fictional account of a woman's coming of age:

19 October 1847 Jane Eyre: An Autobiography "edited by Currer Bell" was published in three volumes at thirty-one shillings, sixpence.

It was an "overnight success." For the novel she was paid £500, a princely sum for the day, and almost unheard of for the first novel.

The reviewers raved: "a remarkable production" a tale that "stands out boldly from the rest," "lose not a day in sending for it." Within three months the novel went into a second edition, and a third appeared in April 1848. The famous author of Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray, read it and was moved and pleased by it; he sent word by Bronte's editor of his appreciation for it. This prompted her to dedicate the second edition to him.

There were some notable criticisms of the novel, the most important for our purposes coming from Elizabeth Rigney (soon to become Lady Eastlake) in The Quarterly Review:

Jane Eyre is here described as "the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined spirit," exerting the moral strength of "a mere heathen mind which is a law unto itself." The novel is accused of being "pre-eminently an anti-Christian composition," guilty of "a murmuring against the comforts of the rich and against the privations of the poor, which, as far as each individual is concerned, is a murmuring against Godís appointment." [DLB p. 17 of 35 on-line Herbert Rosengarten.]

She feared it would foment rebellion, abroad and at home.

The novel has been recognized for its passion and its power in representing the subjectivity of the oppressed, and for that reason it continues to appeal - well, might Lady Eastlake objected to the representations of the classes in the novel. Sitting as she would, at the top of the social ladder, she would be reluctant to see things change. Jane Eyre embodies the position of the downtrodden, the exploited, the overlooked and ignored.

She is plain; she is poor; she is unprotected by family; she is a single woman.

So, what does the story of such an unpromising heroine have to tell us?

What are the lessons such a woman must learn?

What are the conflicts she will encounter?

What is success for her?

2. Gateshead

For the nineteeth-century female character in literature - but also in life - the domestic sphere is her primary domain. It is a feminine space, but it is nonetheless ruled by a male. (The effect of patriarchy.)

In Jane Eyre, the narrative can be easily divided by the homes that the main character occupies. [Interestingly enough, there is a space of two days when the main character is homeless and this represents a radical break in the plot of the romance.]

Although the home is a primarily feminine place where female members exceed in number the male inmates, each of these places is ruled by a male, both nominally and in varying degrees of material evidence. (This is all the more apparent given that their rule is obeyed REGARLDESS of their presence.)

Each of these places, Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield, Moor House and finally Ferndean, serves Jane in her growth and process of self-discovery, self-mastery and fulfillment of her needs. Her willful spirit and need for love encounters the patriarchal authority of each with different results.

Examine the opening passage.

What do learn about the character from the passage?

What do we learn about the form and style of the writing?

What happens when this character encounters the "authority" of Master Reed?

Examine her encounter in the event preceding her trial in the Red Room: Begin in the middle of 474 until top of 475.

How does John Reed characterize Jane? What does it mean to be dependent? How does a woman become not a dependent?

How does John Reed act toward Jane? What entitles him to do so? How does Jane react?

What is the outcome of this event?

The image of the family hearth from which Jane is excluded will recur throughout the novel - what are the implications of this particular image?

Note also the recurring image of confinement. Why is she confined? What does confinement suggest? Remember this in connection to later scenes of confinement.

Examine page 492-4: her last encounter with Mrs. Reed.

Discuss: What does Mrs. Reed do that irritates Jane? Is Jane's behavior toward Mrs. Reed acceptable for a child? For a dependent? Why or why not? What does Jane want that she does not get from Mrs. Reed?

What is the outcome of this event?

Pat Macpherson writes "For women, this moment of recognition of one's own authority to interpret one's own experience is almost inevitably transgressive, whether against female duty, propriety or nature. It has been unspeakable outside the language of feminism. For Jane, and many women, it is the beginning of all moral agency" (5).

3. Lowood

Examine p. 514: Mr. Bocklehurst's accusation of Jane.

What does Jane feel while being chastised wrongly? How does Helen Burn's empower her?

What is the outcome of this event?

What does Jane learn at Lowood? What does Helen Burns and Miss Temple teach her? What happens to these female characters?

Here Jane learns self-control without which "the female character is lost" (Macpherson). Why is it important for Jane or any woman to learn self-control? What is at stake? (reputation, livelihood, even sanity.)

Note that one of the central themes that develops in the novel is the dangerous power of emotion and the need to suppress them. Through the repression of emotion, the heroine begins to achieve autonomy.

4. Thornfield

Thornfield represents the place where Jane's passions are tested through by her sexual maturation - the awakening of sexual passion.

Examine: 544, Jane's discontent at Thornfield before Rochester arrives.

What does Jane want that she does not have? Has she learned anything from her past experiences? Has her situation changed at all?

Describe Jane's character at this point in the novel.

Note also that this is the beginning of the gothic romance section, complete with the creepy estate and the gloomy, mysterious landlord. Also the imagery shifts from realism to the description of symbols, preternatural signs, ghosts and visions.

Next time we will discuss the romance between Rochester and Jane and what happens at the end of Chapter 26.

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