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Concepts of love and marriage in 'Jane Eyre'

Term Paper 2000 13 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature

Excerpt

Table of contents

I Introduction
I.1. The female role in the Victorian era
I.2. Brontë´s scepticism about Victorian marriage

II Concepts of love and marriage in Jane Eyre
II.1. The unconventional position of Mr Rochester
II.2. The divine mission of St John Rivers
II.3. The conflict between passion and duty
II.3.1. Jane Eyre´s search for identity
II.3.2. Jane´s difficulties with Rochester
II.3.3. Jane´s power struggle with St John
II.4. The solution to Jane´s inner conflict

III Evaluation
III.1. Brontë´s new definition of male-female relationships
III.2. The incompleteness of Brontë´s concepts

Bibliography

I. Introduction

In the novel Jane Eyre, which was first published in 1847, Charlotte Brontë discusses various problems concerning marriage, which especially affect the woman and she unfolds her idealistic picture of marriage. This work will concentrate on Jane Eyre´s conflicting relationships with the two male protagonists, which raise important issues of the marriage debate such as the double standard of morality, divorce and the rights of the married woman. The solution to the conflicts and the basis of a harmonious male-female relationship which are offered in the novel will be examined and subsequently evaluated.

But before I can embark on the study of concepts of love and marriage in Jane Eyre,

it is useful to have some background information about the author and her time, which will make it easier to understand the problems discussed in the novel. Therefore, I am going to begin with a very brief outline of the situation women were in in the Victorian era and of Brontë´s attitude towards marriage.

I.1. The female role in the Victorian era

Victorian times are mainly associated with a male-dominated, prudish society in which women had no rights. In fact, Victorian law laid down the woman´s dependency on her father and on her husband. All a woman´s rights, including those over her body, possessions and offspring, were transferred from her father to her new husband at the wedding ( cf: Rublack 1985: 68 ). A woman on her own was nothing and was only defined by her father or husband: “The term `married woman´ indicated a woman who had no existence in common law apart from her husband” ( Rublack 1985: 68 ). In spite of being a dependent and passive creature, a woman was also regarded as pure, innocent and good – and therefore as the model of morality for men. With these angelic attributes it was her duty to be an obedient and caring wife. The husband, who worked hard in a rough world, needed peace and comfort at home. As a woman´s sole concern was meant to be ensuring her husband´s well-being, the thought of a woman taking up employment was despised. Female occupation in the fields of art, literature, teaching and entertainment was at least tolerated.

I.2. Brontë´s scepticism about Victorian marriage

Charlotte Brontë could not really identify with the female role of her period. Through the voice of Jane Eyre, she criticises some aspects of this role. One of these aspects is her strong belief in a woman´s need to work:

Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties [...] and it is narrow-minded [...] to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings (111).

Being a governess and an author herself, Brontë denied society´s view that the only female vocation was the mere housewife. She herself feared such a restriction before her own wedding with Arthur Bell Nichols: “But those duties are not everything and I cannot conceal from myself that he is not intellectual; [...] it might be dull” ( in Gordon 1995: 303 ). Consequently, Brontë shared with other women writers an “increasing skepticism about the satisfactions marriage could offer women” ( Miller 1982: 21 ). She strongly disapproved of the unequal distribution of rights in marriage. In her eyes independence and autonomy were preconditions to finding fulfilment in a relationship. Accordingly, female independence plays a pivotal role in Jane Eyre. Rochester expresses Jane´s attitude in words: “I can live alone, if self-respect and circumstances require me so to do. [...] I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive” (200). A further aspect of criticism, which can also be found in Jane Eyre, is the absence of love – as a marriage of convenience was no rarity in those days:

I have not yet said anything condemnatory of Mr Rochester´s project of marrying for interest and connexions. [...] [W]ere I a gentleman like him I would take to my bosom only such a wife as I could love” (186).

Brontë believed that love and marriage were inseparable. Thus, Brontë´s idea of marriage differed in many ways from the Victorian ideal.

II. Concepts of love and marriage in Jane Eyre

Brontë´s dissatisfaction with the role of women in marriage seems incompatible with the denouement she offers in Jane Eyre. The protagonist finds perfect happiness in marriage:

I have now been married ten years. [...] No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward´s society: He knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together (446).

It is not marriage itself, which Brontë questions in her novel, but the patriarchal character of marriage in her time. By confronting Jane Eyre with various problems related to marriage, Brontë discusses Victorian values and principles and presents her ideas of marriage, in which both partners can find contentment. In doing so, she highlights the conflict between “passion” and “duty”. These two dimensions are personified by the two male protagonists Edward Rochester (passion) and St John Rivers (duty), who will be discussed in more detail in the following sections.

II.1. The unconventional position of Mr Rochester

Edward Fairfax Rochester – “proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description” (148) – is no knight in shining armour. However, he is free of rigid social conventions, which enables him to see and admire Jane Eyre as an extraordinary woman. Although she comes from a lower class and lacks beauty, he loves her and wants to marry her. Yet, Rochester acts according to the Victorian view that a woman is her husband´s possession. Due to his pride and self-preoccupation, he claims all her attention for himself: “I am to take mademoiselle to the moon, and there I shall seek a cave [...] and mademoiselle shall live with me there, and only me” (265). Rochester often refers to a fantasy world when talking about Jane – his “fairy” or “elf” (257) – and about their future. To complete his picture of being in a fairy-tale, he intends to heap her with jewellery and elaborate dresses. Besides, he wants her to give up her “governessing slavery” (268). In the real world, however, a Mrs Rochester (Bertha) already exists. Rochester´s personal morality allows him the “companionship” of mistresses and even bigamy.

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Details

Pages
13
Year
2000
ISBN (eBook)
9783638317467
ISBN (Book)
9783656567974
File size
531 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v30494
Institution / College
University of Cologne
Grade
1,0 (A)
Tags
Concepts Jane Eyre

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Title: Concepts of love and marriage in 'Jane Eyre'