Table of Contents
2. Definition of the Term 'Soap Opera'
2.1 Melodramatic Elements
2.2 Deus ex Machina Endings
2.3 Portrayal of Female Characters
3. Definition of the Term 'Feminist Novel'
3.1 Providing Role Models
3.2 Plausible Characters
3.3 Resisting Destruction
A wide range of labels has been attributed to Jane Eyre: gothic novel, Bildungsroman, love story, feminist novel, social novel and many more. I am going to take a closer look at the melodramatic, soap-operatic elements of the novel, analyse their function and contrast them to the feminist ideas that become apparent throughout the novel. First, I will define the terms “soap opera“ and “feminist novel“, point out several characteristics of these genres and demonstrate how they apply to Jane Eyre by testing them in the context of several text passages. Finally, I will show that Jane Eyre is neither a soap opera nor a feminist novel, but that the author uses elements of a soap opera to delude the readers and play with them, as well as to present her feminist views in a way that makes the readers ponder about them.
2. Definition of the Term “Soap Opera“
Defining “soap opera“ is not as easy as the trivial nature of the genre may suggest. To make it suitable for comparison with a 19th century novel, one has to move away from the TV context and focus on the characteristics that can also be applied to a novel of Brontë's time. Scientific discourse offers a lot of interesting definitions in academical writing, often with an inherent thesis, such as Michèle Mattelart's definition that claims a soap opera has a “twofold function: to promote the sale of household products, and to subsume the housewife in her role by offering her romantic gratification“ (Stempel Mumford 14). Others focus too much on the television background to be applicable. Because of this problem I will stick to the definition Merriam Webster's dictionary offers: “a serial drama […] chiefly characterized by tangled interpersonal situations and melodramatic or sentimental treatment. Also: something (as a novel) having such qualities (Seite aus Webster einfügen)“. I will also examine to what extent the characteristics (as described in 2.1-2.3) identified by Neal and Geraghty apply to Jane Eyre.
2.1 Melodramatic Elements
Merriam Webster's dictionary defines a melodrama as “having a sensational or theatrical quality“ (Webster Seitennummer!) There are in fact several scenes of „theatrical quality“ in Jane Eyre. One example is the proposal scene at Thornfield Hall. The way Mr. Rochester breaks the news to Jane about his forthcoming marriage to Blanche Ingram and the fact that Jane has to leave Thornfield the next day, is overly dramatic. He speaks of his feelings for Jane in an exaggerated way that does not match his usual sarcasm:
It is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. […] I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. (Brontë 237)
Mr. Rochester does this for a reason; he wants Jane to expose her feelings to him. Their conversation becomes increasingly theatrical, changing between feigned attempts to make Jane stay and to send her away:
'My bride! What bride? I have no bride!' 'But you will have.' 'Yes;- I will! - I will!' 'Then I must go: - you have said it yourself.' 'No: you must stay!'
But this soap opera scene is followed by a surprising outburst of Jane. She is not subordinate to him, instead she declares they – the governess and the rich, aristocartic employer - are both equal: “It is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if […] we stood at God's feet, equal, -as we are' (238). This startling belief of hers stands out among the melodramatic dialogue and is just one example of Brontë's craft. She guides the reader's imagination, painting a picture of a dramatic scene with two star-crossed lovers who have to part and then shocks the reader with an idea that is – considering the time it was written – quite new and radical: Equality regardless of gender, class and social rank.