Whilst the Victorian era saw Britain becoming the epitome of power and wealth, the status of women was a perfect example of the discrepancy between this and the appalling social conditions. Women were expected to remain pure and clean, and were expected to be treated as if they were holy yet had limited rights which meant that they could not vote, hold a job that wasn’t teaching or own property. It was also believed that women should not be educated to the levels that men were.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said “Women exist in the main solely for the propagation of the species. These somewhat misogynistic words perhaps highlight the opinions that were held about women during the Victorian period. However, despite the barriers put up for women, the number of female writers increased greatly. The catch was that in order to be taken seriously, they had to write under male aliases.
This includes Charlotte Bronte , who wrote Jane Eyre as Currer Bell and Mary Ann Evans who wrote Middlemarch as George Eliot two of the novels that we will be talking about. Jane Eyre
Jane feels exiled and ostracized at the beginning of the novel, and the cruel treatment she receives from her Aunt Reed and her cousins only increases her feeling of alienation. Charlotte Bronte may have created the character of Jane Eyre as a means of coming to terms with elements of her own life. Jane voices the Bronte ‘s opinions on religion, social class, and gender that were seen as radical in the Victorian era.
Jane Eyre could be seen as an earlier example of a feminist- similar to the Suffragists that came to prominence later on in the Victorian era since they held similar ideologies.
Helen Burn serves as a foil to Jane- much like Isabella Linton did to Catherine. She is often self-negating despite her intellectual maturity Unlike Jane she believes that the best way to tackle the injustice of society, as seen by the treatment of the girls at Lowood, is by having faith in God’s judgement. She believes that God will be the ones to punish the evil. Somewhat representative of the religious morality that still remained in the rural areas, unlike the cities of the Victorian era where debauchery was rampant.
Jane is different to her in the sense that she doesn’t hold such blind faith- she wants to find happiness and love in this world, though she does count on the support of God. Conclusion One can see that in Victorian literature there were perhaps two distinct types of women portrayed. There were the conventional characters such as Helen Burns and Isabella Linton who represented the archetypal Victorian woman to some extent. The conventional characters often displayed qualities such as refinement and a desire to obtain a high social status.
Other conventional characters represented women lower down the social hierarchy and tended to be blindly religious and believe in purity and chastity. These characters tended to act as foils, however, to the unconventional figures of focus such as Jane Eyre or Catherine Earnshaw. These characters were often rebellious and made it their aim to break down the barriers that blocked the development of women as independent members of society. These characters were defiant in their aims- be it love, the resolving of injustices or simply the desire to be free from the prison that was Victorian society.