Even at the time when Mr. Rochester chooses to spend abundance on Jane and her bridal outfits, she insists on getting no help from him and states that she can fund everything that she need. ‘I shall continue to act as Adele’s governess: by that I shall earn my board and lodging, and thirty pounds a year besides. I’ll furnish my own wardrobe out of that money, and you shall give me nothing’1.
Jane does not like this display of economic superiority. Bronte’s heroine tends to insist on having financial independence. Jane Eyre is a novel in which the heroine speaks about the treatment of sexuality. However, I would now like to point to the hypocrisy in this novel. The relation that Jane and Mr. Rochester share is purely based on fear, manipulation and struggle.
If we take a look at Jane’s behaviour when she finds herself jealous of and in competition with, Blanche Ingram. Jane addresses the repeated attempts that Blanche Ingram makes to woo Mr. Rochester. ‘Arrows that continually glanced off from Mr. Rochester’s breast and fell harmless at his feet’2. Jane states how had she tried the same, these efforts would have not been wasted.
Possession and Power seem to be the foundation of Jane and Mr. Rochester’s relationship. Jealously place a major role in ownership rather than love. We can see how Mr. Rochester plays upon Jane’s fear of Blanche Ingram, to get a confession out of her. Similarly, Jane uses St. John to place jealousy in Mr. Rochester’s heart, in order to wake him out of his sadness. This is far from the blissful union Jane claims to have with Mr. Rochester. The relation between Jane and Mr. Rochester is solely based on manipulation. Mr. Rochester deceived Jane to marry him, which serves as the most extreme example of manipulation.
Jane fears to be trapped and is frightened for her independence. The two times that Jane has fainted out of fright were, once in the red room and the second was on the eve of her marriage. She seems quite reluctant on going through with the wedding. The words that she uses to describe the day seem quite negative, ‘the month of courtship had wasted: its very last hours were being numbered. There was no putting off the day that advanced – the bridal day’3.
Jane is in constant fear of losing her identity. Jane’s bridal outfit has been described as strange and somewhat wrath like. Jane arrives at the alter looking like a ghost, with no colour on her face. She walks in looking unlike her usual self. When Jane looks upon herself in the mirror she finds herself unable to recognise her own reflection.
‘Jane’s fear at the threatening aspect of sexuality is compounded by a certain disgust at its expression’4. The prime reason for this disgust was Bertha Mason who haunted the house and who was the sole example of sexuality run wild. It is made certain by Mr, Rochester that it is not Bertha’s madness that makes her repulsive, as he assures Jane of that.
‘Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken, it would be my treasure still: if you raved, my arms should confine you, and not a strait waistcoat – your grasp, even in fury, would have a charm for me… I should not shrink from you with disgust as I did from her’5. It was due to her promiscuous sexual behaviour that Bertha was disliked so greatly.
Bertha’s loud and mad nature has been connected with vampirism and fire, and her sexuality has been associated with being monstrous and beastly. When Bertha had been introduced to the members of the court on the day of Jane’s wedding, she had been introduced as a beast. When Jane learns about Bertha’s identity, she finds herself at the verge of insanity. Jane and Bertha seem to have this unsaid connection throughout the novel, as all images and laughter are witnessed by Jane. Feminist critics have considered Bertha to be the complete opposite of Jane.
‘Jane up as Berth’s antithesis is a position so removed from desire and corporeality that it almost represents a repudiation of sexuality itself rather than – more simply – an affirmation of difference’6. Even before Mr. Rochester had met Jane, he was sure of one fact that he wanted someone who was the exact opposite of Bertha. All the words that were used to describe Bertha and Blanche Ingram were tall, busty, long and slender.
However, on the other hand the words used to describe Jane were fragile, childlike and slender. Mr, Rochester mentioning Jane as a good girl that has lived a life of a nun indicates attempts to indicate that Jane is sexually uninitiated. Jane is shown as someone that has not reached sexual adultery and much beyond it. ‘So, when Rochester characterises Jane’s beauty as just after the desire of my heart – delicate and aerial, he stresses an ethereal quality that effectively desexualises her’7.
Jane and Mr. Rochester have been described as equals throughout the novel. There seems to be a repeated indication of physical oneness. In Mr. Rochester’s words that he uses to describe their oneness, he mentioned there being a bond between them that connects them with one another quite literally. He claims it be a limb to limb connection, ‘a string somewhere under my left ribs, rightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame’8. There seems to be the suggestion of a natal bond rather than a marital one, almost umbilical.
