Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre: Independent Women

April 21, 2011 in British literature, European Writers, Literary Movies, Literary Movies 2011, LIterary Traveler Birthdays

Charlotte Bronte, Painting by George Richmond

Charlotte Brontë was no stranger to death. Her mother died when she was only five years old. When Brontë was nine years old both her older sisters died, and the rest of her siblings, Branwell, Emily, and Anne all passed away in 1848-49. Charlotte herself came to an untimely end when she died of tuberculosis at age 38, along with her unborn child.

However, this presence of death did not stop her from publishing the literary masterpiece, Jane Eyre and taking her place among the most prominent writers of the 19th Century. In fact, the hardships Brontë suffered may have helped her to portray the character of Jane with such realism and sensitivity. The orphaned Jane is forced to endure a variety of unfortunate situations throughout her childhood as she is passed from guardian to guardian: first her pitiless aunt, Mrs. Reed, then the cruel headmaster of Lowood School, Mr. Brocklehurst. Just when Jane appears to have finally found happiness at Thornfield Manor, she discovers that her fiance, Mr. Rochester, is in fact hiding a horrific secret that could compromise her blissful “happily ever after” ending.

It is precisely Jane Eyre’s strength in the face of adversity and her independence (characteristics not frequently ascribed to women of the time period) that make her such a compelling character. These traits are famously showcased in one of Jane’s speeches to Mr. Rochester: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.” This sort of empowering, proto-feminist discourse was rarely found in many novels of the time, and in fact, Brontë felt the need to write her first two novels under the masculine pen name, Currer Bell, because, as she later admitted, she had “a vague impression that authoresses [we]re liable to be looked on with prejudice” Later, however, her identity was very well known, thus Charlotte Brontë, herself was an independent woman who possessed the strength and determination so frequently attributed to her most celebrated character.

Jane Eyre is a character who has obviously left her mark on the public mind, as she has inspired various adaptations of the novel, including musicals, literary sequels, television series, and of course, motion pictures. The most recent film version was just released March 11, 2011 to positive reviews; it stars Mia Wasikowska (who also played Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) as Jane, and Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester.



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