How substantial is Jane Eyre as a detailing of the position of women in nineteenth century Victorian England?
The aim of this paper is to discuss the status of women in nineteenth century Victorian England as depicted in Charlotte Bronte’s most renowned novel, Jane Eyre, published in 1847. In this essay first I would like to explain the subordinate status women experienced during that era with reference to the female characters that we come across in the novel. Secondly I will discuss how this male domination restricted women’s autonomy of speech and thought and then briefly present the attitude the society the then maintained about women in general in Bronte’s point of view.
Nineteenth century Victorian England was a male-centered era where women had no rights. In fact, “Victorian law laid down the woman’s dependency on her father and on her husband.” If both the father and the husband were dead then she had to obey her sons. However, the principle female character that comes in the novel, Jane Eyre is an orphan and her maternal uncle John Reed who was supposed to be her guardian is also dead and hence, she is left with his wife, Mrs. Reed and her wicked children as a dependent in that family.
Jane is controlled and dominated by different male characters at different phases of her life. At the age of ten Jane is dominated and controlled by her fourteen year old cousin, John Reed. Mrs. Reed, John’s mother does not try to save Jane from his son’s harassments nor accuse his son for his cruelty. As Bronte emphasizes she ignores her son’s cruelty to Jane not simply because she dislikes her but also as a widow she might not have had the courage to stand against her son, the only male figure that she is left with in her life. After leaving Gateshead-hall Jane expects to find some freedom in her life but soon she finds her life at Lowood Institution also an irksome struggle because of unnecessary rules appointed on the girls by its master, Mr. Broclehurst. The degree of male domination over females during this period is further illustrated through Mr.Broclehurst’s command to cut off entirely the naturally curled hair of a particular girl of the school called Julia while his own young daughters are fashionably dressed with hair elaborately curled.
“Naturally! Yes, but we are not to conform to nature. I wish these girls to be the children of Grace: and why that abundance? .Miss Temple, that girl’s hair must be cut off entirely”
“The two younger of the trio (fine girls of sixteen and seventeen) had grey beaver hats, then in fashion, shaded with ostrich plums, and from under the brim of this graceful head- dress feel a profusion of light tresses, elaborately curled; the elder lady was enveloped in a costly velvet shawl, trimmed with ermine, and she wore a false front of French curls”
Bronte’s description about Mr.Broclehurst’s fashionably dressed daughters implies that women who belonged to the upper ranks of the society in Victorian era enjoyed much independence compared to those who belonged to the lower class. This can be further justified through Jane Eyre who is unfairly subjected to oppression and exploitation by men due to her lack of a family and status. For instance, she is subjected to John Reeds harassments because at Gateshead-hall, she is considered no less different to an orphan who lives out of Uncle Reed’s property. She continues to be treated in a similar manner by Mr. Broclehurst at Lowood Institution because there also belongs to the other lot of charity children who live out of wealthy people’s money. Even Mr. Rochester tries to dominate her and conceal from her, the truth about his insane wife with the objective of keeping Jane as his mistress because he knows Jane has nowhere to go but, being the governess of Adela at Thornfield is the only option she has to secure herself financially.
 Barbara Groß-Langenhoff , 2000, Concepts of love and marriage in Jane Eyre, Munich, GRIN Publishing GmbH, http://www.grin.com/en/e-book/30494/concepts-of-love-and-marriage-in-jane-eyre