“Some people are so touchy!”

Before I go any further, I must express my joy at finding an author who shares my concern for the plight of “those hapless creatures who suffer under the misfortune of good looks” (86).  I am pleased to observe that there are, through all the ages of mankind, men willing to–with pity in their hearts and compassion on their brows–attentively look to the needs of the unfortunate beauties of the world.

That said, I find myself wondering more about the men of Thackeray’s novel than the women. When Becky Sharp chooses to dream about a soldier, I applaud her bold and frank pursuit of marriage (56). “I don’t think, ladies, we have any right to blame her; for though the task of husband-hunting is generally…entrusted by young persons to their mammas, recollect that Miss Sharp had no kind parent to arrange these delicate matters for her” (19). For a woman like Becky Sharp to snag a man, she has to know what she wants. Indeed, this sort of aggression is necessary even for women with mammas. Amelia’s blissfully demure pursuit of Lt. George Osborne very nearly lost her the catch.

I wonder, however, how much of that blame is hers and how much Lt. Osborne’s. It is very easy to say that George is entirely unfair is his mistreatment of Amelia, but “don’t girls like a rake better than a milksop?” (96). It was these adventures that allowed George to become, “famous in field-sports, famous at a song, famous on parade….adored by the men…He could spar better than Knuckles; and was the best batter and bowler, out and out, of the regimental club. He rode his own horse…and won the Garrison cup at Quebec races” (93). He may not have been an especially attentive lover, but at least he was interesting. He was cruel, to be sure, but was this very cruelty not encouraged by Amelia who allowed George to see “a slave before him in that simple yielding faithful creature, and his soul within him thrilled secretly somehow at the knowledge of his power” (154).

Now, to be sure, I don’t want to defend the Lieutenant. He’s absolutely a scoundrel, but I’d like to know why he’s a scoundrel. His willingness to discard Amelia due to her lack of wealth is problematic, but no more than Becky Sharp’s willingness to wed Jos–a man who has no redeeming qualities aside from his wealth. And then, of course, his willingness to disobey his father in order wed Amelia surely must count in his favor.

Similarly, what makes Osborne any different from Captain Crawley? Crawley gambles (though he wins),  drinks, races, and is generally a rake. His wife even refers to his characters flaws affectionately, referring to him as a “naughty good-for-nothing man” (122). Of course, once he’s married he settles down: “that veteran rake, Rawdon Crawley, found himself converted into a very happy and submissive married man” (134). What do we make of this difference? Is Crawley a scoundrel reformed through the virtues of his wife? This is problematic as a.) it buys into a dangerous willingness to place responsibility firmly on women and b.) Becky Sharp may not be the most virtuous of influences.

So I don’t know what to do with Lt. Osborne. He’s absolutely a jerk, but I don’t see why he should be any worse than the rest of the characters. I think this may be Thackery’s true genius: the sympathetic characters are sympathetic because he makes them appear so, not because they truly are and vice versa. We are only told one side of the story, and different sides often tell entirely different stories–especially when dealing with love.

Vanity Fair’s Scheherazade


When the young Miss Sharp first makes her appearance on the stage of Vanity Fair our faithful narrator paints her a pernicious and impudent little wretch hurling the goodwill of Miss Jemima back out the departing carriage window at the unoffending schoolmistress.  No doubt Rebecca Sharp, or ‘Becky’ as she is affectionately known to her schoolmate Amelia, has her less flattering characteristics, lying, hypocrisy, jealousy, scheming, to name just a few, but it is also equally as evident that life has not always been kind to the young lady.

At the time of the novel Becky has recently been orphaned and given over to the care of the stuffy Miss Pinkerton.  As a result of her poverty, Becky is treated with no small amount of disdain at school as she explains to Amelia, “For two years I had only bad insults and outrage from her. I have been treated worse than any servant in the kitchen. I have never had a friend, or a kind word…”  (12). And indeed, the previous scene wherein both young ladies depart the school is marked by an outpouring of grief for the one and a general disinterest in the other. Yet school is not the only place where life has treated Becky unkindly; even when she was under the care and protection of her parents her life was troubled. The narrator tells us that Mr. Sharp was “a clever man, a pleasant companion, a careless student; with a great propensity for running into debt, and a partiality for the tavern. When he was drunk he used to beat his wife and daughter, and the next morning, with a headache, he used to rail at the world for its neglect of his genius” (12). Constantly in debt, Becky’s artist father marries a French opera-girl (which I think the reader is supposed to understand is euphemism for some sort of saucy dancer) who promptly dies in Becky’s early childhood and is then followed to the grave by Becky’s father.

With this chronology in place it is more difficult to fault Rebecca Sharp for her less than charming behavior, in fact once we learn more of Becky’s history it is clear to see that many of negative character traits can be seen to be borne of necessity in order to aide her in not only her survival, but her advancement. Once settled at Amelia’s house the narrator tells us that “our beloved but unprotected Rebecca determined to do her very best to secure the husband who was even more necessary for her than for her friend” (21).  And then the narrator tell us, in the manner of details revealed that are pertinent to the development of the story, that “She had a vivid imagination; she had, besides read the Arabian Nights and Guthrie’s Geography” (21).  It can be easily concluded then that the young girl has a familiarity with the storyteller’s ability to affect and improve her own fate.  We have seen that the young girl already has practice amusing her father and his friends with caricatures, dialogues and mimicry, why not put those talents to a more advantageous use, namely procuring a husband and a social position for herself?

To this ends, our Victorian Scheherazade tells stories of herself, her parentage, her peers and her elders to woo and charm several figures, each occupying King Shahryar’s position of power over the girl to weedle herself into more favourable positions. Becky’s ability to enchant her listener mirrors the Persian princess of the tale who saves her own life by wooing the paranoid King through the telling of tales.  Though we condemn Becky for her willful misleading of others, her ‘storytelling’, it is obvious that in a society that gives little thought or assistance to those without social or monetary connections this storytelling is as vital to sustaining Becky’s life as it was Scheherazade’s.


Aside: Dobbins is also revealed to have read and loved the tales told in Arabian Nights but I am less sure of the connection to draw here, except that these unloved kidlets are doing some serious escapism?

Thackery and the Art of Snark

One of the themes we have studied this semester has been the metanarrative feature of the narration, how the story is being told. In Vanity Fair, never has the narrator been more of an overt presence, even including the notorious Charles Reade. An interesting contrast occurs in chapter 8 of the novel, and I shall expound upon that.

Hitherto the narrator has been a third person, commenting upon the events as they transpire while dictating them to us. Thackeray seems to be the narrator, peppering the prose with allusions to current events, popular culture, and urban landmarks presumably to foster a rapport with the audience. It has the effect of hearing a story told by a friend or neighbor, with whom you can assume common knowledge of the immediate landscape, thus necessitating the copious footnotes on virtually every page. All well and good; I like that aspect of it since it gives me a feel for the psychology of the writer as well as his understanding of the populace’s aesthetic in consuming literature.

What I don’t appreciate is the commentary on the very circumstances the narrator (Thackeray) purports to communicate to us. For instance, I found it extremely hard to sympathize with the inimitable Miss Sharp as I read thanks to the cutting snarky remarks he layers over her character. Just before Ch. 8, Becky is in the new digs, Sir Pitt’s mansion, on the first night, and surveying the portraits in the room, she sees a fellow “in a red jacket like a soldier. When she went to sleep, Rebecca chose that one to dream about” (72). The implication here is that Becky is so mercenary and calculating in everything she does to the ends of social climbing that she even decides what would be most advantageous, and therefore more pleasant, to dream about; it’s slightly ridiculous to think that she can choose what her subconscious mind will kick up during her slumber.

Chapter 8 is all the more interesting since it offers direct insight into Becky’s character and mental cogitations, even if filtered through her letter to the witless Amelia. Becky is appropriately catty in places and denigrating of Pitts and Crawleys, but she never reveals the true mercenary nature that will stop at nothing to secure a husband and stability through riches. I hesitate to draw such sweeping conclusions from such a small sample (having not read the entire tome), but this section, coupled with the following conclusion to the chapter, makes me question Thackeray’s execution of the narrative and how much he relies upon commentary as opposed to illustration: telling instead of showing.

