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Charlotte Brontë presents several different images of women in Jane Eyre- discuss these with reference to contemporary social, historical and cultural influences on the role of women in society.

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Introduction

"A true lady is... sweet, delicate and refined... her sphere is to cheer, to refine, to beautify, to bless." Charlotte Bront� presents several different images of women in Jane Eyre- discuss these with reference to contemporary social, historical and cultural influences on the role of women in society. Jane Eyre is often called a feminist novel because in the story there are images of strong women who think for themselves, for example, Mary and Diana Rivers and Jane Eyre. It certainly does give images, which contradict the quote above given by Charles Day in his book, "Hints on Etiquette", which was published four years before Jane Eyre. I think that the novel Jane Eyre merely expresses Bront�'s beliefs that women are emotionally and spiritually equal to men (as Jane and Mr Rochester discuss when they are having the conversation by the chestnut tree) and does not call for political or legal equality in the way feminists do. Charlotte Bront�, a female novelist, wrote Jane Eyre in the nineteenth century. Bront� published her work under a male pseudonym, Currer Bell, because at the time it was not considered proper for a woman to work, let alone write. Her sisters Emily and Anne also published their novels (Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall) under male pseudonyms. The role of women in society at that time was more or less as Day's quote says. Joan Perkins said in her book, "Victorian England", that a popular image for women was "an angel in the house" and Paula Bartley said in her book, "The Changing Role Of Women 1815-1914" that a Victorian ideal of the perfectly educated woman was "a decorative, poised and empty-headed companion for a future husband." ...read more.

Middle

"Very, sir..." With Jane at the end of the novel Bront� presents an image of how she thinks a woman should be in a relationship of equality and honesty with her partner. Helen Burns and Miss Temple mostly conform to the Victorian ideal of the perfect woman. They cheer, they bring happiness and justice to the children at Lowood: Jane says she gains "some real affection" from Helen and Miss Temple. They refine, it is these two characters that make Jane a good Christian woman from a wild, unloved child. Jane says of Miss Temple "I had imbibed from her... more harmonious thoughts...better regulated feelings...I was content." They beautify just as Jane does at the end of the novel with an inner beauty: Jane says that Helen possesses "a beauty neither of fine colour nor long eyelash, nor pencilled brow, but of meaning, of movement, of radiance." They bless: they make the girls at Lowood holy and happy. We see this through how Jane changes. Helen Burns and Miss Temple are quite two-dimensional characters. They do not really have a bad side to them but are a portrait of how Bront� sees a perfect Christian woman. Miss Temple fits the Victorian ideal of women getting married but Helen dies before she is of marriageable age. The only way in which they do not fit Victorian ideals of a perfect woman is that they think intelligently for themselves and do not submit themselves completely to men: Miss Temple breaks the rules set by Mr Brocklehurst in chapter 7 when she is kind to the girls at Lowood. Charlotte Bront� is showing her view of when it is right for a woman to not obey a man- when obeying the man would be to do something unkind or unjust. ...read more.

Conclusion

In conclusion I can say that none of the characters in this novel truly fit the Victorian ideal of the perfect woman. They are either too intelligent and honest like Helen Burns and Miss Temple or too rude and arrogant like Blanche Ingram. Jane is too honest and outspoken and not physically beautiful enough. Bertha is nothing like a lady. The role of an upper class or middle class woman in society in Victorian England was as Day's quote says "to cheer, to refine, to beautify, to bless." A true lady also had to get married (an economic necessity as well as a social assumption) and bear her husband children. Charlotte Bront� herself tried to be a good Victorian lady. The image that we are given of her is of a woman who pursued a life of teaching, that being the only job acceptable for a middle class woman, even though she disliked it before finally writing her own novel and being famous and having success through another name, a male name. Charlotte Bront� wrote in a letter to Robert Southey about becoming a female writer the idea of which he distained "I have endeavoured...to observe all the duties a woman ought to fulfil...I don't always succeed, for sometimes when I am teaching or sewing, I would rather be reading and writing; but I try to deny myself." Bront� married one year before her death fulfilling another part of the image of the Victorian woman. Bront�'s female characters explore a spectrum of behaviours and she is interested in analysing the good and bad qualities in each. However, Charlotte Bront� is not focusing upon society's ideals. She is much more interested in whether her characters conform to her image of godliness and goodness in order to fulfil Christian ideals. Imogen Hagarty 1 ...read more.

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