Jane Eyre, The Feminist Tract"

In 1837 critic Robert Southey wrote to Charlotte Bronte,
"Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it
ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties,
the less leisure will she have for it, even as an accomplishment
and a recreation," (Gaskell 102). This opinion was not held by
only one person, but by many. Indeed, it is this attitude, one
that debases women and their abilities, to which Charlotte Bronte
responds with Jane Eyre. The purpose of Jane Eyre, not only the
novel, but also the character herself as a cultural heroine, is
to transform a primeval society, one which devalues women and
their contributions, into a nobler order of civilization (Craig
57). The effectiveness of Bronte's argument is due to both her
motivation and approach. Bronte found her motivation from the
experiences she had undergone while living in the Victorian era.
Her approach in advocating social reform is to establish Jane as
a model for readers. Readers are meant to examine Jane's life,
especially the manner in which she handles problems or
confrontations in her relationships, and to follow her example in
their own lives. Just as we see Jane as a model of a woman
successful in asserting her self-worth, we are also given a
warning about the possible outcome of failure to realize self-
worth in Bertha Rochester. This facet will also be discussed
briefly. Bronte uses the motivation of personal experiences to
create the life of Jane Eyre in which we see the quest for social
betterment through her relationships.
Bronte herself experienced the social limitations of the
nineteenth century. At this time "respectable women had few
options in life beyond marriage, education of children, and
domestic service," (Magill 747). She ventured to explore her own
literary abilities and wrote Jane Eyre, a novel which "served to
articulate the new sense of self that in Bronte's time was still
emerging and developing against the background of a changing
social order," (Schact 423). This novel not only proved the
capability of Charlotte Bronte, but also, through Jane, gives
readers hope as they view a young heroine who has a strong
desire and struggles for independence, and who thinks for herself
in a society which did not encourage this. Because of the
prejudices against women, she felt that any opportunity for
literary success would be stifled by her gender. For this reason
the first editions of Jane Eyre were published under the pen name
"Currer Bell." As we realize the barriers Bronte faced and had
to overcome, we see her motivation for the development of the
character, Jane Eyre, and for the publication of the novel.
"Throughout the novel," Craig asserts, "Jane ascends new
'gradations of glory,' for in every relationship or
confrontation, Jane emerges as the superior individual," (Craig
61). These "gradations of glory" assert Jane's value as a woman
and virtually depict the worth of all women. Although these
triumphs are not always immediate, Jane is always the ultimate
Even as a child, Jane is faced with relationships which
attempt to extinguish her sense of self-worth. One of the first
relationships we are introduced to is that of Jane with her Aunt
Reed. Aunt Reed's custom of excluding and confining Jane
underscore the sense of inferiority that Jane must deal with from
childhood throughout the majority of her life. This exclusion is
seen on the opening page of the novel as her cousins, "the said
Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mama in
the drawing-room... Me she had dispensed from joining the group,"
(Bronte 9).
Not only did she face adversity in the relationship she had
with her aunt, Jane also had to endure the unpunished cruelty of
her cousin John. Jane was "accustomed to John Reed's abuse," and
punished for defending herself once when John flung a book at
her, hitting her so hard she fell and cut her head. Jane
pitifully comments, "The cut bled, the pain was sharp; my terror
had passed its climax," (Bronte 13). Jane had to endure this
conflict for quite sometime, submitting, for she rarely resisted,
to the tyrannical relationship she had with both Mrs. Reed and
her "young master," John. (Bronte 14) Concerning her life with
the Reeds, Jane says, "I was a discord in Gateshead Hall; I was
like nobody there; I had nothing in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her
children, or her chosen vassalage," (Bronte 17).
However, Jane did not remain defeated permanently. Her
triumph over Aunt Reed comes after Mr. Brocklehurst has visited
Gateshead Hall. Aunt Reed had trodden severely on Jane by
telling the visitor of Jane's