In the conclusion to Ch. 8 the narrator inserts the following: “But my kind reader will please to remember that these histories in their gaudy yellow covers, have ‘Vanity Fair’ for a title and that Vanity Fair is a very vain, wicked, foolish place, full of all sorts of humbugs and falseness and pretentions” (83). He continues, warning the reader what kind of story he’s telling and of what quality the characters are (84). This convention of reminding the readers that they’re reading a made-up story is certainly jarring, much more so than Stoker’s little asides or even Reade’s ham-fisted moralities. On the one hand, it is in keeping with Thackeray’s snarkiness, elbowing the reader with a wink, saying, “Get it?” after every joke. On the other hand, does it arouse questions about the very nature of literature as perceived by the Victorians? Did they enjoy having that overt acknowledgement of the artificiality of the proceedings? Or did they like to imagine that the person writing the tale really thinks himself as an actual person and not an invention of an author? Even in Jane Eyre and Mary Barton the narrator would step out of the recitation of events to address the reader directly; was this just a convention of the times or did it reflect the sensibility that Victorians wanted a more honest form of literature, one that admitted the contrivance of a storyteller telling a fictional tale?

Mason Jars Jane Fan

In light of Harris’ insights into inclusive and discursive criticism, I will begin my post by saying I very much liked and found myself agreeing with the argument forwarded in Chris R. Vanden Bossche’s article, “What Did Jane Eyre Do? Ideology, Agency and Class in the Novel.” Furthermore, it seemed to me as if Vanden Bossche approaches criticism from the same school of thought as Harris, namely, instead of attacking his fellow scholars and eviscerating their arguments by drawing attention to and then widening the holes in their argument, he acknowledged the value of each and attempted to bring disparate views of the novel together in a more comprehensive approach to the novel as a whole.

Vanden Bossche’s literature review gave the uninitiated reader a brief, yet helpful lay of the critical field, so to speak, by responding to several popular approaches to reading Jane Eyre.  From Armstrong and Kucich’s advocacy of Jane’s agency to Gilbert and Gubar’s questioning of feminine roles in the novel to Spivak and Kaplan’s expansion and response to 2G’s article, explaining the marginalization of the minority and 2G’s conflation of the female figure in the novel, Vanden Bossche responds briefly but conscientiously (taking into account the authorial intent, background and ultimate achievement individual article) to each. Having said this, (and maybe it’s just because I’m a tad too contrarian for my own good), I do not believe that Vanden Bossche gave the minority female enough attention

In his own argument Vanden Bossche asserts that in order for a novel or a character to be “as Bakhtin put it, ‘internally persuasive’’ its “discourse must incorporate, in order to supplant, opposing internally persuasive discourses” (48).  We see this incorporation of the opposing element, VB argues, in the way in which Jane works within class strictures, gender strictures and power strictures to achieve the revolution and reform she is ideologically forwarding from the inside out. And I do believe this is true for Jane’s situation. We see her affect change in her own life by playing by social, class and gender rules and roles to achieve her comparative independence as a teacher at Lowood School , a Governess at Thornfield, a teacher in the small country school under Rivers, and even independence (though it seems the wrong word for the context) in her marriage with Rochester. According to VB the novel “will be either subversive or reactionary depending on which markers of identity, field of experience, or discursive constitution one brings to bear on interpretation, and reception will similarly be divided depending on whether one focuses on Jane Eyre’s widespread popularity or its resistant readers” (54) again a valid statement, however can we view Jane as a repressive actor as well?

