Charlotte Brontë II

4.5 Jane Eyre themes: Independence

In her Introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Jane Eyre, Sally Shuttleworth suggests that Jane, like her creator, is ambivalent about attaining the independence demanded by the women’s movement. Charlotte Brontë’s response to an article in the Westminster Review of 1851, ‘The Emancipation of Women’, concludes that the writer's head is 'very good - but I feel disposed to scorn his heart' (To Mrs Gaskell, 20 September 1851, in Smith (ed.), 2000, vol. II, pp. 695-699). Shuttleworth argues that Brontë:

fully accepts the sensible nature of the arguments for female emancipation, but her heart recoils, as if she is convicting herself of unfeminine behaviour in even listening to such ideas. Her judgement is as severe as any we could find in a domestic manual of female etiquette: ‘the writer forgets there is such a thing as self-sacrificing love and disinterested devotion’. This is clearly not the dominant spirit of Jane Eyre, yet it suggests the ways in which ideologies of Victorian femininity could wind themselves round the emotions, in despite of the intellect.
pp. xvi–xvii

Group activity: Jane Eyre and independence

To what extent does Jane Eyre represent a free spirit who demands equality and resists the ‘ideologies of Victorian femininity’? To what extent could the ‘dominant spirit’ of Jane Eyre be said to be the willing self-confinement of ‘self-sacrificing love and disinterested devotion’? Post your thoughts to the Charlotte Brontë II forum, and respond to others’ ideas.

Optional group activity: Agnes Grey and independence

Apply the same set of questions to Agnes Grey.

Post your thoughts to the Charlotte Brontë II forum, and respond to others’ ideas.