Essay from Z.I. Mahmud

Young white woman with a thick cape and long blue dress waving in the wind outside in the fog near a tree empty of leaves.

Discuss Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as a bildungsroman novel 

Jane Eyre is a bildungsroman genre of Victorian prose fiction and poetic drama of the spiritual pilgrimage of the narrative protagonist bildungsroman heroine Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre’s quest of self discovery leads her childhood and adolescence folded, molded, stamped and carved by the engravings of the Reeds and Lowood Institution. Hypocrisy and prejudicial inequality throttled Jane Eyre to the attic of the Red Room with “blood coloured” and “ghastly white” striking terror to the childish lamblike soul. Mr. Brocklehurst denouncing in chastisement to belittle Jane Eyre as a “castaway”, “interloper” and “alien”.  In the Reeds’ household sterility, xenophobia, claustrophobia, sadistic cruelty and power mania embodied by their moral hypocrisies, emotional deficiencies and perversities of the presumably materialistic and power hungry middle class as a whole and the society that the class dominates. Except few figures such as Bessie, Doctor Llyod, Helen Burns and Miss Maria Temple; Jane Eyre was facing repressed emotional frustration amidst villainous and satanic characters including Mr. Brocklehurst and the Reeds family. Jane Eyre’s enrollment at the poor relief educational charity institute thrust her to impoverishment and malnourishment. Jane Eyre’s orphaned body politic within its virulent passions, tempestuous temperament and mutinous rebellion, are implicated to be epistemological anxieties, forlorn depressions, humiliation, self-doubt and habitual mood swings latterly foreshadowed by the antithesis of the heroine to the foil of Bertha Edward Fairfax Rochester———– loathsome, distinct, formal and mirthless madwoman of the attic——–the ominous and misapprehensive impediment to the marriage of Edward Fairfax Rochester with Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre’s flight from Thornfield Hall is the aftermath of the forewarnings by the letter from her guardian Uncle John Eyre as well as Mr. Briggs—-the solicitor espoused by Bertha Mason’s kinsman Mr. Mason revelation of Rochester’s clandestine relationship and the rending of the bridal veil.

Jane Eyre’s encounter with the Victorian romance and patriarchal misogyny is implicated by the gothic macabre and nightmarish episodes of Thornfield Hall. Edward Fairfax Rochester’s impervious personae, moody demenaour, boorish and brusque manner of conventionality and judgmental personage arouses the indignation of Jane Eyre to flee temptation as metaphorically alluded by her flight from Thornfield Hall. Jane Eyre’s adulthood and humanity are disparagingly critiqued by the judgmental nature of Rochester as addressing the governess as  “linnet”, “imp”, “fairy”, “elf”, “salamander” and even a “thing”. In response to the bigamous affair and scandalous adultery of the libertine sentimentalist Edward Fairfax Rochester, the bildungsroman heroine adheres to the philosophic Helen Burns’s sentimental morality, spiritual integrity and transcendental asceticism as reechoed in the following dialogism foreshadowed by the dialect : “I must resist those who punish me unjustly.”  Jane Eyre: “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!” [The bildungsroman heroine remonstrates a froth of emotions evoked by the tumultuous brain and insurrectionist heart as she becomes envious of Edward Fairfax Rochester’s merriment in the houseparty with Blanche Ingram.]

Edward Rochester masquerades as the disguisement of a fortune teller in relation to the welfare of Jane Eyre’s association whose brow profess to say: “I can live alone if self-respect and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born within me, which can keep me alive if all the extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.” [Class prejudice and gender inequality coalesces with the coercion of the status quo in the semiotic.] Furthermore, ironically Rochester sees her [Jane Eyre] as a bird rending its own feathers self-destructively or glancing through the closed bars of a cage: Edward Rochester: “Jane, be still; don’t struggle so like a wild, frantic bird, that is rending its own plumage in its desperation.” And of course, Jane Eyre’s reclamation of the spirit of independence is justly and aptly brought into focus by the narratorial voice. Jane Eyre: “I am no bird; no net ensnares me; I am a free human being, with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.” This dialogism focusing the repartee between the protagonists spotlights the flashback of metaphorical imageries in the envisioning of the impediment to the betrothal as the nostalgic reawakening of pathetic fallacy:

“A Christmas frost had come at mid-summer; a white December storm had whirled over June; ice glazed over ripe apples; drifts crushed the blowing roses; on hayfields and cornfields lay a frozen shroud.”