I believe Jane’s role in silencing the voice of Brenda Mason has too long gone unquestioned.  I understand VB’s amendment to Spivak and Kaplan’s post-colonialism fueled argument for a limited feminism that their view validates the author’s class experience. However, I am still deeply troubled that the view of feminism cannot be complete if one does not address Bertha Mason’s predicament. Bertha is female, minority, and mad, she is therefore triply marginalized and yet we do not make enough of Rochester or more troubling to me, Jane’s treatment of her. I wonder if VB would validate Jane’s support of a social norm such as neglecting and hiding the Bertha Mason’s of the world as merely the embracing of ideology in order to rework it from an internal position. If this is true, why do we not see proof of this at all? Jane does not attempt to correct, rebel against, or even address the social,economic and gender standards that dictate what Bertha’s life looks like in the nineteenth century, in fact when she is faced with the grim reality, she flees the scene.

I believe Vanden Bossche does a thoughtful and insightful reading of the text, as well as covers a great deal of critical ground in his own work. However, I believe that in order to cover so much ground he necessarily gives certain topics too short of shrift, Jane’s accessory to the crimes against Bertha Mason is one of those topics I would like to discuss further.

Becoming Jane

One concept that Gayatri Spivak explores in her essay “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism” is what she calls “soul making” (247). One way in which she uses this term is to describe the actions of Rochester (and others) toward Bertha Mason, or, in imperialistic terms, the actions of Britain toward the nations it colonizes, which, in the case of Jane Eyre, is Jamaica. Spivak considers the “soul making” of Bertha, the Other literally described as an animal, as Spivak points out, as a divine mandate, where she cites Rochester’s self-allowance to ignore his marriage to Bertha and his subsequent freedom to marry Jane (247). After citing the passage where Rochester explains to Jane the circumstances of his marriage to Bertha, Spivak continues by claiming, “It is the unquestioned ideology of imperialist axiomatics, then, that conditions Jane’s move from the counter-family set to the set of the family-in-law” (248). This is the very ideology which Spivak endeavors to subvert, instead conceiving of the “feminist individualism” inherent in her term “soul making,” specifically in the character Jane (248).

Spivak’s argument is provocative; but does it hold up to scrutiny in light of Jane Erye? I believe it does in part, with one variation. I believe the term self-making would be more apposite for Jane. Since Bertha is described as an animal, the term “soul making” makes sense for her. But with Jane, the narrative implies that she has a soul, yet an underdeveloped self. This bears out in the central transformation of Jane as an adult. After she had been attacked by Bertha on the eve of her wedding and has relayed the story to Rochester, he instructs her to sleep with Adéle for the evening, hoping that Bertha will not strike again. While sleeping with Adéle, Jane imagines Adéle metaphorically as her own departure from innocence when she states, “With little Adéle in my arms, I watched the slumber of childhood…She seemed the emblem of my past life” (373).

Her past life over, it is necessary for Jane to construct a new, cohesive self. She achieves this in her denial of Rochester, “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as now I am mad” (408). The above noted divine mandate that Rochester has alluded to just prior to this internal dialogue by Jane works to privilege this development of self making, which could further be described as her ego formation, evidences by Jane’s repetition of the first person pronoun “I.” Jane here announces her selfhood and distinguishes herself from Bertha.

It is fitting that Jane dreams that very evening of her childhood, the time before her self making, specifically the night she was locked in the red-room (410). In this dream the moon, a consistent and multifaceted image in Jane Eyre, speaks to Jane, affirming her self making and her decision to leave Thornfield. Jane does leave and her development in the novel is brilliant. Yet, Jane’s self making plays a role, at least in some degree, in Bertha’s suicide and Rochester’s injuries. These consequences leave the reader with many questions, one of which is: why does the structure of this society allow this to happen?

