Over the centuries, women did not have equal rights and privileges as men on many levels. Regarding English literature written by men, women were just objects and no leading roles. However, at the end of the 18th century, women began to write literary works and the female roles became individuals rather than serving as accessories of male roles, as they used to be. On the contrary, they got independent dignity, flesh and blood, and vivid features. Two of the most important women writers of this era are Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë. In the next paragraphs, I will analyze Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice from a feminist perspective. The main point of this essay is to spotlight the fact that two different Victorian female characters can be pertinent to postmodern women.
For the past two centuries feminism has been a remarkable and contentious topic in literary works. Novels such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen portray the fascination over this subject. Specifically, in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Jane is not a feminist role as we nowadays know, but she expresses the feminist ideal through her speech and actions. Even though she lives in a world that economic status, beauty, and marriage is very important, she is an unattractive orphan with no fortune and yet, she speaks her mind and breaks the conventions of status and beauty. In comparison with other women of her age, Jane’s dream was not to get married but to preserve her identity and her independent dignity in a male ruled society. She achieves that, by defying the rules of her society and speaking out every time she feels that she is treated unfairly; whether it’s her aunt, her bullying cousin, the cruel headmaster of Lowood, or even her love, Rochester. Furthermore, another evidence of Jane’s free spirit and feminist ideals is her relationship with Rochester. Although Jane is a governess, she truly believes that she is equal to Rochester in the spiritual level, ‘’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, — as we are!’, (Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, p.246). Here Jane does not behave the way society obligates her to, but she fights for her individuality and tries to break free from the ‘’customs’’ and ‘’conventionalities’’ of her society. Nevertheless, the ability that Jane possesses in order to overcome all of this depicts her vigour, a power that women like Ingram or other shallow women would not possess.
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In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elisabeth Bennet is breaking the stereotypes and the social norms that have been set out for her. Even though she lives in a man ruled society, she can be described as a feminist woman. From the beginning of the book, we can understand Elisabeth’s character. The fact that she never considered herself inferior to men or even women from the high-class, makes her differ from the rest of the women her age. Also, the fact that she equalizes herself with Darcy, a man of a much higher status than hers, depicts that she has not only grown as a feminist but also, she has become comfortable with herself as who she is and she will no longer take criticism from anyone, even from Darcy’s aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh, ‘’In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.’’, (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, p.343). Furthermore, when Darcy expressed his love to her for the first time, Elisabeth refused him because ