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Sexuality in Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre"

Seminar Paper 2005 15 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Sexuality in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
2.1 Charlotte Bronte – A Short Biography
2.2 Bertha Mason – “The Madwoman in the Attic”
2.3 Jane Eyre – “A Heterogeneous Thing”
2.4 Edward Rochester – “A Spiritual Transformation”

3. Conclusion

4. Sources

1. Introduction

Wherever you let your eye travel these days you come across sexuality and nakedness. Three beautiful women are nakedly smiling at you from a huge advertising poster for a solarium, in the advert break on TV a woman tears an attractive man’s clothes because she is mesmerized by his new scent, and in the phone book you can even find a voucher which guarantees you a bottle of champagne for free if you book a one hour-service in a certain brothel[1]. Sexuality, and along with it desire and lust are accepted that much that they indeed build the base for a huge manufacturing branch.

Of course, this has not always been the case. Sensuality and passion have been fought and punished in earlier times. During the Victorian era for example they have even been seen as dangerous and attacking the mental as well as the physical health. When in 1847 Charlotte Brontë’s successful novel Jane Eyre was published, it caused riot and rage because of how the topic “sexuality” was dealt with.

In this paper I am going to explain the Victorian beliefs and notions regarding this topic. Furthermore I am going to reveal the attitude of the characters Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester and Bertha Mason towards sexuality. Before though, I will give a short biography of Charlotte Brontë, to depict how her own attitude differed from the social conventions and expectations of her time.

2. Sexuality in Charlotte Brontë ’s Jane Eyre

2.1 Charlotte Brontë – A Short Biography

Charlotte Brontë was born in Yorkshire, England on April 21, 1816 as one of six children to Maria Branwell and Patrick Brontë[2]. Her mother died when Charlotte was only five years old and she grew up under the protection of her father and aunt, who sent her to the clergy daughters’ school at Cowan Bridge in August 1824[3]. After her two sisters Maria and Elizabeth died Charlotte was taken away from the school. A few years later she returned to school, now attending Roe Head, where she later became a teacher[4]. Afterwards, she also worked as a private governess in two families, but did not like it. Together with her sister Emily she went to Brussels to study at the “Pensionnat Heger” and fell in love with Mr. Heger, her professor[5]. She wrote love letters to him, a behaviour highly convicted in these times, but never got a response, because Mr. Heger was already married. In 1854, Charlotte married Reverend Arthur Nicholls although she did not love him. Before, she had already refused three proposals and thus acted against the conventions of society[6]. Still, only two years later, they married although Charlotte did not love Nicholls[7]. She died of pneumonia in 1850, while pregnant[8].

Charlotte Brontë is one of the most important writers of Victorian times and wrote several novels, most successful of all Jane Eyre. The book was published under the male pseudonym “Currer Bell” in 1847 to avoid the influence of the prejudices of society against female writers on the success of her work[9]. Jane Eyre contains many autobiographical elements, Charlotte Brontë though claims that the story does not tell her own life[10].

2.2 Bertha Mason – “The Madwoman In The Attic”

Bertha Mason is Edward Rochester’s wife, whom he married fifteen years ago and who has turned out to be mentally ill, a “maniac”[11], as Rochester calls her. When her sickness was detected she was shut up on the third storey of Thornfield Hall and has lived there for many years now, under the care of Grace Pool. Rochester did not tell anybody except Grace Poole about Bertha, but kept her hidden. Sometimes, when Mrs. Poole has drunk too much, Bertha manages to get out of her prison-like accommodation. She then attacks the people in her environment, including Jane and Rochester.

Bertha embodies female desire, which was seen as barbarian and dangerous in Victorian times. “[Women] as […] sexualised creature[s] [were seen as] liable to outbreaks of insanity”[12]. This point of view is depicted in Bertha becoming insane as soon as she gives in lust and passion. In being the daughter of a Creole and a colonial planter from Jamaica, and thus being neither English nor middle-class, Bertha also automatically lacks “civilized qualities”[13]. “Her mother […] was already an imprisoned lunatic”[14], and this negative genetic predisposition as well as Bertha’s untameable, “at once coarse and trite, perverse and imbecile, […] violent and unreasonable temper”[15] inevitably led to her depravity and madness[16]. “[She] is merely the full flowering of the flagrant, depraved sexuality which the upper-class male fears exists not only in the females of exotic races but also amongst the ranks of respectable English ladies”[17].

A certain “capacity for concealment was a fundamental pre-condition for a state of sanity, and civilized humanity”[18] in the eyes of the Victorian society. Bertha, though, is unable to hide her feelings or actions, which her lunacy “is in fact visible proof of”[19].

Furthermore, in Victorian times women were thought of as being “plagued by the generic functions of [their] female body [and] the sexual heat associated with menstrual flow”[20]. Thus, Bertha’s attacks only take place when the moon is blood red.

The closer their relationship is becoming, the heavier Bertha interferes with Jane’s life. During the first four months at Thornfield Hall, before she has even met Rochester, Jane often hears “a curious laugh – distinct, formal, mirthless, rising till it echoes through all the rooms”[21]. When she asks Mrs. Fairfax, whose laugh it were, she is told that it were the one of Grace Poole. As the governess and her employer are becoming more intimate, Bertha’s attacks begin[22].

The first assault takes place, after Jane has found out that she feels “at times as if [Rochester] were [her] relation rather than [her] master”[23]. Bertha secretly leaves her room and sets her husband’s bed on fire. The second assail happens in the night before Jane is called away to Gateshead[24]. Earlier that night she and Rochester have become more personal again after Jane has penetrated Rochester’s gipsy masquerade[25]. Bertha attacks her brother Richard who has come to visit her, and heavily wounds him. Rochester, who leaves to quickly get a doctor, asks Jane to take care of Richard Mason. Though more and more initiated into the mystery of Thornfield Hall Jane still believes Grace Poole to be the disturber. The night before Jane’s and Rochester’s wedding day, Bertha attacks for the third time. She sneaks into Jane’s room, puts on her wedding veil and then tears it. The scene culminates in a “face-to-face mirror confrontation”[26] between Bertha and Jane. They have finally become acquainted to each other.

[...]


[1] Volksfreund Druckerei, ed. Das Blaue Telefonbuch mit kompetentem Branchenteil. Trier Stadt. (Trier: Volksfreund Druckerei, 2004) 6th voucher page.

[2] Jane Eyre. 3 September 2005 http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/janeeyre.html.

[3] Maggie Berg, Jane Eyre: Portrait of a Life. (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987) xi.

[4] Jane Eyre. 3 September 2005 http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/janeeyre.html.

[5] Berg, xii.

[6] Pauline Nestor. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. (Melbourne: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992) 6.

[7] Jane Eyre. 3 September 2005 http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/janeeyre.html.

[8] Jane Eyre. 3 September 2005 http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/janeeyre.html.

[9] Jane Eyre. 3 September 2005 http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/janeeyre.html.

[10] Jane Eyre. 3 September 2005 http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/janeeyre.html.

[11] Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre. (London: Penguin Books, 1994) 298.

[12] Sally Shuttleworth. Charlotte Brontë and Victorian psychology. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996) 164.

[13] Pat Macpherson. Reflecting on Jane Eyre. (London: Routledge, 1989) 45.

[14] Macpherson, 12.

[15] Macpherson, 46.

[16] Macpherson, 12.

[17] Shuttleworth, 168.

[18] Shuttleworth, 165.

[19] Shuttleworth, 165.

[20] Shuttleworth, 166.

[21] Brontë, 108.

[22] Macpherson, 24.

[23] Brontë, 147.

[24] Macpherson, 28.

[25] Brontë, 201.

[26] Macpherson, 28.

Details

Pages
15
Year
2005
ISBN (eBook)
9783656003861
ISBN (Book)
9783656004127
File size
494 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v178399
Institution / College
University of Trier
Grade
2,7
Tags
sexuality charlotte brontë’s jane eyre

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Title: Sexuality in Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre"