The English
Meaning and Characteristics
Of the Realist
The linear flow of narrative
The unity and coherence of plot and character
and the cause and effect development thereof
The moral and philosophical meaning of
literary action
The advocation of bourgeois rationality
Rational, public, objective discourse
The Realist novel of the nineteenth century
was written in opposition to the Romance of
medieaval times
Represantation of “real life” experiences and
characters versus ideal love, ideal moral codes
ideal characters (nobility), and fixed social
values ,
The novel a lengthy ficticious narrative
representig life-like characters and action.
George Eliot’s Midllemarch is agreat
milestone in the realist tradition.
The novel has a strong tradition in English literature. In Great
Britain, it can trace its roots back to Daniel Defoe's Robinson
Crusoe in 1719 (Kroll 23). Since then, the British novel has
grown in popularity. It was especially popular in Victorian
England. The type of novel that was particularly popular in
Victorian England was the novel of youth.
Many authors of the time were producing works focused on
the journey from childhood to adulthood: Charlotte Bronte
wrote Jane Eyre, George Eliot wrote The Mill on the Floss,
and Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield and Great
Expectations. All of these novels trace the growth of a child. In
this respect, some of the most popular novels of the nineteenth
century were part of the genre called the Bildungsroman.
In the simplest sense of the word, a Bildungsroman is a novel
of the development of a young man (or in some cases a young
woman). In fact, the Webster's College Dictionary definition
of Bildungsroman is "a novel dealing with the education and
development of its protagonist". The Bildungsroman as a
genre has its roots in Germany. Jerome Buckley notes that the
word itself is German, with Bildung having a variety of
connotations: "portrait," "picture," "shaping" and "formation,"
all of which give the sense of development or creation (the
development of the child can also be seen as the creation of the
man) (13-14). Roman simply means "novel."
The term Bildungsroman emerged as a description of Goethe's
novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. This was the first
Bildungsroman, having been published between 1794 and
1796 (Buckley 9). The word "lehrjahre" can be translated as
"Apprenticeship" has many connotations, most of which deal
with education and work. An apprentice goes to work for an
experienced worker and learns and develops his trade and also
to a greater extent his identity. Similarly, the Bildungsroman is
characterized by the growth, education, and development of a
character both in the world and ultimately within himself.
The Bildungsroman is subcategorized into very
specific types of the genre, most often found in
German literature. There is the Entwicklungsroman,
which can be defined as "a chronicle of a young
man's general growth rather than his specific quest for
self-culture" . In other words, a story recounting a
man's life rather than focusing on the inner changes
that contribute to his maturity.
Another form within German literature is the
Erziehungsroman; this form is primarily concerned
with the protagonist's actual educational process .
The root Kunstler translates as artist in
English. Therefore, this is the development of
the artist from childhood until his artistic
maturity, focusing on the man as artist rather
than the man in general. Dickens' David
Copperfield and James Joyce's A Portrait of
the Artist as a Young Man are both examples
of English Kunstlerroman, as the protagonists
of both books are writers.
According to Buckley in his book Seasons of
Youth, the Bildungsroman in English literature
is "in its broadest sense . . . a convenient
synonym for the novel of youth or
apprenticeship" (13).
The English Bildungsroman vary from novel
to novel. However, they have many aspects in
common, all of which are important to the
development of the protagonist.
Part of the development of the child is the desire, as mentioned
earlier, to leave home and become "his own man." Both the
search for identity and the repression of the small town present
motivation for the protagonist to do just that, and often his
destination is London. He also travels to London to find his
trade or occupation. This is most appropriate for the English
After all, London is the largest, most cosmopolitan city in
England and therefore presents the most opportunities for the
now adolescent child to continue his development, education,
and ultimately find his niche within society through his chosen
occupation. Buckley points out that this journey is "more
importantly . . . his direct experience of urban life".
However, this urban experience is not always a
pleasant one. However poor the child may have been
in his provincial town, there is urban squalor and
abject poverty in London, a harsh reality to bear. In
this case, London, although it seems like some perfect
destination, full of opportunity, is the source of
"disenchantment more alarming and decisive than any
dissatisfaction with the narrowness of provincial life"
(Buckley 20). Therefore, despite the hero's image of
the shining city of hopes and dreams, it is
disappointing, and not so much better than the life he
had at home.
An aspect of this new life in the city is that of love. It
is usually here that the hero has his first experience
with love. Buckley writes that there are "at least two
love affairs or sexual encounters, one debasing, one
exalting" (17).
Usually, between the debasement of the one love
affair and the disillusionment with the city, the young
man takes the final step in his development. He must
reconcile "after painful soul-searching, the sort of
accommodation to the modern world he can honestly
In other words the inner development and
maturity of the protagonist takes place after his
"education" in the city. It is this newfound
self-knowledge that signals the ultimate
maturity of the hero. With this maturity of
course comes success, and often the
protagonist marries, a recognition of
acceptance and maturity; now that he knows
himself he can share his life with someone
Even if the protagonist does not get married, he returns home
to share his successes with his family or fellow townspeople
Clearly, this is a display of pride in his accomplishments, and
more importantly a search for external validation, however
ironic it may be that he must return to the place he wanted so
desperately to escape to achieve this validation.
It is with this return home, where the reader is reminded of
who the protagonist was and where he came from, that his
development can most clearly be delineated. Although he has
come full circle, the memories of the boy that was are
perfectly suited to emphasize the man that he has become.
Obviously, this is a basic definition of the English
Bildungsroman. There are variations within the genre,
and one or more elements may be left out of a
particular novel (Buckley 18). However, the basic
principles of education and development, and the
journey from childhood to adulthood, from small to
large, are present within every English
It is these differences precisely that make each novel
its own story. After all, even though every person's
story is different, they must all go through stages of
development in order to reach maturity and find their
personal niche within the larger world.
The basic formula of the Bildungsroman
is universal and especially appropriate to
the growing world of the Victorian age
where the kind of opportunities presented
to the hero of the Bildungsroman echoed
the actual experiences of those growing
up in that era.
The Victorian Period
The Romantic Period: began in 1798
It ended in one of the following years:
1837--Victoria becomes Queen
1850 -- Death of William Wordsworth
The Victorian period: ended 1901
For much of this century the term Victorian,
which literally describes things and events
(roughly) in the reign of Queen Victoria,
conveyed connotations of "prudish,"
"repressed," and "old fashioned.“
Although such associations have some basis
in fact, they do not adequately indicate the
nature of this complex, paradoxical age that
saw great expansion of wealth, power, and
In science and technology, the Victorians
invented the modern idea of invention -- the
notion that one can create solutions to
problems, that man can create new means of
bettering himself and his environment.
In religion, the Victorians experienced a great
age of doubt, the first that called into question
institutional Christianity on such a large scale.
In literature and the other arts, the Victorians
attempted to combine Romantic emphases
upon self, emotion, and imagination with
Neoclassical ones upon the public role of art
and a corollary responsibility of the artist.
In ideology, politics, and society, the
Victorians created astonishing innovation and
change: democracy, feminism, unionization of
workers, socialism, Marxism, and other
modern movements took form
In fact, this age of Darwin, Marx, and Freud
appears to be not only the first that
experienced modern problems but also the first
that attempted modern solutions.
Victorian, in other words, can be taken to
mean parent of the modern -- and like most
powerful parents, it provoked a powerful
reaction against itself.
The Victorian age was not one, not single,
simple, or unified, only in part because
Victoria's reign lasted so long that it comprised
several periods. Above all, it was an age of
paradox and power.
The Catholicism of the Oxford Movement, the
Evangelical movement, the spread of the
Broad Church, and the rise of Utilitarianism,
Darwinism, and scientific Agnosticism, were
all in their own ways characteristically
The prophetic writings of Carlyle and Ruskin,
the criticism of Arnold, and the empirical
prose of Darwin and Huxley; as were the
fantasy of George MacDonald and the realism
of George Eliot and George Bernard Shaw.
More than anything else what makes
Victorians Victorian is their sense of social
The poet Matthew Arnold refused to reprint
his poem "Empedocles on Etna," in which the
Greek philosopher throws himself into the
volcano, because it set a bad example; and he
criticized an Anglican bishop who pointed out
mathematical inconsistencies in the Bible not
on the grounds that he was wrong, but that for
a bishop to point these things out to the general
public was irresponsible.
The Victorian Age was characterised by rapid
change and developments in nearly every sphere from advances in medical, scientific and
technological knowledge to changes in population
growth and location
Over time, this rapid transformation deeply
affected the country's mood: an age that began
with a confidence and optimism leading to
economic boom and prosperity eventually gave
way to uncertainty and doubt regarding Britain's
place in the world.
Born on 24 May 1819.
On 10th June 1837, following the death of her
uncle, William IV, she became queen at the
age of eighteen.