This could also be a prediction of the union that takes place at the end, where Jane serves as the body that basically functions as that of Mr. Rochester. She becomes his eyes and his right hand for him when he loses his eyes in a fire. Their relationship is quite symbiotic.
One of the main message that Jane Eyre as a novel puts forth, is the fear of female sexuality prevalent during the Victorian era. We see this through the character of Bertha Mason. As mentioned earlier the author seems to use Bertha as a character on the border line addressing all those issues that women of that era would like to be addresses, without depicting them through their lead actress. ‘Victorian images of animalistic desire provide books full of matter for feminist enquiry’9.
One of the first outburst of female passion that we see is the incident when Bertha burs the bed on which Mr. Rochester was sleeping. Even though Mr. Rochester is saved by Jane in time. This act displays a burst of passion. Female passion seems to have no place in Victorian marriages, as we are constantly reminded about this by Bertha.
‘The marriage itself is the satisfaction of desire to the bride, who is forever fulfilled by the social security she has won, and the maternity sure to follow Jane, here, struggles to internalize this paradox of womanhood, that femininity is dependent on male desire but is threatened by female desire’10. This is the precise reason why Bertha makes constant attacks and prevents the union of Jane and Rochester. In a way indicating the dangers of marriage.
The second attack of Berth is against her brother who had arranged this marriage between her and Mr. Rochester. He is the one who accedes to her imprisonment in the attic. She bites his arm off when he come to visit her. This attack once again occurs right after Jane and Rochester get closer to one another.
Since female desire cannot really be subdued or eradicated, it is not something under someone’s control. There since Bertha’s husband Mr. Rochester did not have much control over her, he decides to declare her villainous. ‘This has become a radical feminist, dark vision of patriarchal, heterosexual oppression: female sexuality is criminalized and caged by jailer – males’11.
Female desire was considered criminal and illegitimate. This feeling was not something that was considered natural. When Jane informs Mr. Rochester that she feared someone would step out of the inner rooms, he informs her that that was not possible and that he had locked he room and the key was in his pocket. All night Jane could hear the so-called beasts or Bertha’s voices from the room. All this while she was thinking, ‘What crime was this that lived incarnated in this sequestered mansion, and could neither be expelled nor subdued by the owner? – what mystery, that broke out now in fire and now in blood, at deadest hours of night? What creature was it, that, masked in an ordinary woman’s face and shape, uttered the voice, now of a mocking demon, and anon of a carrion-seeking bird of prey?’12.
But the question that gets raised here is, who should be blamed? Is it the wife that should be blamed who seem have had these unnatural desires? But are these desires truly unnatural? On the other hand, is it the husband that must be blamed for imprisoning his wife, which in turn initiated this fury within her.
There are promises that women receive from novels, about love and passion. These give you false promises as they somehow depict equality of sexes and the eradication of paradoxes related to sexuality. But this does not seem to be the case in real life. The hero in novels does not seem to find himself repulsed or indifferent to the display of intense desire within that she only discloses to him. True love seems to be described as the perfect union and any war between the sexes seems to go away upon the union of man and women who are in love.
When a man confesses his love, he displays his need for his woman. He confesses his deepest desires to her by letting her know that her needs her to serve him emotionally, domestically, morally and socially and that he wants her to reproduce for him. He in turn promises loyalty, social security and marriage. When she professes her love, she lets him know that she needs him. She can only show that she has unrequited love for him, a simple display of need for his protection. If it were to be anything else it would destroy her, we have Bertha Mason as an example.
This is why when Jane finds herself falling in Love with Mr. Rochester, she warns herself. ‘It does good to no woman to be flattered by her superior, who cannot possibly intend to marry her; and it is madness in all women to let her secret love kindle within them, which, if unreturned and unknown, must devour the life that feeds it; and if discovered and responded to, must lead, ignis-fatus-like, into miry wilds whence there is no extrication’13.
Jane warns every one of the repercussions of female desire. She describes it as self-devouring. After the second attack that Bertha makes Jane is called away to Gateshead. It is when she meets the Reed sister – they are personified versions of female fates. The bitter widow, nun and society marriage. Jane sees them as warnings, a result of frustrations that occur from the lack of love from their man. This time spent with these women makes Jane rethink her expectations from Rochester as her husband. We find that upon her return form Gateshead, Jane is more submissive.
The third attack of Bertha’s was on the eve of her wedding. As we have mentioned earlier, Bertha rips Jane’s veil into half. Jane faints post this incident but upon waking up demands answers from Mr. Rochester. He lies to her stating that it was half a dream and half the fault of Grace pool, the mystery of the house. Even though Jane does not actually believe Mr. Rochester yet just pretends to look satisfied with the explanation. ‘Satisfied I was not, but to please him I endeavoured to appear so – relieved, I certainly did feel; so, I answered him with a contented smile’14.