Sweet Big Fat Lies

Chris R. Vanden Bossche makes the observation that although Rochester rejects the prospect of marriage as kinship alliance with Blanch Ingram, he nevertheless tries to bedeck Jane with jewels and silk dresses to render her a wife befitting his social circle (60). Jane equates this with enslavement (in short). However, Jane overall seems to have an ambivalent attitude towards Rochester’s habit of putting her in certain diminutive roles. He liberally sprinkles his conversations with her with “elf,” “fairy”, “sprite,” and so on; Jane has no problem with this. Mrs. Fairfax notes that Rochester treats Jane as “a sort of pet of his” (263) which is, it may be argued, something she enjoys. Furthermore, let us not ignore the lies (sometimes of omission) he tells and the mind games Rochester plays with Jane – which signals (to this reader, at least…I know there are Edward Fairfax Rochester fangirls out there) either that Rochester believes Jane gullible and very likely to fall for his schemes, or that he does not deem her worthy of honesty and respect. It is almost as though it is Rochester’s mind games, including the very first meeting on the road, and the charade he puts on with the unwitting but nonetheless unworthy-of-sympathy Blanche Ingram – that makes him interesting to Jane (Jane rejects the morally upright and ascetic but somewhat dull St. John Rivers). Jane is perhaps not as accepting of Rochester’s dishonesty when the matter of Bertha is revealed, but there is a certain passivity in how Jane responds to much of Rochester’s behavior which I thought should have been inadmissible. I confess that I laugh out loud every time I read the scene (though it is supposed to be touching and tragic) in which Jane says she must leave Thornfield and Adele, part with Rochester and begin “a new existence among strange faces” and Rochester glosses over that with “Of course, I told you you should. I pass over the madness about parting from me” (300). That’s not cute! That’s overriding Jane’s resolve and her sorrow in having to do what she was about to do. Second-class citizen much?!

Even the fact that Rochester lets Jane think that Grace Poole had been the cause of the fire is something that should be a cause for concern. Since Rochester does not care about damaging the reputation of a long-serving employee to an outsider (if we consider Jane still an outsider at this point – and I’d say she is, just because she is so uninformed about so much of Rochester’s life), how much faith should Jane place in Rochester’s willingness to guard her moral reputation, when she is so often thought of as something so pet-like and undeserving of full dignity? It is not enough for Rochester to think that he can come clean with Jane later, just because she will be his wife and have ample opportunities to catch up with what has really happened. Rochester complains that he had been deceived and seduced into marrying Bertha without knowing of her true nature; it is inexcusable for him to be meting out the same treatment to Jane, who is equally unaware of his dark secrets. What is interesting, however, is that Jane forgives him “at the moment and on the spot” (295) when Rochester is found out – it is some kind of moral and societal consideration that prevents her from living with him, not the cooling of her love that  should, I maintain, come from being lied to. Without even going to the “Jane! Jane! Jane!” scene (which causes Jane to be yanked back to her master), there is already enough to show how enslaved she is. A dismal reading this may be, but it can be said that whatever is apparent of Jane’s resistance to enslavement is diminished by her propensity to be  enslaved in other aspects of her relationship with Rochester.


Plain Jane Speaks Out…Again

(Shamelessly stealing our colleague’s title! Thank you, Andy)

In his article, “What Did Jane Eyre Do? Ideology, Agency, Class and the Novel,” Chris R. Vanden Bossche, writes that the novel “invites analysis in terms of the repression model of ideology.” He differentiates between repression as a novelistic trope and the narrative as an act of repression (52). In thinking about the theme of repression in the novel, I cannot help but go back to one of my favorite quotations, in which Jane passionately declares her self-worth and equality:

Do you think I am an automaton?–a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!–I have as much soul as you,–and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;–it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,–as we are! (338).

Jane’s gumption and confidence allow her to fully express the strength of her feminine. She is “a free human being with an independent will” (338). Jane asserts her individuality outside of class and gender restrictions by invoking the reality of spiritual truth. She draws on biblical language and speaks of her “morsel of bread” and “living water”. She acknowledges her ordinary and poor status, but this does not diminish her sense of self because she understands that the customs and conventionalities of society do not define the truth of her being. She rejects the narrow restrictions imposed on her by Victorian culture by acknowledging a higher truth.

In responding to critics who argue that Jane is repressed by cultural norms to marry, I find her refusal to marry Mr. Rochester while he is married and her refusal to marry St. John out of love for another, as evidence of her freedom. Her decision to marry does not repress her or symbolize her submission to cultural norms, but brings her great happiness. At the conclusion of the novel, she writes: “I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest—blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine….All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character—perfect concord is the result” (554). Jane’s happiness and freedom is evident.