She fell instantly in love with her German
cousin, Prince Albert and they were married on
10 February 1840. Between 1841 and 1857
Queen Victoria had nine children - four sons,
five daughters.
Prince Albert was very interested in art, science and
manufacturing and took a keen interest in the building
of the Crystal Palace. He died suddenly of typhoid in
1861. His widow was overcome with grief and wrote
in her diary, "My life as a happy person is ended!"
She wore black for the rest of her life. For a long time
she refused to appear in public, which made her very
Queen Victoria died aged 80 on 22 January 1901 and
a new age - the Edwardian - began
In 1876 Victoria was declared Empress of
India and the English Empire was constantly
being expanded. The prevailing attitude in
Britain was that expansion of British control
around the globe was good for everyone.
One, England had an obligation to enlighten
and civilize the 'less fortunate savages' of the
world (often referred to as the "White Man's
Second, they (as a chosen people) had a
destiny to fulfill -- they were 'destined' to rule
the world.
Finally, they needed money, resources, labor,
and new markets for expanding industry in
The British Empire (map) was the largest
empire ever, consisting of over 25% of the
world's population and area. It included India,
Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa,
Rhodesia, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, several
islands in the West Indies and various colonies
on the African coast
. In 1750 the population of Britain was 4
million. By 1851 it was 21 million. By 1900,
Queen Victoria reigned over 410 million
people. British Victorians were excited by
geographical exploration, by the opening up of
Africa and Asia to the West, yet were troubled
by the intractable Irish situation and humiliated
by the failures of the Boer War
Victorian England was a deeply religious
country. A great number of people were
habitual church-goers, at least once and
probably twice, every Sunday. The Bible was
frequently and widely read by people of every
class; so too were religious stories and
allegories. Yet towards the end of Queen
Victoria's reign, the hold of organized religion
upon the English people began to slacken for
several reasons
Education in nineteenth-century England was
not equal - not between the sexes, and not
between the classes. Gentlemen would be
educated at home by a governess or tutor until
they were old enough to attend Eton, Harrow,
Rugby, Winchester, Westminster,
Charterhouse, or a small handful of lesser
schools. The curriculum was heavily weighted
towards the classics - the languages and
literature of Ancient Greece and Rome.
After that, they would attend Oxford or
Cambridge. Here they might also study
mathematics, law, philosophy, and modern
history. Oxford tended to produce more
Members of Parliament and government
officials, while Cambridge leaned more
towards the sciences and produced more
acclaimed scholars.
However, it was not compulsory, either legally or
socially, for a gentleman to attend school at all. He
could, just as easily, be taught entirely at home.
However, public school and University were the great
staging grounds for public life, where you made your
friends and developed the connections that would aid
you later in life. Beau Brummel met the Prince of
Wales at Eton and that friendship helped him conquer
all of London Society despite his lack of family
A lady's education was taken, almost entirely,
at home. There were boarding schools, but no
University, and the studies were very different.
She learned French, drawing, dancing, music,
and the use of globes.
If the school, or the governess, was interested
in teaching any practical skills, she learned
plain sewing as well as embroidery, and
Industrial Revolution:
the developments that transformed Great
Britain, between 1750 and 1830, from a
largely rural population making a living almost
entirely from agriculture to a town-centered
society engaged increasingly in factory
As many thousands of women throughout rural
Britain saw their spinning wheels become
redundant and their jobs disappear into the
factories, they moved to the cities. The towns
offered a better chance of work and higher
wages than the countryside, where many
families were trapped in dire poverty and
seasonal employment. On the other hand, the
countryside was healthier.
The Industrial Revolution gathered steam, and
accelerated the migration of the population
from country to city. The result of this
movement was the development of horrifying
slums and cramped row housing in the
overcrowded cities.
Working class - men and women who
performed physical labor, paid daily or weekly
Middle class - men performed mental or
"clean" work, paid monthly or annually
Upper class - did not work, income came from
inherited land and investments
In the late industrial era in Britain the ideology
of separate spheres which assigned the private
sphere to the woman and the public sphere of
business, commerce and politics to the man
had been widely dispersed. The home was
regarded as a haven from the busy and chaotic
public world of politics and business, and from
the grubby world of the factory.
Those who could afford to, created cosy
domestic interiors with plush fabrics, heavy
curtains and fussy furnishings which
effectively cocooned the inhabitants from the
world outside.
The Role of Language and
Repeated patterns of imagery are fudemantal
to the novel’s structure.
 Recurrent motifs provide a structural and
thematic coherence in the novel.
 Also thw use of imagery signal adeparture
from the realm of realism by introducing
qualities of the poetic genre.
Realism: class, education system, the role of the
gov erness, gender issues and ineqysality
locate the novel within the realist tradition.
The opening takes us directly to the narrator’s
thoughts on ableak November afternoon.
She observes “cold winter wind” , “sombre
The Reeds children clustering around their
mother. All this give the impression of Jane’s
exclusion from family life and such intimacy.
These are our initial impressions and we
assume the narrator is Jane.
But at the opening of the novel the character
whose point of view we are invited to share is
as yet unknown to us.
We are not yet aware this Jane’s perspective or
who Jane actually is.
The first person narrator directly speaks to us
provoking us into an identification with a
particular and point of view.
This method of narration engages our
sympathies as readers.
We are immediately struck by the desolation
of the scene and the sense of the narrator as an
outsider. The paragraph beginning “ I was glad
of” reads as aregret or complaint conveys
acute sense of physical and emotional distress.
The narrator is considered in need of a “more
sociable and child-like dispositon” by Mrs
Reed, and is concsious of her “physical
The books she reads, although dreary, provide
her with a sense of happiness and an escape
from reality into the world of imagination
It is with the intrusion of John Reed into her
protected corner that her need for escape and
the legitimacy of her unhappiness are
The narrator describes Jane as ‘ humbled” and
“habitually obedient” to John Reed . This is
confirmed when she instinctively accepts his
However when she experiences both “pain”
and “terror”, this passivity gives way to a
violent sense of injustice.
Bronte’s style in the opening paragraphs
contribute to the tension of the situation as
described by the narrator. The unusual word
order in the sentence “ dreadful to me was the
coming home in the raw twilight… Me, she
had dispensed from joining the group” and the
short clauses “dreadful to me” “I was glad of it
Hilight the intensity of her feeling
The in version of the word order together with
the insistent repetition of “I” and “me”ensure
that the sensations of the narrator are kept
constantly before us.
From the outset Bronte depicts her heroine as
an isolated figure, alienated from her
immediate surroundings and lacking love
Bronte depicts her heroine as an isolated figure
Her environment depicted as hostile and her
relationships as combative , both including a
tendency to lonely introspection and fierrrrce
rejection of those around her.
Bronte also presents a striking contrast
between Jane’s lived experience, which is
limited and characterized by isolation, and her
From the “half –comprehended notions” she
derives from Goldsmith she imagines a wider
world from where she surveys her own
personal suffering and from which she
conceives a sense of social justice.
The first- person narrative method allows a
presentation of Jane’s rich inner life and the
means by which she shapes the responses of
her readers.
Through this technique an authentic and
intensely personal sense of the character is
constructed, and its power to evoke the child
Jane’s perspective actively engages our
sympathies as readers.
We learn it is Jane’s account at the point when
Mrs Reed questions her “truly forbidding”
behaviour and lack of an “attractive “
,“natural” character.
This confirms asense of Jane’s unhappiness
and raises our doubts about Mrs Reed’s
 Mrs Reed’s cliched view of children leads her
leads her to deny Jane the privilidges of
inclusion into the family.This implies that her
response to Jane’s feelings are inadequate
 IT is apparent to us that this view of Mrs Reed
Is presented to us by Jane the adult not the child.
The language and the articulation of a mature
perspective are those of an adult
An older and wiser Jane tells her story with
authority to comment on the “ undeveloped
understanding of her young self.’ Thus the
identity of the narrator is revealed to us.
Inchoosing to narrate Jane’s story as an
autobiography . Bronte was writing a form of
fiction that became poular in the 19th century,
the Builungsroman.
The Buildungsroman , emergent in the
Romantic period, reflected an interest in the
psychology of the child , and in tracing the
Development of the central charsacter from
childhood to maturity.
In Jane Eyre two Janes as seen above can
suggest contrasting views of her situation; the
child Jane speaks against the tyranny of Jhon
Reed and engages our sympathy.
At the same time, the older Jane provides a
more analytical perspective on the “pain” and
“terror” of her situation.
