At Gateshead, we get a clear view of the harsh treatment of females. Brocklehurst's cruel treatment of Jane foreshadows the male dominance that is to be exerted over her throughout the novel, however the way in which she stands up and defends herself against his question of where the “wicked” go after death,- “I must keep in good health, and not die” foreshadows the way in which she will defend herself against the men later on in the novel, and demonstrates her willpower to stand up for herself.
Linking in with the actions of Jane in the red room, we see how her character greatly opposes that of Rochesters wife, Bertha Mason, and how this applies to women in Victorian society. Bertha does not seem to apply to normal society- she appears too extreme in her actions. She parallels Jane's behaviour in the red room through rebellion and anger(described to have “bloodshot eyes” and a “demonic laugh”) however to a much larger scale. Bertha gives in to her intense feelings of passion, lust, anger and jealousy, whereas Jane represses them. If anything, Bertha is too “anti-Victorian”, she is free-spirited and challenges all social institutions placed upon her, therefore putting her in a very bad light in Victorian society. Females are supposed to be quiet, submissive, passive, and loyal to their husbands-like Jane-but Bertha is the opposite of a good Victorian woman and so is the direct opposite of Jane. Bertha is large in stature, outspoken, violent, and aggressive in pursuit of what she desires, as seen when Mr. Rochester first displays her as his wife for the first time: "the lunatic sprang and grappled his throat viciously, and laid her teeth to his cheek: they struggled....she was a big woman, in stature almost equalling her husband.....more than once she almost throttled him, athletic as he was". The contrast of the two characters essentially determine their future. Bertha, due to going against society to the absolute extreme, is locked up for life, whereas the less extroverted Jane, who decided to subdue her passion and retain her sanity, is “rewarded” a happy future with Rochester.
That is, however, not to say that Jane is a submissive character, who is accepting of everything and contains no rebellious traits. She is unlike Fanny Price- who suffers emotional mistreatment with no complaint and who is seldom assertive, though it is also apparent that her character does not reflect that of the rather wild Bertha, or Lucy Westenra in “the heroine of Bram Stocker's Dracula”.
We see Jane detach herself from the classic Victorian woman in her reactions to being given jewels by Rochester. She states that "the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation". This directly compares to Blanche Ingram, a character self-absorbed in her own image, appearing shallow and lacking any real substance. In Victorian times, beauty and purity were a vital part of getting a wealthy, respected and honourable husband. Victorian women were not meant to have opinions regarding political issues and were only to talk to about materialistic things such as; clothes, jewellery and other accessories. Blanche Ingram, unlike Jane, possessed all of these qualities and therefore “Most gentlemen would admire her.” This stands in sharp contrast to Jane, who prides herself on being fully independent from a man and not defining herself by the wealth and luxury Mr. Rochester offers her.
One of the most shocking parts of the novel at the time was Jane's rejection of men. The rejection of marriage makes Jane transcend into the idea of her being the “New Woman”, an idea created and one that evolved greatly by the end of the 19th Century, one that was strongly opposed at the time by Mrs. Lynne Linton, who complained that the so-called 'girl of the period' was too forward, too independent, and compared in a negative way to the more 'simple an genuine' girl of the past. The drastic change that Bronte puts forward in her creation of Jane as a character appears almost anarchical to those who hold Mrs. Linton's staunch 'anti sexually-liberal' view, a view that lasted up until 1901, when Queen Victoria died. However it is not completely certain that Jane is totally the “New Woman”, as R.B Martin points out, there are various factors which may suggest that she is only a slightly altered version of a Victorian woman. She can not, after all, reject morality- “I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man, I will hold to the principals”. She displays a high sense of morality, keeps God inside her and follow Him closely (as seen when she wondered across the Moors) and, as mentioned before, clearly pents up the fire and anger inside her and does not rebel completely.
The fact that she does 'break free' from Rochester does however suggest something that is very different about Jane compared to the average woman in the Victorian times. By running away from Rochester, she goes against the Victorian expectation that a woman should 'serve' their master,- to “live for others; to make complete abnegation of themselves”- as quoted from John Stuart Mill in 1869. Her rejection to become his mistress shows that Jane has obtained a certain, and rare, dignity, refusing to give in to her physical and emotional desires that would otherwise be seen as uncouth by society. It could be argued, that her return to Rochester was a symbol of defeat, desperation, and submission, however this can also be interpreted by the fact that it is possible that Jane realised that Rochester's love will free her and not imprison her(in comparison to Rivers), and in her individual quest to seek happiness through her own 'demands', it is Jane herself who chooses to return to Rochester, which symbolises her independence.
She too rejects St. John Rivers. Rivers himself admits to him not actually loving her, and he uses his religious views as an excuse to tempt her into marrying him. He attempts to make her feel guilty by saying that God would not be pleased with two people living together with "a divided allegiance”, stating that “it must be entire”. This gives us another insight into the Victorian times, and how it was seemingly the norm for men to be fully dominant over women and force them into unwanted marriages. He is essentially requesting ownership of Jane, and Jane, being the so-called “New Woman” that she is described to be, rejected him because she realised that the relationship would have brought her no happiness whatsoever, and did not wish to partake in a relationship that would have been loveless, and one in which she would have been treated like the object that so many women were in the Victorian period.
Other more minor characters also reflect the character of Jane. Mary and Diana Rivers appear to have a clear hunger for intellect, just like Jane does. In fact, when Diana tells Jane to not go to India, it is possible that Diana shares the same view on independence with Jane, but to a lesser extent. Bessie is another example of the classic Victorian woman that Jane is reluctant to follow- she never disobeys and 'knows her place'. She goes on to marry somebody of her own social class, but due to her lack of independence, she does not move 'up' the class system, unlike Jane who progresses from a teacher to governess to headmistress to eventually marrying somebody who, by the end of the novel, is seen as very much the same social class as Jane is.
To conclude, throughout the novel Jane shows a clear defiance of authority, a longing for independence and a rejection of the 'norm'. She formulates her own views about religion through the different people she meets (Helen, Brocklehurst and St.John) and also forms her own opinion about social class, as seen when she asks of Rochester to look beyond her social standing- “I have as much soul as you- and full as much heart”.The fact that Jane refuses to marry St.John, and at one point Rochester, shows that although she does not consider herself below them, she wishes to remain independent and dignified, free from their demands and desires. Regarded by many as a prime example of the “New Woman”, who goes against the Victorian stereotype of Jane Austen's Fanny Price, Jane maintains her strong sense of morality, and prioritises love and her own happiness over suiting the needs of somebody else, and her views on equality, her desire for freedom, and her unwillingness to sacrifice her beliefs and values to fit the social norm set her apart from the traditional model of a Victorian woman- “I would always rather be happy than dignified”.