Rochester’s and Jane’s relationship is symbolically decadence and fragmentation metaphorized by nothing better than before the thunder struck lightning of the old chestnut tree in the orchard. Furthermore, Jane Eyre’s staunch principles of the moral integrity and the revolutionary struggle for establishment is noteworthy in this relevance pertaining to the obstacles and hindrances to the wedding between master Edward Fairfax Rochester and the governess Jane Eyre. Undoubtedly, the heroine can relate herself to the counsel of the housekeeper Mrs. Alice Fairfax whose insurmountable imperative was: “gentlemen of his station are not accustomed to marry their governesses.” Jane Eyre’s abhorrence of triffles and frivolities disenchants her from the London heirloom jewels, the amethyst silk and pink satin from Rochester are prolifically pointed by the former: “The more he [Edward Rochester] bought me, the more my [Jane Eyre’s] cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation…He smiled; and I thought this smile was such as a Sultan might….bestow on a slave his gold and gems had enriched.”    

In Western customs and traditions the bridal wedding veil symbolism proclaims the virginity of the bride before wedlock. In this instance, Jane Eyre insists on her plain head covering, her “veiled figure”…. “seems almost the image of a stranger” to her because the marriage seems like a masquerade. By ripping the veil, the spinsterish lunacy of Bertha Mason suggests the implication of fabricated or sham marriage that women like Jane Eyre and herself cannot split up into the innocent virgins and insatiable maidens into spoiled belles and overfed mistresses.

Jane Eyre casts herself as the saviour by her rescuing efforts in the endeavours to extinguish flame ablaze in Edward Rochester’s bed-chamber. Nonetheless, Jane Eyre does not abdicate her dreams and aspirations despite forlorning the Thornfield Hall. Aestheticism of the eclectic nature reinvigorates Jane Eyre’s spiritual communion with mother nature amidst the Marsh End Moors: “Nature seemed to me benign and good; I thought she loved me, outcast as I was; and I, who from man could anticipate only mistrust, rejection, insult clung to her with filial fondness. Tonight at least, I would be her guest——as I was her child; my mother would lodge me without money and without price”.

Significantly Jane Eyre’s association with the Marsh End Moors St John Rivers exposes her to the dramatics of full blossoming maturity. This was the moment when Jane Eyre’s symbols of servitude as an ‘ape of the harlequin’ contrasts with the enshrinement of the missionary’s asceticism. We can trace back to the Thornfield Hall referring to the halcyon heyday in Jane Eyre’s bildungsroman. “I grieve to leave Thornfield; I love Thornfield. I love it, because I have lived in it a full and delightful life—–momentarily at least. I have not been trampled on. I have not been petrified. I have not been buried in the inferior minds, and excluded from every glimpse of communion with what is bright and energetic, and high. I have talked face to face, with what I reverence; with what I delight in—–with an original, a vigorous and an expanded mind.”

Jane Eyre after all, proclaims the fantasy wish fulfillment in the admiration of Edward Fairfax Rochester; which juxtaposes veneration of sainthood and apostleship in the approbation of St John Rivers. [In the former case, the following dialogues are observed: “My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood before me and every thought of religion; as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not in those days, see God for His creature of whom I had made an idol.” In the later case, the following subsequent dialogism emerges: “I felt veneration for Saint John Rivers—–veneration so strong that its impetus thrust at me at once to the point I had so long shunned. I was tempted to cease struggling with him—–to rush down the torment of his will into the gulf of his existence, and there lose my own.” It is noteworthy that Jane Eyre’s subjectivity and endearment of such fellow-feeling is the aftermath of St. John Rivers’ asserted opinion of the former: “Human affections and sympathies have a most powerful hold on you”. Moreover, the ‘glorious prospects of independence’ and the ‘ponderous gifts of gold’ could be transformed into a legacy of life, hope and enjoyment through Jane Eyre’s collaborative beneficiary between St. John Rivers, Diana and Mary; thus dividing the fortunes endowment of twenty thousand pounds in proportion of equanimity. So far this is poignantly observant of the Valley of Humiliation impoverished and destitute Jane Eyre visitation to the Moor House is reminiscent of the Pilgrim’s Progress and particularly John Bunyan’s allegorical the Palace Beautiful, as suggested that she had strayed from the narrow at Thornfield.