Later in the novel, a third Jane emerges; the
mature young woman and governess, in whose
narrative we hear constant echoes of her
younger self
In chapter26 p.220 ,for example, there are vtwo
Janes described by a third narrative voice ,
Jane the “ardent , expectant young woman” is
the “cold, solitary, girl again”
Bronte’s text at leaet in the first chapters set at
Thornfield is predominantly realist although
there are some elements of fantasy expressed
in the language of the child Jane,
Realism as a genre then , can be said to
accommodate different styles and narrative
Within the realist genre the development of the
Buildungsroman signaled a significant shift
towards a focus on the presentation of the
individual psyche.
Fantasy, Realism, and Narrative in
Jane Eyre
Mikail Bakhtin devised the concept of dialogic form
to describe novels where a medley of competing
voices interrupt but do not silence one another.That is
why Jane Eyre houses adiversity of genres and subgenres that include realism, romance, the domestic or
governess’ novel, and the Gothic.
Charlotte Brontë infuses her work with elements of
the fantastic: a fact evident in Jane Eyre .
Brontë incorporates fantastic elements into a more
realistic narrative structure by weaving in references
to fairy tales, prophetic dreams, mythic imagery and
extraordinary plot twists.
In part, she uses the fantastic to inform the reader of
concealed emotional subtexts in the novel .
Her prophetic dreams provide the reader with vital
information regarding the state of Jane's emotional
This use of the fantastic plays a major role in Jane
Eyre , which is not merely a parable or morality tale:
Jane's success as a Bildungsroman heroine depends
upon satisfying her emotional and spiritual needs, in
addition to securing the safe domestic environment
requisite at that time for female survival.
Brontë's departure from a realistic plot might
derive from Emotionalist moral philosophy, a
school of moral philosophy which significantly
affected nineteenth-century intellectual life in
Brontë uses the fantastic to expand the
parameters of societal conceptions of what is
comprised by reality.
Landow notes the implications of these
ideas, "For psychology and theories of
human nature: for the first time,
philosophers no longer urged that the
healthy human mind is organized
hierarchically with reason, like a king,
ruling will and passions.
Reason now shares rule with feelings or
emotions." By elevating the importance of
emotion in Jane's maturation, Brontë creates a
Bildungsroman not exclusively rooted in
mastery of the external world, but focused as
well on the vitality of the interior life.
The Gothic NoveL
"Gothic" has come to mean quite a number of
things by this day and age. It could mean a
particular style of art, be it in the form of
novels, paintings, or architecture; it could
mean "medieval" or "uncouth." It could even
refer to a certain type of music and its fans.
What it originally meant, of course, is "of,
relating to, or resembling the Goths, their
civilization, or their language" ("gothic").
A. History of the Goths
The Goths, one of the many Germanic tribes,
fought numerous battles with the Roman
Empire for centuries.
According to their own myths, as recounted by
Jordanes, a Gothic historian from the mid 6th
century, the Goths originated in what is now
southern Sweden, but their king Berig led them
to the southern shore of the Baltic Sea.
They finally separated into two groups, the
Visigoths (the West Goths) and Ostrogoths
(the East Goths), so named because of where
they eventually settled.
They reached the height of their power around
5th century A.D., when they sacked Rome and
captured Spain, but their history finally
subsumed under that of the countries they
conquered ("Goths").
Connection to the Gothic Novel
Centuries passed before the word "gothic"
meant anything else again. During the
Renaissance, Europeans rediscovered GrecoRoman culture and began to regard a particular
type of architecture, mainly those built during
the Middle Ages, as "gothic" -- not because of
any connection to the Goths, but because the
'Uomo Universale' considered these buildings
barbaric and definitely not in that Classical
style they so admired.
Centuries more passed before
"gothic" came to describe a certain
type of novels, so named because all
these novels seem to take place in
Gothic-styled architecture -- mainly
castles, mansions, and, of course,
Elements of the Gothic Novel
The Gothic novel took shape mostly in England from
1790 to 1830 and falls within the category of
Romantic literature. It acts, however, as a reaction
against the rigidity and formality of other forms of
Romantic literature. The Gothic is far from limited to
this set time period, as it takes its roots from former
terrorizing writing that dates back to the Middle
Ages, and can still be found written today by writers
such as Stephen King. But during this time period,
many of the highly regarded Gothic novelists
published their writing and much of the novel's form
was defined.
As Ann B. Tracy writes in her novel The
Gothic Novel 1790-1830 Plot Summaries and
Index to Motifs, the Gothic novel could be
seen as a description of a fallen world. We
experience this fallen world though all aspects
of the novel: plot, setting, characterization, and
The setting is greatly influential in Gothic
novels. It not only evokes the atmosphere of
horror and dread, but also portrays the
deterioration of its world. The decaying, ruined
scenery implies that at one time there was a
thriving world. At one time the abbey, castle,
or landscape was something treasured and
appreciated. Now, all that lasts is the decaying
shell of a once thriving dwelling.
The Gothic hero becomes a sort of archetype as we
find that there is a pattern to their characterization.
There is always the protagonist, usually isolated
either voluntarily or involuntarily. Then there is the
villain, who is the epitome of evil, either by his
(usually a man) own fall from grace, or by some
implicit malevolence. The Wanderer, found in many
Gothic tales, is the epitome of isolation as he wanders
the earth in perpetual exile, usually a form of divine
The plot itself mirrors the ruined world in its
dealings with a protagonist's fall from grace as
she succumbs to temptation from a villain. In
the end, the protagonist must be saved through
a reunion with a loved one.
For example, in Matthew G. Lewis's The
Monk, the monk Ambrosio is tempted by
Matilda. She lures him into succumbing to his
lust until he turns fully to rape and murder of
another young girl. In the end, he makes a deal
with Satan and dies a torturous death on the
side of a mountain.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) was
inspired, as Shelley explains in her
introduction to the edition of 1831, by a
communal reading of German ghost stories
with her husband and Byron during bad
weather on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Gothic romance
Gothic romance, type of novel that flourished in the
late 18th and early 19th cent. in England. Gothic
romances were mysteries, often involving the
supernatural and heavily tinged with horror, and they
were usually set against dark backgrounds of
medieval ruins and haunted castles. The Castle of
Otranto by Horace Walpole was the forerunner of the
type, which included the works of Ann Radcliffe,
Matthew Gregory Lewis, and Charles R. Maturin, and
the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Jane
Austen's novel Northanger Abbey satirizes Gothic
Romantic Influence on the Gothic
The poetry, romantic adventures and character
of Lord Byron, characterised by his spurned
lover Lady Caroline Lamb as 'mad, bad and
dangerous to know' was another inspiration for
the Gothic, providing the archetype of the
Byronic hero. Byron features, under the
codename of 'Lord Ruthven', in Lady
Caroline's own Gothic novel: Glenarvon (1816
The influence of Byronic Romanticism evident
in Poe is also apparent in the work of the
Brontë sisters. Emily Brontë's Wuthering
Heights (1847) transports the Gothic to the
forbidding Yorkshire Moors and features
ghostly apparitions and a Byronic hero in the
person of the demonic Heathcliff whilst
Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847) adds the
madwoman in the attic (Sandra Gilbert and
Susan Gubar 1979) to the cast of gothic
role (J
The Brontës' fiction is seen by some
feminist critics as prime examples of
Female Gothic, exploring woman's
entrapment within domestic space and
subjection to patriarchal authority and the
transgressive and dangerous attempts to
subvert and escape such restriction.
Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Emily's Cathy
are both examples of female protagonists
in such a
Prominent features of Gothic fiction
Prominent features of Gothic fiction include terror
(both psychological and physical), mystery, the
supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses and Gothic
architecture, castles, darkness, death, decay, doubles,
madness, secrets, and hereditary curses.
The stock characters of Gothic fiction include tyrants,
villains, bandits, maniacs, Byronic heroes, persecuted
maidens, femmes fatales, monks, nuns, madwomen,
magicians, vampires, werewolves, monsters, demons,
angels, fallen angels, revenants, ghosts,
perambulating skeletons, the Wandering Jew and the
Devil himself.
Emily of Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries
of Udolpho does not have the same kind
of temptations but finds that she cannot
escape her evil uncle's castle (called
Udolpho) without the help of a suitor. In
the end she does find retribution in her
affection for her once-lost love,
Even though the Gothic Novel deals with the
sublime and the supernatural, the underlying
theme of the fallen hero applies to the real
world as well. Once we look past the terror
aspect of this literature, we can connect with it
on a human level. Furthermore, the prevalent
fears of murder, rape, sin, and the unknown are
fears that we face in life. In the Gothic world
they are merely multiplied.
George Haggerty writes in Gothic Fiction/Gothic
Form, "the Gothic novel is a liberating phenomenon,
which expands the range of possibilities for novelistic
expression" (Haggerty 34).