What Is It About That Man?

Moody. Demanding. Controlling. Oh, the appeal of Edward Rochester! Handsome, then? He must be handsome, then. Looks have been known to blind a woman or two to faults like his. Yet Jane answers promptly in the negative when Rochester requires her opinion in this matter. He is not generally affable, nor is his record in matters of love exactly a model to which younger generations ought to aspire.  So what is it about Rochester that Jane finds so very attractive?


If we turn to the critics – Bossche, for example – we might discuss Jane’s relationship with Rochester in terms of economic and social function. Does Jane, in the fashion of the Chartists, seek “social inclusion” and “economic autonomy” (Bossche 48) through marital union with Rochester? Moody and unattractive as he may be, he is wealthy and has status. Go, Jane, go?


I think not. While I do not deny that Jane Eyre, as a text, provokes a range of questions about “ideology, agency, and class” (Bosche 46), I think it is important not to neglect the profound simplicity of the fact that Jane Eyre, as a character, wants to know and be known, to love and be loved.  The attraction between Jane and Rochester is so strong because each knows and loves the very person – not merely the function of, the advantage of, or the body of – the other.


The nature of their relationship is seen most clearly when set in contrast to the relationship between Jane and St. John.  When St. John requests (demands) that Jane accompany him to India as his wife, he declares that she is “formed for labor not love” (466).  He views their potential marriage chiefly in terms functionality rather than intimacy.  He endeavors to gain Jane’s hand by assuring her that he will “set [her her] task from hour to hour” and that as “a conductress of Indian schools, and a helper among Indian woman, [her] assistance will be to [him] invaluable” (466-467).  Jane is very aware that St. John “will never love [her],” though he would “approve” of her, and she cannot accept the fact that if she were to marry St. John, she would “abandon half [herself]” (468).  She realizes that “[a]s his wife,” she would be “forced to keep the fire of [her] nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital” (472).  In other words, she would remain the caged bird that Rochester wants to see freed and soaring “cloud high.”


In contrast to St. John, Rochester cannot stand the idea of possessing a caged Jane, for he knows that a caged Jane is not the full Jane, the real Jane: “[I]t is you,” he declares, “spirit, with will and energy, and virtue and purity, that I want” (370).  Rochester knows that Jane is not “an automaton” or “a machine without feelings” (296) as St. John would have her be; he calls her a “resolute, wild, free thing” (370) whose intimate love he cannot capture as he could her body.


In contrast to St. John (and, I think, to the spirit of Bossche’s article), Rochester does not view Jane as a means to an economic or social end.  She is not merely a function.  He is in love with her person.  And that, for Jane, is attractive.


Works Cited

Bossche, Chris R. Vanden. “What Did Jane Eyre Do? Ideology, Agency, Class and the Novel.” Narrative. 13.1 (2005): 46-66.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2005. Print.

The Birds

Reading Jane Eyre this time around one recurring image stands out to me as curious and significant: birds. Throughout the novel, birds primarily appear as a metaphor for Jane and her (lack of) control. Several (male) characters describe her as different birds in various states, with all depictions perpetuating an image of weakness and vulnerability.  At the end, however, Jane claims this descriptor for herself, turning it toward Rochester, but curiously not flipping the implications as entirely as one would expect.

The first bird description we see is in chapter fourteen (pg 211). Here Rochester likens Jane to a bird caged by “Lowood constraint.” He tells her that she is afraid to smile, laugh, or move too freely in front of men and that he wishes to set her free from this unnatural state. Here, as he continues to through a majority of the narrative, Rochester asserts his will over Jane’s. Though his comparison seems harmless and perhaps vaguely complimentary (Jane the bird is described as “vivid,” “curious,” and capable of “soar[ing] cloud-high”), the underlying message is one of control. As Simpson argues, Rochester “subordinates Jane to the role of listener, rather than narrator” of her own story (par. 24). He claims a “narrative authority,” telling her who she is and what she is like, and proclaims that he will be the man to set her free—when he is the one who (with his words) placed her in the cage.

