Jane Eyre: The Importance of Feminism during the Victorian Era

Image Credit: Focus Features, 2011

Introduction: Throughout my time on LinkedIn during the last three to four months (at the time of originally writing this piece) I have focused primarily on writing articles concerning drama, theatre, folklore, as well as mental health. However, something that also deserves attention is feminism depicted through Charlotte Bronte's works during the Victorian era. About a year ago, I was asked the question, "is Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" actually believable?" So, what do I think? I would definitely say that the character Jane Eyre is believable and what the character stands for is quite significant.

Jane Eyre as a Major Literary Figure: Something to consider is that having Jane as the lead character of the 1847 novel (Jane Eyre), is a major factor in contributing to the common place female lead role. Although more common from the twenty-first century, Charlotte Bronte deliberately places the character of Jane as the lead role as a means of defiance against social expectations of the nineteenth century world. Personally, I am definitely more of a feminist than most other men I know. With that being said, the fact that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre has played a significant role for the increase in female lead characters; this is something we cannot take away from Bronte’s legacy.

In respect to the character Jane, her attitude towards life and nature is definitely believable. From the beginning to the end of the novel, Jane is consistently aware of her own self-worth and sense of personal values. From my perspective, the issue of self-worth operates as a model for real world society as a means of progression during this time period (Victorian and Gothic periods). During the Victorian period, women were unfortunately still viewed as somewhat “less” than men. However, the character of Jane is a primary example of the fact that women are completely capable of being strong-willed and independent. Looking at this in a more recent perspective, there was a large amount of women elected as representatives of the House of Commons during the 2019 Canadian elections. Prior to the novel Jane Eyre, something to consider is the representation of women in medieval romances. In the majority of medieval narratives, female characters are often portrayed as voiceless and “in need of saving”. Furthermore, female characters are often presented as needing to be saved by the most chivalric knights. Fortunately, closer to the fourteenth century this was no longer the way women were represented. Medieval romances such as Emarè play a significant role in establishing female agency.

From a realistic standpoint, these “maidens” did not really need saving at all. In other words, society failed to give women a voice as well as opportunity. As a result, the character of Jane juxtaposes this preconceived idea about women lacking agency that existed for far too long. From the novel, a good example of Jane’s agency is when she declares her love for Rochester. Jane makes the first move in their relationship, and that is such a large difference from women previously not having a voice in romance literature. Jane’s sense of agency proves that women have always been capable of exceeding social expectations, but lack of opportunity is what denied such social changes. From my perspective, Jane is most certainly a believable character. Throughout history women have been denied a voice and opportunity, and that is something that should have never happened in the first place. Fortunately, the feminist movement remains strong in the twenty-first century and I am proud to be a supporter.

©The Modernist Son

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