Literary critic, Davis Morris, believes the Gothic
novel addresses the horrific, hidden ideas and
emotions within individuals and provides an outlet
for them (Morris 1). The strong imagery of horror
and abuse in Gothic novels reveals truths to us
through realistic fear, not transcendental revelation.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick writes about the same idea
in her essay,
"The Structure of the Gothic
Convention," and she adds that the idea
of a protagonist having a struggle with a
terrible, surreal person or force is a
metaphor for an individual's struggle with
repressed emotions or thoughts
(Sedgwick 1). Personifying the repressed
idea or feeling gives strength to it and
shows how one, if caught unaware, is
overcome with the forbidden desire.
Elements of the Gothic have made their way into
mainstream writing. They are found in Sir Walter
Scott's novels, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and
Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and in Romantic
poetry like Samuel Coleridge's "Christabel," Lord
Byron's "The Giaour," and John Keats's "The Eve
of St. Agnes." A tendency to the macabre and
bizarre which appears in writers like William
Faulkner, Truman Capote, and Flannery O'Connor
has been called Southern Gothic.
Gothic in Bronte's Jane Eyre
“Gothic fiction,” a type of literature that
developed in the eighteenth century and is still
highly popular today. Horace Walpole’s 1746
novel The Castle of Otranto is widely credited
as being the first Gothic novel, and introduced
many of the elements that have become such a
familiar part of this genre.
Bronte's Jane Eyre
Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847) was evidently
influenced by aspects of Gothic. This novel
has been classified as belonging to any number
of genres, including the Bildungsroman and
the Romance Novel, but the story of how poor,
plain orphan Jane finds work and eventually a
husband at Thornfield also relies heavily on
key Gothic conventions.
The Haunted Castle
Thornfield is neither haunted nor a castle, but
this huge, imposing house has a mysterious
and threatening atmosphere.
Jane grows to love the house as she loves its
master, but parts of it are dark, chilly and
gloomy: “the staircase window was high and
latticed; both it and the long gallery into which
the bedroom doors opened looked as if they
belonged to a church rather than a house. A
very chill and vault- like air pervaded the stairs
and gallery, suggesting cheerless ideas of
Madness, Secrets and Lies
Thornfield is also the home of mad Bertha,
Rochester’s secret wife. She is kept locked in the
attic, and both Jane and the reader are unaware of her
presence there for some time.
Thus when we hear her ghostly laugh,” a curious
laugh; distinct, formal, mirthless” (chapter 11), we are
unsure how to interpret it.
Jane assumes the laugh belongs to servant Grace
Poole, but the reader is unconvinced by this and
knows that some terrible secret must lurk in the
mysterious attic.
Madness, Secrets and Lies
A similarly ghostly and frightening
atmosphere is evoked when Jane describes her
first sighting of Bertha: “ ‘It seemed, sir, a
woman, tall and large, with thick and dark hair
hanging long down her back. I know not what
dress she had on: it was white and straight; but
whether gown, sheet, or shroud, I cannot tell’ ”
(chapter 25)
The Hero
The moody Mr Rochester is a Byronic hero, a figure
that has become familiar to fans of Gothic. He is
charismatic, well-travelled, bad-tempered, and has a
huge secret lurking in his past.
The moment that Jane first lays eyes on him is
significant, indicating Jane’s belief in the supernatural
as well as Rochester’s elusive and enigmatic nature:
“close down by the hazel stems glided a great
was exactly one form of Bessie’s Gytrash—a lion-like
creature with long hair and a huge head...
The Hero
The man, the human being, broke the spell at
once. Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was
always alone; and goblins, to my notions,
though they might tenant the dumb carcasses
of beasts, could scarce covet shelter in the
commonplace human form” (chapter 12).
Aspects of the Supernatural
Jane Eyre is full of unexplained or partially
explained occurrences: the light that she sees
in the Red Room (chapter 2), which she takes
to be the spirit of her dead uncle but might just
be somebody walking out side with a lantern.
The splitting of the oak tree by lightening just
before the wedding, seemingly indicative of
the stormy times ahead; Jane’s prophetic
The novel has been criticised for its use of
coincidence: Jane goes wandering and just
happens to end up at the house of her cousins.
The turning point of the novel rests upon such
an unexplained event. Jane returns to
Thornfield because she hears Rochester calling
for her help, and travels back to find the house
burned down and Rochester maimed.
A Gothic Romance
Thus, rather than term Jane Eyre a romance,
we could perhaps better describe it as a Gothic
Romance: certainly the course of true love
does not run smooth in this novel.
The Tradition of Self-assertion
in order to resist domination by Gateshead-hall, not just be its
outcast or scapegoat, Jane must find a different tradition and a
different society to live by. She must construct a different
memory and learn a new anticipation.
For the self-assertion that freedom requires does not make its
way apart from memory or hope, as Josiah Royce made clear
in The Problem of Christianity. That means it does not make
its way, as Jane learns, apart from one community or another.1
In placing self-assertion within a context of the continuity and
sociality of life, Jane Eyre raises questions that are still an
important part of our life in late modernity.
2 For one, it raises the question whether there
isn't a tradition of self-assertion.
The Madwoman, Bertha Mason, is more beast
than woman. What does her characterization
tell us about Charlotte Bronte's attitude to both
madness and femininity??
In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte explores the
fine line between the conventional 19th
century path of marriage and subjection to
patriarchal codes, against the culturally
subversive path of feminine independence.
This has been done through the
characterization of Jane Eyre, and the counter
figure of "the mad woman in the attic"- Bertha
Mason. In doing this, Charlotte Bronte's
writing moves around a contrast of principles
between passion and reason, creating a
collision between these important values.
Jane Eyre is a strong, self assured and determined young
woman, who is rebellious against society, and is one of the
first women in Victorian literature strong enough to challenge
the ever present control of men. She is a woman cognizant of
her own rights; ahead of her time in her thinking; although still
shaped by the demands of her society.
She reflects the position that Bronte is put into when writing
the book. She successfully breaks through the restrictiveness
of her society, and her "soul began to expand, to exult, with
the strangest sense of freedom, or triumph" Throughout the
novel, she tells of fights and argument and often is reproached
for her "difficult, flinty" nature.
Bertha Mason, on the other hand, shows how
women fit into the stereotype of Victorian
society: dominated by the male figure and
treated as inferior. Bertha is Rochester's first
wife and the daughter of a West Indian planter,
who Rochester recklessly married in his youth
Rochester confesses to marrying her in "a
trance of prurience" , and after the marriage
discovered that she was sexually promiscuous
and locked her away. Bertha is described as
having "fiery eyes and a lurid visage, which
flames over" . Rochester implies her braveness
is the cause: Bronte has shown this to be the
stereotype of madness
The portraits of both Bertha and Jane are of self ruled,
aggressive, and often very much unlovable humans who do not
conform with masculine society. However, the two characters
illustrate ambiguity. Bronte has conveyed two feisty,
independent women- one a heroine, the other a monster.
Considering the constraints of the time, both women are
defiant, yet they become the antithesis of each other. Jane's
spirited actions cause her to become a triumphant heroine,
whilst Bertha is subverted by other forces and her courage is
like a "caged bird "- she seethes in submissiveness. Bertha
lends emphasis towards Bronte's ideals of the assertive female,
however unlike Jane, she has no independence
Although the characters in Jane Eyre are fictional, the
situations they face and the motivations with which
they act, are reflecting issues which influenced
Bronte within her own society.
The connection between sexuality and morality
clearly illustrates contemporary concerns about the
social threats posed by women's emancipation, which
occurred throughout the 19th Century.
Bronte has reinforced the restrictive sexual values of
Victorian society through Bertha being confined for
displaying excess passion.
All references towards sexuality as insanity are
clearly linked with Bertha Mason whose "excesses
had prematurely developed the germs of insanity" .
Bertha was hidden away, as madness has often been,
and her existence is perceived to be a threat.
Bronte exposes, literally, Bertha Mason's liar showing
what madness is, and that it does exist. However
Bertha is always presented at some distance from the
reader, and is filtered though the conversations of
others, including Grace Pooles.
The "madwoman in the attic" has become ionic for
the silence of women over the past 2000 years, and
Bronte has also demonstrated this through Bertha.
The novel Jane Eyre gives Bronte a voice, not
accepted in her society, allowing her to present
opinions, challenge authority, and not just to blindly
accept the possessive nature of men.
She clearly tells men this also: "I am not an angel,
and I will not be one till I die. I will be myself. Mr.
Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact
anything celestial of me "
Although Jane is horrified when she is first
introduced to Bertha: "the clothed hyena (who)
rose up, and stood tall on its hind feet." , and
can feel no connection with her, Jane sees the
"unfortunate lady " as an equal. Jane, and
indeed Bronte, seem to be ambivalent towards
madness, and have much respect for female
assertion. However, it appears that Jane sees
excessive femininity without independence to
be undesirable
The mad wife on the 3rd floor is a warning more than
a character, a warning of mindless passion. She
represents both the realities of the time in terms of
mental illness, but also the enigma of madness and
the fears it evokes- violence, strangeness, and
As a character, Bertha is subtly woven through this
book, with some empathy for her suffering shown
only by Jane. Jane's words reflect Charlotte Bronte's
understanding of this, as she reproves Rochester:
"you speak of her with hate- with vindictive apathy. It
is cruel- she cannot help being mad."
