[This is quite a good paper on Jane Eyre. I have a few criticisms, marked in blue, and some of the in-text references are missing, also marked in blue. Also, there is no list of works cited; I think the student sent it separately and I can't find it now!]

There is another student paper on Jane Eyre here.




Charlotte Brontë as a Protofeminist

     Jane Eyre is widely known as a pioneering feminist novel, but actually it is not. It is true that the main character of this novel, Jane has a feminist way of thinking but it is not really feminism in the sense that the word “feminism” - and many of the ideas we associate with it - only appeared in the late nineteenth century. Feminism as we understand it did not really exist in Brontë's time. What Charlotte Brontë expresses through the novel is a form of protofeminism of the kind advocated by Mary Wollstonecraft in the eighteenth century. The focus of this protofeminism is not so much on women's rights in general, or on their position in society, but on their right to an education. From this, we can say that Jane Eyre is not a feminist novel but a protofeminist novel and Brontë is also a protofeminist. The position of governess that [The introduction is rather too short. Examples of contrasting critical reactions to Brontë as a (proto)feminist would be useful background information, and ideally there should be a summary of the main arguments.]

     Mary Wollstonecraft is best known for the book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which was written in 1792. In this book, she struggles “between suggesting on the one hand that women need to be educated to perform their civic duty as rational wives and mothers and on the other hand that some women of the upper ranks might participate in aspects of professional life currently limited to men” (Carnell 13). The book was written at a time when the rights of men were becoming a very serious topic, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that “Man is born free and he is everywhere in chains” [reference]. Wollstonecraft supported his statement but she began to have doubts because the word “men” in his statement actually just meant men and did not include women. Rousseau’s view of women was that “they were to be kept in their place; they must never be free from the domination of their fathers and husbands; they were not to have opinions of their own” [reference]. Wollstonecraft protested against this statement through her book and said that women are not inferior to men and they only seemed so because they were denied an education. She insisted on the necessity and importance of women’s education and also said that women and men should be treated equally as rational beings.

    Like Wollstonecraft, Brontë insists on the necessity of the education of women. Her view about the education of women can be seen from the following passage in Jane Eyre:  


Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; …and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex. (12)

In this passage, Brontë says that if women have the ability to make puddings or knit stockings then they have good enough minds to be educated. She believes that women should have education as well as men. Also Brontë might be suggesting that not only normal education but also professional education is required for women. At that time, women's professional jobs were looked down on. For example, Brontë published Jane Eyre under the pen name “Currer Bell”. This was because, in the nineteenth century, critics automatically dismissed novels and poems written by women (Thormahlen). In such circumstances, being a governess, which Jane becomes in the novel, could be considered as an important step in the movement for women's education and women's rights. The appearance of this means of employment could be considered as a step for women to get out of the home (Peterson 8). In the novel, the beginning of Jane's success and her chance to achieve happiness seems to be from the time she becomes a governess. Being a governess, she goes to Thornfield and meets Rochester. It is certain that there are many difficulties opposing their love, but in the end they overcome them and Jane is able to attain the love which she has been searching for since she was a child. Brontë shows the figure of a governess like Jane who achieved success when the movement towards improving the status of governesses was about to be begin [reference / explanation needed]. This seems to suggest that the education of women, especially education for them to work professionally, is required. [This paragraph starts well but seems to drift off-topic. It seems to me there is an important point to be made about how being a governess would not be seen as any kind of symbol of equality between men and women, and even Jane herself calls it "a new servitude". It is a small step towards equality, but it does not represent equality in itself. In this sense, it is "protofeminism", rather than feminism.]

     At the time when Jane Eyre was written most people thought like Rousseau and there were even some people who thought women were a mere pet for their husbands (Hazari, Lethro, and Phuntsho 1). This means that women were thought of as not having individuality, hearts, or souls just as men have. Women were thought to be calm, gentle, and submissive, so a woman who has a passionate personality like Jane was shocking to the society of that period. In the novel, there is a part which readers can consider as Bronte’s protest against this way of thinking:

Do you think I am an automaton?a machine without feelings?...Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong, —I have as much soul as you! — and full as much heart! is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal, — as we are! (223; ch.23)

Through these words which Jane speaks against Rochester, Brontë is claiming that women have hearts and feelings just like men. [I'm not sure about this; she's accusing of not giving her proper consideration because she is poor and plain, not because she is a woman.] She is protesting against the male-dominated society. This can be connected to one of the statements of Wollstonecraft, that women and men should be treated as equally rational beings.   From these features of Jane Eyre, readers can see that Brontë's work anticipates the feminist movement of the later 19th century. At the time when she was writing feminism was still not established, but through the life of Jane Eyre Brontë encourages women to think about their status and opportunities, raising doubts about the values of her society. This novel must have given hope to, and been a voice for, women who were suffering discrimination and persecution.