St. John, another male who continually asserts his authority over Jane, also likens Jane to a bird when she seeks shelter at the Moor House. He says to her, “my sisters, you see, have a pleasure in keeping you…as they would have a pleasure in keeping and cherishing a half-frozen bird” (443).  Just like Rochester, St John uses bird imagery to depict Jane as weak and vulnerable, and in this case pitiable as well. She is merely something to care for, not capable of providing for herself.

This image of Jane as a vulnerable bird surfaces yet again from the mouth of Rochester when he embraces her during his proposal. He implores, “Jane, be still; don’t struggle so, like a frantic bird that is rending its own plumage in its desperation” (338). Here Rochester is the actual cage belittling and restraining Jane. But she rejects his characterization saying, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.” She refuses to accept his definition of her as weak creature, thereby clearly asserting her independence.

Finally, at the end of the novel, Jane claims this ‘caged bird’ imagery for herself by ascribing it to the handicapped Rochester. She describes him as a “fettered wild-beast or bird” and a “caged eagle” (532). He no longer possesses undue control over her. However, although Jane has claimed this bird imagery, the resulting consequences are problematic. The expected subversion of power is not as clean as we would like because of the complexity of Jane’s relationship with Rochester. Though she now has independence, she doesn’t take complete control. Rather, she willingly gives power over to Rochester because of her love for him. She again describes herself as a bird, but this time as a sparrow, a “purveyor” for Rochester who is “a royal eagle, chained to a perch.” When he calls her his “Skylark,” it is a welcome term of endearment. Furthermore, while Rochester is now the one who is caged, Jane is willing to come to him. She doesn’t refuse to “perch” on his knee because as she says, “Why should I, 
when both he and I were happier near than apart?“ (541).  This reversal, and yet not quite reversal, of the bird trope exemplifies the complicated dynamics of Jane and Rochester’s relationship.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Canada: Broadview, 2004. Print.

Simpson, Vicky. “‘The eagerness of a listener quickens the tongue of a narrator’: Storytelling and Autobiography in Jane Eyre.” Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 4.3 (Winter 2008): n.p. Print.


Team Edward and Fifty Shades of Jane

I was tempted to write about Jane Eyre’s startlingly deferential attitude towards Mr. Edward Rochester, her “dear master,” but have since thought better of it (306). If she prefers “grimaces…a pinch on the arm…and a severe tweak of the ear” to tender caresses and kisses, that’s her business. She is a consenting adult whose “nature [is] to feel pleasure in  yielding to an authority,” who is kind of flattered and excited that her lover explicitly threatens violence if reason fails,  and who blesses him after the threat of murder and rape (243; 212; 222). I’m not especially into that kind of thing, but that’s no reason that Jane can’t be. The brooding and abusive lover is an immensely popular archetype, and it’s not my place to challenge it. If dark, brooding, gothic Thornfield with its dark, brooding, gothic master is exciting, then so be it.

My question, however, is why offer anything that isn’t Thornfield? The red room with Mrs. Reed is interesting and helps establish that Jane Eyre has certain psychological foibles, but it is not necessary for her to have this sort of Aunt. Jane could very easily be an orphan–the existence of family is needed only for the artificial inheritance that, late in the novel, undermines Jane’s efforts at independence. Lowton is important since it establishes Jane as a governess and introduces the faith/passion divide for young Miss Eyre, but it is clumsily handled in relation to the rest of the novel. Lowton was dismissed as an episode, rather than accepted as a valuable setting.

Moor’s Head could be entirely done without. Jane must have St. John–or is it Jacob?–to contrast with Edward (as an aside, it must say something culturally that she picks the brutish/hairy monster over the pale, marble, perfect marble that Bella chooses), but there is no reason that St. John could have been more naturally incorporated into Thornfield. If the mansion is to be the center, than let it remain the center. Let the other characters flow through it, let leaving be more significant than hopping from set piece to set piece. As it is, the time not spent at Thornfield feels largely wasted.