Although Jane is horrified when she is first
introduced to Bertha: "the clothed hyena (who)
rose up, and stood tall on its hind feet." , and
can feel no connection with her, Jane sees the
"unfortunate lady " as an equal. Jane, and
indeed Bronte, seem to be ambivalent towards
madness, and have much respect for female
assertion. However, it appears that Jane sees
excessive femininity without independence to
be undesirable
The most common thing that the two women share is
their attitudes towards men- this clearly represents
Charlotte Bronte's own moral intentions.
Both Bertha and Jane are at some stage during the
novel influenced unknowingly by males: just as Jane
agrees to a bigamous marriage, Bertha cannot help
her dangerous sexuality. Each of these things have
come about as a consequence of the power of males
within society. However, both women retaliate, once
they become aware of their situations.
When Bertha attempts to burn Rochester's bed and
curtains whilst he "lay stretched, motionless in deep
sleep" , this subverts the notion of females being
obliviously influenced by men.
This is used by Bronte to show effectively that
Rochester is indeed oblivious to the fact that he too is
allowing his passions (Bertha) to rule untamed.
Hence, it is Rochester's sexual self-indulgence and
lack of judgment that stalks the corridors of
Thornfield Manor. Bertha embodies the anarchic
element of Rochester.
Bronte has rewritten the masculine prototype of
romanticism, through a triumph of femininity, this
occurs in both Jane and Bertha. They represent the
feminine conscience that refuses to be redefined
through masculine interpretation and each are clearly
as assertive as each other.
However, the key difference between the actions of
the two females, thus creating the antithesis of each
other, is that Jane bases her decisions on intellectual
integrity and had freedom, whilst Bertha is sheerly an
animal cooped in a cage who is prey to her sexual
Charlotte Bronte's attitudes towards madness and
femininity, characterized through a contrast between
Jane and Bertha, is clearly shown to be that being an
assertive female, is an ideal aspiration.
However, becoming so aggressive that one
contributes to their own downfall and loses all
freedom, is not desirable. Bronte's views on madness
are presented with ambivalence as Jane feels some
pity for Bertha, but also looks down upon Bertha too.
By using the characters of Jane and Bertha, Bronte
has shown a fulfillment of extraordinary dimensions
for women in general. Jane Eyre is a triumphant
assertion of the inviolability of the individual female
Eventually, even Rochester realizes this and
describes Jane: " You entered the room with a look
and air at once shy and independent‫ة‬I made you talk:
long I found you full of strange contrasts. Your garb
and manner are restricted by rule, yet when
addressed, you lifted a keen, daring, and glowing eye,
there was penetration and power in each glance you
gave468( ".‫)ة‬
The Tension between Reason and
Passion in Jane Eyre
n Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë uses various characters
to embody aspects of reason and passion, thereby
establishing a tension between the two. In fact, it
could be argued that these various characters are
really aspects of her central character, Jane, and in
turn, that Jane is a fictionalised version of Brontë
From this it could be argued that the tension between
these two aspects really takes place only within her
own head. Brontë is able to enact this tension through
her characters and thus show dramatically the journey
of a woman striving for balance within her nature.
A novel creates its own internal world through the
language that it uses, and this fictional world may be
quite independent from the real physical world in
which we live. Writing in the style of an
autobiography, Brontë locates her work within the
world of Victorian England.
But although Brontë's world is undoubtedly based on
nineteenth-century society, it should be remembered
that the world conjured in Jane Eyre is not reality: it
is but a world constructed by Brontë in which to tell a
A novel based only on the mores and customs of
Victorian society would be a historical document
However, Jane Eyre retains power and force even in a
post-modern world, as shown by its continued
popularity and the many TV and film versions it has
inspired. Perhaps Jane Eyre retains such power and
relevance because Charlotte fabricated the book from
the cloth of her own psyche, her own passionate
nature, and so, although our culture has changed
drastically since the book was written, the insights
into human nature which Brontë gave us remain.
Taking this view makes the characters in Jane Eyre
seem denizens of Charlotte's own psyche. Some of
them, such as the passionate Bertha and the cold St
John, personify aspects of her character, her
emotional and logical natures.
Others, such as Brocklehurst and John Reed, which
seem more two dimensional, could be viewed more as
scenery, foils against which the main characters
define themselves. Jane herself is Charlotte's most
highly resolved character.
Over the course of the book readers come to know
every aspect of her intimately as she moves through
Brontë's world. Readers also come to know her
through her reflections, as she embodies aspects of
the other characters.
Charlotte seems to know Jane intimately, so
intimately that it seems likely that Jane is Charlotte's
avatar within her fictional world. If Brontë is Jane, it
follows that the other characters which came from
Brontë might also be aspects of Jane. Through these
aspects we see a development of tension within Jane
between emotional and logical natures, and this
tension is played out in the events of the book.
Taking this argument further, if the book is seen as a
reflection of Brontë's own psyche, the source of the
various supernatural events described within the book
must be Brontë herself. Thus she not only plays the
main character in her story but also the supporting
cast and the spiritual force which intervenes on Jane's
behalf at crucial moments throughout. In this light
Jane's meeting with her cousins, which many critics
have seen as intolerably far-fetched suddenly makes
There are no coincidences in this book. Jane is
kept from harm by the ever-present pen of her
creator, just as Charlotte herself presumably
felt protected and guided by her own protestant
faith. Jane meets her cousins because Charlotte
felt it was time for her to do so. No other
explanation is required.
Passion and reason, their opposition and eventual
reconciliation, serve as constant themes throughout
the book. From Jane's first explosion of emotion
when she rebels against John Reed, Jane is
powerfully passionate.
Just as Bertha's passion destroys Thornfield, Jane's
passion, which destroys her ties to Gateshead, leaves
the way clear for her progression to the next chapter
of her life at Lowood. However, as Bertha's passion
eventually proves fatal, it becomes clear that Jane
must gain control over her passion or be destroyed.
We see the dangers of nature and passion untempered
by reason in the scene in which Charlotte almost
marries Rochester. Jane cannot 'see God for his
creature' of whom she has 'made an idol.'
If the God of the novel is Charlotte, and Jane is
Charlotte's creature, we can see that in losing sight of
God through overwhelming passion for Mr
Rochester, Jane runs the risk of loosing herself, of
losing sight of Charlotte who she embodies
In this case, passion nearly gains a victory over
reason. Jane nearly looses her own personality
in her overwhelming love. Only Brontë's
intercession through the medium of the
supernatural preserves her character from
passionate dissolution in the arms of
The opposite is true when Jane is tempted to
marry St John. Jane longs 'to rush down the
torrent of his [St John's] will into the gulf of
his existence, and there to loose my own'
Again Jane almost looses herself, however,
this time reason is nearly the victor. Jane's
passionate nature is nearly entrapped by St
John's icy reason and self control.
Once again Charlotte intercedes on her characters
behalf, this time with a disembodied voice which
directs her to return to Rochester, and saves her
passionate nature from destruction.
St John's death in India could be said to show the
danger that Charlotte saw in icy reason without
emotion. Conversely, Bertha's death in a
conflagration of her own making shows the danger of
the unthinking passion which Jane feels for
Rochester. Thus, these two deaths could be said to
represent the more subtle death of individuality, in
which Jane risks loosing herself and her separate
It is interesting to note that Bertha is portrayed
as being ugly, 'a vampire', a 'clothed hyena'
whilst St John is uncommonly handsome.
This fits with Brontë's use of fire and ice
imagery to symbolise reason and passion. Ice
may be hewn into any form, where it will
remain, fixed and perfect as long as it stays
frozen. Fire on the other hand can be hard to
It cannot be moulded into exact shapes, it is
constantly changing, and if unchecked will consume
the ground on which it burns, leaving black cinders
and ash, just as Bertha is blackened and swollen.
This use of imagery gives us an interesting paradox,
since much of the book seems to concern Jane's
attempt to reconcile her passionate and reasonable
natures. When ice and fire are combined the result is
warm slush, hardly a suitable metaphor for a
desirable state of being. One or the other, perhaps
both must be destroyed. For how then can there be a
reconciliation between the two?
Throughout the book Charlotte provides Jane
with a number of mentors, each of whom
provides her with a piece of the puzzle. The
first is Brocklehurst. His Calvinistic
philosophy teaches the mortification of the
flesh as the way to obtain balance. By crushing
Jane's physical body, he hopes to burn excess
passion out of her, leaving a balance in which
reason may be the ultimate victor.
