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In 1847, Charlotte Bronte published a Victorian novel called ‘Jane Eyre’ under a male pen name, Currer Bell. The reason for that was that in Victorian times women were criticised for being emotional, and that reflected in their writing work. It is interesting to explore how Charlotte Bronte makes the reader emphasise with Jane Eyre in the opening chapters of the novel.
Bronte does that by reflecting the settings on Jane’s emotional and mental state and by demonstrating that Jane’s values contrast favourably with those of a patriarchal household.
The novels opening sets out a cold miserable scene, which reflects on Jane’s mental and emotional state. The narrator says: We had been wandering indeed in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question.
Bronte uses adjectives such as leafless, cold, winter, sombre and penetrating to set the setting of coldness and loneliness. Bronte uses nouns such as; shrubbery, wind, clouds and rain to emphasise how cold and lonely it was.
The particular focus on loneliness is ‘leafless shrubbery’; it reflects a lonely shrub, which is left without its leaves. The book – Bewick’s History of British Birds, which Jane is reading shows great resemblance to Jane’s character.
‘They were does which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl’. Jane can be seen as the sea-fowl, because when she is at Gateshead Halls she shows a lot of fear towards John Reed. Jane resembles to the sea-fowl because she is a lonely, isolated girl, just like a sea-fowl is at sea.
When Jane says, ‘every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh on my bones shrank when he came near’ she again resembles to the sea-fowl. The dialogues in the novel influence the reader’s opinion about Jane. The way John Reed talks to her makes the reader emphasise with Jane. The first time the reader meets John he treats Jane like his servant. John says to Jane; ‘Say, “What do you want, Master Reed? “‘ was the answer. ‘I wasn’t you to come here’ and seating himself in an arm-chair, he intimidated by a gesture that u was to approach and stand before him.
When John tells Jane to refer to him as ‘Master’ we see that he has little too no respect for Jane at all. By demanding that she comes to him, Bronte shows to the reader how Jane is treated like a servant, which makes the reader sympathise with her. Bronte introduces John to the reader first, before Mrs Reed or his sisters, because he is the person that mistreats Jane the most. John even calls Jane a rat; ‘That is for your impudence in answering mama a while since,’ said he ‘and for you sneaking way of getting behind the curtains, and for the look you had in your eyes two minutes since, you rat!
It is almost John’s role in the family is to keep an eye on whatever Jane does wrong and punish her for it. He refers to her as a rat, which shows that she has the lowest status in the household. John is seen to be important within the Victorian household. Despite the fact that he is poorly behaved, his mother, sisters and servants treat him with the most respect. While Jane is locked in the red room, we are told that John is the dominate person in the house.
John, no one thwarted, much less punished; though he twisted the necks of the pigeons, killed the little pea-chicks, set the dogs at the sheep, stripped the hot-house vines of their fruit, and broke the buds of the choicest plants in the conservatory; he called his mother “old girl” too, sometimes, reviled he for her darker skin, similar to his own; bluntly disregarded her wishes; not unfrequently tore and spoiled her silk attire; and he was still “her own darling. ” Jane explains that she has committed as many crimes as John and he is not punished for it. Mrs.
Reed still loves him and calls him ‘her own darling’, despite him disrespecting her by calling her ‘old girl’, spoiling her clothes and more. When Georgina and Eliza call Mrs Reed, she immediately assumes that Jane has done something wrong and sends her to the red room, even though John was calling Jane a rat. The servants, Bessie and Abbot, also respect John more then the others. When they come down and see Jane and John fighting they respond with; “Dear! Dear! What a fury to fly at Master John! ” and “Did ever anybody see such a picture of passion! ” They also immediately side with John and shout at Jane for attacking him.
This is because at those times there was an idea that the eldest male (John) should be the dominant in a Victorian household. This relates back to Bronte’s assertion that ‘conventionality is not mortality’ just because something is done in a traditional way, does not mean that it is ethical. ‘self-righteousness is not religion’ just because you believe that you are good and others are evil does not mean that god would approve of your ways. Jane does not believe that just because John is the eldest male, he should be the most respected. Jane believes that she should be treated in the same way that John is.
Their likes and dislikes are contrasted to undermine the ides that the eldest male should be the dominant in the house. When Jane is sent to the red room and she is told that she should be ashamed of hitting her master, she does not understand how he is her master. She says: “Master! How is he my master? Am I a servant? ” the idea of ‘conventionality is not mortality’ and that ‘self-righteousness is not religion’ comes in again here, Jane is not allowed to treat John with disrespect because he is a male. The servants, Bessie and Abbot, understand Jane, but do not side with her at all.
They say: And you ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed, because Missis kindly allows you to be brought up with them. They will have a great deal of money, and you will have none: it is your place to be humble, and try to make yourself agreeable to them. Abbot explains to Jane her status in the household; they say that she is not equal to Mrs Reed’s children, and that she should be humble. The social divisions in the 19th centuries that the novel portrays are that it is not very important to be intelligent or sensitive, rather then being rich and male.
Your sex, wealth and social position defines how you will be treated in society. The more respectable people in society in those times were the rich men, and in some cases they didn’t have as much to offer as some women, or men that were in a lower social position then they were. Women in the 19th century were not valued as the men were because people thought that they are too emotional. Charlotte Bronte was forced to publish ‘Jane Eyre’ under a male pen name because her work would not have been appreciated if it was known that a woman wrote it.
Jane was forced to be hysterical when she thought she saw Mr Reed’s ghost, to reflect that women were emotional. Bronte tries to reflect a difference between what seems to be good and what is good, which would ensure that ‘external show’ is not mistaken for ‘sterling worth’. Jane doesn’t give up on her beliefs (sterling worth) though she is mistreated. In the mid-17th century the main theme of novels written was illicit love (forbidden love). The novel ‘Jane Eyre’ was informed by novels written in the mid-17th century because Jane falls in love with a married man, but doesn’t marry him until his wife dies, which is the illicit love.
In the 18th century novel were popular because the main characters were virtuous (morally good). ‘Jane Eyre’ was informed by such novels because she was also virtuous. ‘Novels of Sentiment’ were popular in the 18th century and such novels main characters were, virtuous because they were aware of their surrounding and had sympathetic hearts. In ‘Jane Eyre’ we see that Jane is also aware of here surroundings and has a sympathetic heart. In the 19th century many novels used landscaped to reflect the depth of their characters’ feelings.
This includes Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, her sister, Emily’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and others. In such novels pathetic fallacy is used to reflect on the characters feelings. The opening of Jane Eyre is a good example of this as Bronte opens with a rainy, cold day that reflects on how isolated and depressed Jane is. In the novel Bronte shows how the settings reflect on Jane’s mental and emotional state and how Jane’s values contrast with those of the patriarchal household. Bronte also shows that the women’s place within Victorian Ideology was low and that men were considered to be better.