Bertha seems to represent the fears that Jane has, sexual fears, right before her union with Mr. Rochester. Jane fears a lot more than her virginity, she fears her independence. An educated woman who wooed Mr. Rochester and won him. When men and women are married it is only the man who rules the marriage, the female disappears under the union of the marriage. ‘The married women is by law femme couverte, perhaps suffocated under the title or the body of her husband’15.
Jane now comes to understand the terms of the marriage that Mr. Rochester holds. He wishes for her to be the chaste nun like girl bride, who will help him redeem his status and help him escape this crisis that he is facing. He wishes to hide Bertha in the background by hiding her under the false madness of Grace Pool. Jane recognises the fact that Rochester must wipe out his own sins and be held credible for it. He cannot simply use Jane’s purity to do so.
Mr. Rochester tries to lure Jane through his romance. He tries to make her understand that he has been taught the meaning of true love by Jane and that he sees the repercussions of illicit love. Jane seems to realise the necessity of her independence outside this fate of prostitution outside marriage. She is protecting her identity, not by taking his side on his judgement of women as bad. She rather sees the double standards that seems to victimize women.
She sees how Mistresses have no power and she will end up losing all of her power along with purity and Mr. Rochester’s love for her. ‘These are radical connections Jane makes, between male control and of the terms of love and male control of the terms of female sexuality. It’s a neonatal critique of the double standard as part of the bulwark of patriarchy’16.
Jane realises that no matter how much Rochester terms her as an angel, a superior mistress or a pretend wife, she will still remain the other women in his life. This fact cannot be changed by giving it any other name. Jane sees the double standards that she is being subjected to, no matter how diplomatically Mr. Rochester chooses to put forth the offer. There seems to a hypocrisy in the standard of conduct for men and women. ‘Jane feminism questions Rochester’s power to label and buy bad women through marriage, while assuming his own right to both sexual experience and the ‘pure’ status of marriage’17.
When Mr. Rochester makes his final offer, he really uses his charming words wisely. His marriage proposal was filled with flattery and romance, a proposal that most girls would fall for. However, Jane’s answer seems to prove to the readers that she is not a fool for love, unlike those women that are described to do anything for love.
In her final speech Jane makes a declaration of her love and its separation from Mr. Rochester and his love and romance. ‘I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendliness, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad- as I am now’18. Jane finds that marriage is not a transgress able social boundary and that a women’s self-respect is through her principles.
Jane is defined by her singlehood and her individualism. Had she pinned over romance and love, she would still be stuck in the mansion with Mr. Rochester as his mistress or follow him into the wilds. But she chooses to put her foot down as a feminist, she proves how passion is overcome by spirit, whether it be a man or a woman. Jane seems to not be one to accept double standards within her household.
Jane’s transformation of desire, from fleshly and materialistic appetite, to spiritual communion and accountability, transforms by magic the inequalities of class and gender between Jane and Rochester’19. Jane seems to have triumphed over the fallen worldly male and shown the victory of middle class women and their moral superiority.
Through this Charlotte Bronte tries to show us her ambitions for women to achieve the same victory as Jane Eyre. However, this pride in the purity of women did not exactly come naturally to Jane Eyre. She had to pay a price for this lesson that she learnt and it was Bertha Mason who taught her this lesson. It is Bertha who teaches her that, ‘only female purity can tame male demand and only at the cost of female desire’20.
Jane Eyre as a novel holds the philosophy, the duty and the right for one to defend their own personality. ‘Jane not only resists seduction; she resists the oppressions of the nursery and the schoolroom; she resists the last temptation to self-sacrifice’21. Underneath all the romance that exists within the novel, it seems to be the story of a self-sustaining individual, attacked from several angles, struggling to survive and never letting anyone conquer her.
Through this novel Charlotte Bronte seems to have created heroine that would stand as an inspiration for generations to come. An example for young women that strive to realise their self-worth and stand for their individual personalities.
Jane Eyre’s image has been described in stages. The first stage is her childhood, where her feminist thoughts seem surface in order to fight for her poor life as a child. The second stage is where we see her feminist thoughts grow stronger when she has to face a lot of bullying and miserable experiences in her boarding school. The final stage is when she is in pursuit of true love, that goes hand in hand with equality and independence. This is the final stage where we get to see her Feminist thoughts mature and find direction.
‘Jane Eyre’s uncompromising pursuit for esteem leaves a deep impression on every reader of Jane Eyre, she struggles for equality on economy and marriage’22.