However, this method, like all other false or
incomplete doctrines presented in Jane Eyre
ultimately ends in death. Typhoid comes to Lowood
and Brontë punishes Brocklehurst with shame and
scandal. Interestingly, Brocklehurst's philosophy is
re-enacted for Rochester when his pride and
unreasoning passion is burnt out of him in the fire at
Rochester flesh is mortified as he looses an eye and a
hand. Through this somewhat drastic method,
Rochester, who becomes a more suitable match for
Jane, perhaps somehow attains a balance of his own.
Helen Burns seems to offer Jane another
method by which tension may be resolved. She
shows Jane that she can release her negative
emotions, and make them less destructive
through forgiveness, and that, by loving her
enemies her hatred and anger may fade. We
see this philosophy in action when Jane visits
her dying aunt and is able to forgive her.
She receives a just reward for this kindly act, the
knowledge of an uncle living in the East Indies.
However, Helen’s selfless acceptance of all the
crimes perpetrated against her does nothing to change
those crimes, or to deter their repetition. Had Helen
been at Gateshead rather than Jane she would never
have escaped. Helen's beliefs prove to be only an
incomplete part of a whole, and so, she too dies.
At the end of many trials Charlotte permits Jane to return at
last to her lover. It is a wiser Jane, and also perhaps a wiser
Charlotte who welcomes this happy event. At this point it
seems that the tension between reason and passion should have
been resolved. However, this is not the case.
There is no sense of any realistic resolution of tension between
Jane's reasoning and passionate natures. Perhaps Jane could
have attained some sort of interplay between the two like
sunlight glinting on the sea or torches focussed through a
crystal lens.
Instead, Jane and Rochester live in 'perfect concord', their
happiness is complete. They feel no passion or intrigue, only a
warm sentimentality that seems wholly out of place in a book
which has traversed such a vast ranges of emotion. Instead of
fire and ice, Charlotte gives us warm slush.
Perhaps she never resolved the tension between reason and
passion for herself, and so was unable to write convincingly
about it. Maybe, because of this she simply tacked on the
happiest ending she could contrive, or maybe she wrote what
she hoped to gain for herself, without understanding how she
could get it.
As an account of one woman's journey of spiritual growth,
whether Jane's or Charlottes, Jane Eyre succedes admirably.
However, in the arrival it fails. Perhaps this is because at the
time she wrote the book, Charlotte herself hadn't found
happiness with a partner. Whatever the reason, the ending
remains profoundly unsatisfying, and the weakest element of
the book.
Jane Eyre may be seen in a postmodernist light as an
expression of Charlotte Brontë's own character. The players
she peoples her world with seem to be aspects of herself, and
Jane seems to represent her totality. Throughout the book a
tension is established between the forces of reason,
championed by St John, and those of passion, headed by
This tension exists within Jane's head, and also presumably
within Charlotte's, but Brontë uses the medium of the novel to
play out this conflict among all her characters, and so brings it
out into the light. Eventually the champions, Bertha and St
John are killed off, symbolising the danger Brontë saw in
taking either of these paths to the exclusion of the other, and
also symbolising the less obvious death that Jane risks, that of
loss of self, either by surrendering to Rochester, or to St John.
The perveyors of incomplete solutions to this conflict
are also killed. Brocklehurst, dies symbolically when
he is removed from his position as headmaster of
Lowood, Helen Burns dies of consumption.
At the end of the story, the tension which Brontë has
built up between reason and passion is not
satisfactorily resolved, which weakens the ending
somewhat, however Jane Eyre succeeds because it is
taken directly from a young woman's psyche. It
speaks to us today because it takes its inspirations
from an internal reality that has remained constant.
Throughout the novel, Jane struggles to find
the right balance between moral duty and
earthly pleasure, between obligation to her
spirit and attention to her body. She encounters
three main religious figures: Mr. Brocklehurst,
Helen Burns, and St. John Rivers
Each represents a model of religion that Jane
ultimately rejects as she forms her own ideas
about faith and principle, and their practical
Mr. Brocklehurst illustrates the dangers and
hypocrisies that Charlotte Brontë perceived in the
nineteenth-century Evangelical movement. Mr.
Brocklehurst adopts the rhetoric of
Evangelicalism when he claims to be purging his
students of pride, but his method of subjecting
them to various privations and humiliations, like
when he orders that the naturally curly hair of one
of Jane’s classmates be cut so as to lie straight, is
entirely un-Christian.
Of course, Brocklehurst’s proscriptions are
difficult to follow, and his hypocritical
support of his own luxuriously wealthy
family at the expense of the Lowood
students shows Brontë’s wariness of the
Evangelical movement.
Helen Burns’s meek and forbearing mode of
Christianity, on the other hand, is too
passive for Jane to adopt as her own,
although she loves and admires Helen for it.
Many chapters later, St. John Rivers
provides another model of Christian
behavior. His is a Christianity of ambition,
glory, and extreme self-importance.
St. John urges Jane to sacrifice her emotional
deeds for the fulfillment of her moral duty,
offering her a way of life that would require her to
be disloyal to her own self.
Although Jane ends up rejecting all three models of
religion, she does not abandon morality, spiritualism,
or a belief in a Christian God. When her wedding is
interrupted, she prays to God for solace (Chapter 26).
As she wanders the heath, poor and starving, she puts
her survival in the hands of God (Chapter 28).
She strongly objects to Rochester’s lustful
immorality, and she refuses to consider living with
him while church and state still deem him married to
another woman.
Even so, Jane can barely bring herself to leave the
only love she has ever known. She credits God with
helping her to escape what she knows would have
been an immoral life (Chapter 27).
Jane ultimately finds a comfortable middle
ground. Her spiritual understanding is not hateful
and oppressive like Brocklehurst’s, nor does it
require retreat from the everyday world as
Helen’s and St. John’s religions do.
For Jane, religion helps curb immoderate
passions, and it spurs one on to worldly efforts
and achievements. These achievements include full
self-knowledge and complete faith in God.
Social Class
Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre is critical of Victorian England’s
strict social hierarchy. Brontë’s exploration of
the complicated social position of governesses
is perhaps the novel’s most important treatment
of this theme.
Like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Jane is a
figure of ambiguous class standing and,
consequently, a source of extreme tension for
the characters around her
Jane’s manners, sophistication, and education
are those of an aristocrat, because Victorian
governesses, who tutored children in etiquette
as well as academics, were expected to possess
the “culture” of the aristocracy. Yet, as paid
employees, they were more or less treated as
servants; thus, Jane remains penniless and
powerless while at Thornfield.
Jane’s understanding of the double standard
crystallizes when she becomes aware of her feelings
for Rochester; she is his intellectual, but not his
social, equal.
Even before the crisis surrounding Bertha Mason,
Jane is hesitant to marry Rochester because she
senses that she would feel indebted to him for
“condescending” to marry her. Jane’s distress, which
appears most strongly in Chapter 17, seems to be
Brontë’s critique of Victorian class attitudes.
Jane herself speaks out against class prejudice
at certain moments in the book. For example,
in Chapter 23 she chastises Rochester: “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! And if God had gifted me with
some beauty and much wealth, I should have
made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is
now for me to leave you.”
However, it is also important to note that
nowhere in Jane Eyre are society’s boundaries
bent. Ultimately, Jane is only able to marry
Rochester as his equal because she has almost
magically come into her own inheritance from
her uncle
Proto-Feminist vs. "The Third
Person Man"
The Victorian period saw the emerging idea of
feminism -- or rather, to avoid all connotations
which that word has taken on — the equality
of men and women. This simple protofeminism surfaced quite slowly, mostly
through literature and other forms of public
The Quakers were the most active group
purporting equality, however they were a small
group and, for the most part, not influential,
except as a novelty to the greater population.
In 1966, R.B. Martin stated that Jane Eyre was
the first major feminist novel, "although there
is not a hint in the book of any desire for
political, legal, educational, or even
intellectual equality between the sexes."
Rather, Martin supports the idea that Jane
(Brontë) merely wants recognition that both
sexes are similar in "heart and spirit." Nowhere
in the novel is this sentiment more obvious
than in the passage in chapter 23, when Jane
responds to Rochester's callous and indirect
“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...I
am not talking to you now through the medium
of custom, conventionalities, nor even of
mortal flesh; — it is my spirit that addresses
your spirit; just as if both had passed through
the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal, —
A clearer voicing of a plea for simple human
equality could hardly be imagined.
What makes Jane's speech so easy to
sympathize with is Brontë's adept use of the
first person point of view. Often, when an
author wishes to further his or her own cause,
the identity of the speaker can either be lost in
the course of an ideological tirade, or never
even be established outside of the plot.