Nevertheless, Saint John Rivers is later vindicated to be a more subtle and more cold Mr. Brocklehurst; cold cumbrous column of a clergyman self-sacrificial colonial missionary—–the impetus reminiscent of the black pillar on the hearth rug of Gateshead.  However, St. John Rivers’ character cast by the Brontean novelist is of paramount importance to the extent of possibilities and further discoveries of the bildungsroman protagonist. St. John Rivers is the antithesis to Helen Burns without innocence and naivete; he is more purposeful, direct and threatening. In both of these persona the heroine of the narrative as well as the author visualizes extreme spiritual impulse: a form of sublimation which can be both creative and liberating but at the same time self-destructive or self-sacrificial as exemplified by the sadistic arrogance of St. John Rivers and masochism of Helen Burns.

Somehow, Helen Burns’ and Miss Maria Temple’s serene philosophy of life touches Jane Eyre’s with strokes of heart melting emotions. Supernatural incantation of telepathic nature restores her wounded relationship with the maimed, blinded, lamed and crippled Edward Fairfax Rochester; whose masculinity was brown, shaggy; and later metamorphosed into a lion as well as Nebuchadnezzar of the forests imploring Jane Eyre to ‘be with my [Rochester’s] infirmities’ and ‘overlook my [Rochester’s] deficiencies’.

The revelation that Rochester already has a wife living, however, changes Jane’s prospects, although not her love itself, and reminds her the power that social position exerts over even the most passionate devotion. “I am not talking to you now through the medium of customs, 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——as we are!” This speech act is later to be ameliorative in case of Rochester’s imperial patriarchy and colonial misogynistic nature as reflected in the dialectic: “Divine justice pursued its course; disasters come thick on me [Rochester]. I was forced to pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.” Reformation of Rochester achieves celestial salvation by the glory of divine justice. Jane Eyre abandons her past misfortunes to be faded away to the seas and reunite with the maimed, blinded, lamed and crippled Edward Fairfax Rochester amidst the landscapes of Ferndean Manor. As a mistress, Jane Eyre declares her much awaited confession: “No woman was ever neared to her mate than I am; ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.”  

Works Consulted

Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own The Marxist Feminist Literature Collective: Women’s Writing: Jane Eyre

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar: From A Dialogue of Self And Soul: Plain Jane’s Progress [1979]

Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak: From Three Women’s Texts And A Critique of Imperialism [1985]

Linda Schlossberg’s “The Low, Vague, Hum of Numbers”: The Malthusian Economics of “Jane Eyre”, Victorian Literature and Culture, 2001, Volume: 29, No. 2, pages: 643-666

Thomas Tracy’s “Reader, I Buried Him: Apocalypse and Empire in Jane Eyre, Critical Survey, 2004, Volume: 16, No. 2, Postcolonial Interdisciplinary, pages: 59-77

Sarah Gilead’s Liminality and Antiliminality in Charlotte Bronte’s Novels: Shirley Reads Jane Eyre, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Fall 1987, Volume: 29, No. 3, Nineteenth Century Fiction, pages: 302-322, University of Texas Press

Elizabeth Atkin’s Jane Eyre Transformed, Literature/ Film Quarterly, 1993, Volume: 21, No. 1, pages: 54-60, Salisbury University

Kathleen Vejvoda’s Idolatry in “Jane Eyre”, Victorian Literature and Culture, 2003, Volume: 31, No. 1, pages: 241-261, Cambridge University Press.

Nancy Pell’s Resistance, Rebellion and Marriage: The Economics of Jane Eyre, Nineteenth Century Fiction, March 1977, pages: 397-420, University of California Press.

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