What sustains the believability and emotion of
Jane's speech is that it is continually being
referenced back to the character who we have
grown to love through the course of the novel
thus far. In the middle of her monologue, Jane
refers to herself as "poor, obscure, plain, and
little," reminding us of the characteristics of
the girl being hurt here
. Another section of the
monologue, which I omitted in
the above excerpt, serves the
same function, "And if God had
gifted me with some beauty, and
much wealth..."
The final aspect of the discourse which
anchors the view of equality to the
character of Jane Eyre is that,
philosophically and spiritually, the view
has an experiential origin in Jane's life, in
that much of what she says can actually
be traced back to her conversations with
Helen Burns, the wise young girl who
died in Lowood.
R.B. Martin very neatly sums up
the relationship between the
contemporary views on sexual
differentiation and how they
affect the characters:
The condemnation of women to a place apart
results in the creation of empty, capricious
women like Blanche Ingram, who tyrannize
over men whenever possible, indulge in
dreams of Corsair lovers, and can
communicate only in the Byronic language of
outdated romantic fiction.
George Eliot
Mary Ann (Marian) Evans (22 November
1819 – 22 December 1880), better known by
her pen name George Eliot, was an English
novelist. She was one of the leading writers of
the Victorian era. Her novels, largely set in
provincial England, are well known for their
realism and psychological perspicacity.
She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure
that her works were taken seriously. Female
authors published freely under their own
names, but Eliot wanted to ensure that she was
not seen as merely a writer of romances. An
additional factor may have been a desire to
shield her private life from public scrutiny and
to prevent scandals attending her relationship
with the married George Henry Lewes
Mary Anne Evans was the third child of Robert
Evans (1773-1849) and Christiana Evans (née
Pearson), the daughter of a local farmer, (1788-1836).
When born, Mary Anne, sometimes shortened to
Marian,[1] had two teenage siblings, a half-brother,
Robert (1802-1864), and sister, Fanny (1805-1882),
from her father's previous marriage to Harriet
Poynton (?1780-1809).
Robert Evans was the manager of the Arbury
Hall Estate for the Newdigate family in
Warwickshire, and Mary Anne was born on
the estate at South Farm. In early 1820 the
family moved to a house named Griff, part
way part way between Nuneaton and
Coventry. Her full siblings were Christiana,
known as Chrissey (1814-1859), Isaac (18161890), and twin brothers who survived a few
days in March 1821.
The young Evans was obviously intelligent, and due
to her father's important role on the estate, she was
allowed access to the library of Arbury Hall, which
greatly aided her education and breadth of learning.
Her classical education left its mark; Christopher
Stray has observed that "George Eliot's novels draw
heavily on Greek literature (only one of her books
can be printed correctly without the use of a Greek
typeface), and her themes are often influenced by
Greek tragedy"
Her frequent visits also allowed her to contrast the
wealth in which the local landowner lived with the
lives of the often much poorer people on the estate,
and different lives lived in parallel would reappear in
many of her works. The other important early
influence in her life was religion. She was brought up
within a narrow low church Anglican family, but at
that time the Midlands was an area with many
religious dissenters, and those beliefs formed part of
her education.
She boarded at schools in Attleborough,
Nuneaton and Coventry. At the second she
was taught by the evangelical Maria Lewis—to
whom her earliest surviving letters are
addressed—and at the Coventry school she
received instruction from Baptist sisters.
In 1836 her mother died and Evans returned home to
act as housekeeper, but she continued her education
with a private tutor and advice from Maria Lewis.
When she was 21, her brother Isaac married and took
over the family home, so Evans and her father moved
to Foleshill near Coventry. The closeness to Coventry
society brought new influences, most notably those of
Charles and Cara Bray.
Charles Bray had become rich as a ribbon
manufacturer and had used his wealth in
building schools and other philanthropic
causes. He was a freethinker in religious
matters, a progressive in politics, and his
home, Rosehill, was a haven for people who
held and debated radical views
The people whom the young woman met at the Brays'
house included Robert Owen, Herbert Spencer,
Harriet Martineau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Through this society, Evans was introduced to more
liberal theologies, many of which cast doubt on the
supernatural elements of Biblical stories, and she
stopped going to church.
This caused a rift between herself and her
family, with her father threatening to throw her
out, although that did not happen. Instead, she
respectably attended church and continued to
keep house for him until his death in 1849. Her
first major literary work was the translation of
David Strauss' Life of Jesus (1846), which she
completed after it had been begun by another
member of the Rosehill circle.
Only five days after her father's funeral, she travelled
to Switzerland with the Brays. She decided to stay in
Geneva alone and on her return in 1850, moved to
London with the intent of becoming a writer and
calling herself Marian Evans. She stayed at the house
of John Chapman, the radical publisher whom she
had met at Rosehill and who had printed her
translation. Chapman had recently bought the
campaigning, left-wing journal The Westminster
Review, and Evans became its assistant editor in
Although Chapman was the named editor, it
was Evans who did much of the work in
running the journal for the next three years,
contributing many essays and reviews
Women writers were not uncommon at the
time, but Evans's role at the head of a literary
enterprise was. The mere sight of an unmarried
young woman mixing with the predominantly
male society of London at that time was
unusual, even scandalous to some.
Although clearly strong-minded, she was
frequently sensitive, depressed, and crippled
by self-doubt. She was well aware of her illfavoured appearance,[3] and she formed a
number of embarrassing, unreciprocated
emotional attachments, including that to her
employer, the married Chapman, and Herbert
Spencer. However, another highly
inappropriate attraction would prove to be
much more successful and beneficial for
The philosopher and critic George Henry
Lewes met Evans in 1851, and by 1854 they
had decided to live together. Lewes was
married to Agnes Jervis, but they had agreed to
have an open marriage, and in addition to the
three children they had together, Agnes had
also had several children by other men
. Since Lewes was named on the birth
certificate as the father of one of these children
despite knowing this to be false, and was
therefore considered complicit in adultery, he
was not able to divorce Agnes.
In July 1854 Lewes and Evans travelled to
Weimar and Berlin together for the purpose of
research. Before going to Germany, Evans
continued her interest in theological work with
a translation of Ludwig Feuerbach's Essence of
Christianity and while abroad she wrote essays
and worked on her translation of Baruch
Spinoza's Ethics, which she completed in
1856, but which was not published in her lifetime.[4]
The trip to Germany also served as a
honeymoon as Evans and Lewes were now
effectively married, with Evans calling herself
Marian Evans Lewes, and referring to George
Lewes as her husband. It was not unusual for
men in Victorian society to have affairs; both
Charles Bray and John Chapman had
mistresses, though more discreetly than Lewes
What was scandalous was the Leweses' open
admission of the relationship.
On their return to England, they lived apart
from the literary society of London, both
shunning and being shunned in equal measure.
While continuing to contribute pieces to the
Westminster Review, Evans had resolved to
become a novelist, and she set out a manifesto
for the Review: Silly Novels by Lady Novelists
The essay criticised the trivial and ridiculous
plots of contemporary fiction by women. In
other essays she praised the realism of novels
written in Europe at the time, and an emphasis
placed on realistic story-telling would become
clear throughout her subsequent fiction.
She also adopted a new nom-de-plume, the one
for which she would become best known:
George Eliot. This masculine name was
chosen partly in order to distance herself from
the lady writers of silly novels, but it also
quietly hid the tricky subject of her Marital
In 1858 Amos Barton, the first of the Scenes of
Clerical Life, was published in Blackwood's
Magazine and, along with the other Scenes, was well
received. Her first complete novel, published in 1859,
was Adam Bede and was an instant success, but it
prompted an intense interest in who this new author
might be. Scenes of Clerical Life was widely believed
to have been written by a country parson or perhaps
the wife of a parson.
With the release of the incredibly popular
Adam Bede, speculation increased markedly,
and there was even a pretender to the
authorship, one Joseph Liggins. In the end, the
real George Eliot stepped forward: Marian
Evans Lewes admitted she was the author.
The revelations about Eliot's private life
surprised and shocked many of her admiring
readers, but this apparently did not affect her
popularity as a novelist. Eliot's relationship
with Lewes afforded her the encouragement
and stability she so badly needed to write
fiction, and to ease her self-doubt, but it would
be some time before they were accepted into
polite society
After the popularity of Adam Bede, she
continued to write popular novels for the next
fifteen years. Within a year of completing
Adam Bede, she finished The Mill on the Floss,
inscribing the manuscript: "To my beloved
husband, George Henry Lewes, I give this MS.
of my third book, written in the sixth year of
our life together, at Holly Lodge, South Field,
Wandsworth, and finished 21st March 1860."
On 16 May 1880 George Eliot courted controversy
once more by marrying a man twenty years younger
than herself, and again changing her name, this time
to Mary Anne Cross. The legal marriage at least
pleased her brother Isaac, who sent his
congratulations after breaking off relations with his
sister when she had begun to live with Lewes. John
Cross was a rather unstable character, and apparently
jumped or fell from their hotel balcony into the Grand
Canal in Venice during their honeymoon.
Cross survived and they returned to England.
The couple moved to a new house in Chelsea
but Eliot fell ill with a throat infection. This,
coupled with the kidney disease she had been
afflicted with for the past few years, led to her
death on the 22 December 1880 at the age of
The possibility of burial in Westminster Abbey
being rejected due to her denial of Christian
faith and "irregular" though monogamous life
with Lewes, she was buried in Highgate
Cemetery (East), Highgate, London in the area
reserved for religious dissenters, next to
George Henry Lewes.
Middlemarch is a novel by George Eliot, the
pen name of Mary Anne Evans, later Marian
Evans. It is her seventh and penultimate novel,
begun in 1869 and then put aside during the
final illness of Thornton Lewes, the son of her
partner George Henry Lewes. During the
following year Eliot resumed work, fusing
together several stories into a coherent whole,
and during 1871–72 the novel appeared in
serial form.
The first one-volume edition was published in 1874,
and attracted large sales.
Subtitled "A Study of Provincial Life", the novel is
set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch
during the period 1830–32. It has a multiple plot with
a large cast of characters, and in addition to its
distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a
number of underlying themes, including the status of
women, the nature of marriage, idealism and selfinterest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and
The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with
an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the
narrative),[1] and the canvas is very broad.
Despite the fact that it has some comical characters
(Mr Brooke, the "tiny aunt" Miss Noble) and
comically-named characters (Mrs Dollop),
Middlemarch is a work of realism. Through the
voices and opinions of different characters we
become aware of various broad issues of the day – the
Great Reform Bill, the beginnings of the railways, the
death of King George IV and the succession of his
brother, the Duke of Clarence.
We learn something of the state of contemporary
medical science.
We also encounter the deeply reactionary mindset
within a settled community facing the prospect of
what to many is unwelcome change. The eight
"books" which comprise the novel are not
autonomous entities, but merely reflect the form of
the original serialisation. A short prelude introduces
the idea of the latter-day St. Theresa, presaging the
character Dorothea; a postscript or "finale" after the
eighth book gives the post-history of the main
In general Middlemarch has retained its popularity and
its status as one of the masterpieces of English
fiction,[2] although some reviewers have expressed
dissatisfaction at the destiny recorded for Dorothea.
From separate centuries Florence Nightingale and
Kate Millet both remark on the eventual subordination
of Dorothea's own dreams to those of her admirer,
Ladislaw.[3] However, Virginia Woolf gave the book
unstinting praise, describing Middlemarch as “the
magnificent book that, with all its imperfections, is
one of the few English novels written for grown-up
In its first conception, Middlemarch was a
story involving an ambitious doctor, Lydgate,
the Vincy family, and Mr Featherstone.
Progress on the novel was slow; by September
only three chapters of the story had been
completed. The main reason for this lack of
development was the distraction caused by the
illness of Lewes’s son Thornie, who was dying
slowly of tuberculosis
Following his death on 19 October 1869, all work on
the novel stopped. At this point it is uncertain
whether Eliot intended to revive the original project;
in November 1870, more than a year later, she began
work on an entirely new story, "Miss Brooke",
introducing Dorothea. Exactly when she started to
combine this narrative with the earlier LydgateVincy-Featherstone plot is unrecorded, but the
process was certainly under way by March 1871.[8]
As the scope of the novel grew, a decision was
taken as to the form of its publication. In May
1871 Lewes asked publisher John Blackwood
to bring the novel out in eight parts, at twomonthly intervals from December 1871.
Blackwood agreed, and the eight books duly
appeared throughout 1872, the last instalments
appearing in successive months, November
and December 1872
Plot outline
Dorothea Brooke is an idealistic, well-to-do young
woman, engaged in schemes to help the lot of the
local poor. She is seemingly set for a comfortable,
idle life as the wife of neighbouring landowner Sir
James Chettam, but to the dismay of her sister Celia
(who later marries Chettam) and of her loquacious
uncle Mr Brooke, she marries instead Edward
Casaubon, a middle-aged pedantic scholar who, she
believes, is engaged on a great work, the Key to all
She wishes to find fulfilment through sharing
her husband’s intellectual life, but during an
unhappy honeymoon in Rome she experiences
his coldness towards her ambitions.
Slowly she realizes that his great project is
doomed to failure, and her feelings for him
descend to pity.
Bulstrode’s terror of public exposure as a
hypocrite leads him to hasten the death of the
mortally-sick Raffles by giving him access to
forbidden alcohol. But he is too late; Raffles
had already spread the word. Bulstrode’s
disgrace engulfs the luckless Lydgate, as
knowledge of the financier’s loan to the doctor
becomes public, and he is assumed to be
complicit with Bulstrode.
Only Dorothea and Farebrother maintain faith in
Lydgate, but Lydgate and Rosamond are forced by
the general opprobrium to leave Middlemarch. The
disgraced and reviled Bulstrode’s only consolation is
that his wife stands by him as he, too, faces exile.
The final thread in the complex weave concerns
Ladislaw, who since their initial meeting has kept his
love for Dorothea to himself. He has remained in
Middlemarch, working for Mr Brooke, and has also
become a focus for Rosamond’s treacherous
After Brooke’s election campaign collapses there is
nothing to keep Ladislaw, and he visits Dorothea to
make his farewell. But Dorothea, released from life
with Casaubon but still the prisoner of his will, now
sees Ladislaw as the means of her escape to a new
Renouncing her independence, and Casaubon's
fortune, she shocks her family again, by announcing
she will marry Ladislaw. At the same time Fred, who
has proved an apt pupil in Caleb’s profession, finally
wins the approval and hand of Mary.
Beyond the principal stories we are given constant
glimpses into other scenes. We observe
Featherstone’s avaricious relatives gathering for the
spoils, we visit Farebrother’s strange ménage, we
become aware of enormous social and economic
But these are the backdrops for the main stories
which, true to life, are left largely suspended, leaving
a short finale to summarise the fortunes of our
protagonists over the next thirty years or so.
The book ends as it began, with Dorothea: "Her full
nature […] spent itself in channels which had no
great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on
those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the
growing good of the world is partly dependent on
unhistoric acts".
She forms a warm friendship with a young
cousin of Casaubon’s, Will Ladislaw, but her
husband’s antipathy towards him is clear, and
Ladislaw is forbidden to visit. In poor health,
Casaubon attempts to extract from Dorothea a
promise that, should he die, she will "avoid
doing what I should deprecate, and apply
yourself to do what I desire"—meaning that
she should shun Ladislaw.
Before Dorothea can give her reply Casaubon
dies. It then transpires that he has added a
provision in his will that if she should marry
Ladislaw, Dorothea will lose her inheritance
from Casaubon
Meanwhile an idealistic young doctor, Tertius
Lydgate, has arrived in Middlemarch, with
advanced ideas for medical reform.
His voluntary hospital work brings him into
contact with the town’s financier Mr
Bulstrode, who has philanthropic leanings, but
is also a religious zealot with a secret past.
Bulstrode’s niece is Rosamond Vincy, the
mayor’s daughter and the town’s recognised
beauty, who sets her sights on Lydgate,
attracted by his aristocratic connections.
She ensnares him, but the disjunction between her
self-centredness and his idealism ensures that their
marriage is unhappy.
Through a combination of her material greed and
Lydgate’s weakness he is soon deep in debt, and has
to seek help from Bulstrode.
He is partly sustained in his marital and financial
woes by his friendship with Camden Farebrother, the
generous-spirited and engaging parson from a local
At the same time we have become acquainted
with Rosamond’s university-educated, restless
and somewhat irresponsible brother Fred,
reluctantly destined for the Church.
He is in love with his childhood sweetheart,
Mary Garth, a sensible and forthright young
woman, who will not accept him until he
abandons the Church and settles in a more
suitable career.
Mary has been the unwitting cause of Fred’s
loss of a considerable fortune, bequeathed to
him by the aged and irascible Mr Featherstone,
then rescinded by a later will which
Featherstone, on his death-bed, begs Mary to
Mary, unaware of what is at stake, refuses to
do so. Fred, in trouble over some injudicious
horse-dealing, is forced. to borrow from Mary’s
father, Caleb Garth, to meet his commitments
This humiliation shocks Fred into a reassessment of
his life, and he resolves to train as a land agent under
the forgiving Caleb.
These three interwoven narratives, with side-plots
such as the disastrous though comedic attempt by Mr
Brooke to enter Parliament as a sponsor of Reform,
are the basis of the story until it is well into its final
third. Then a new thread emerges, with the
appearance of John Raffles, who knows about
Bulstrode’s past and is determined to exploit this

The English Bildungsroman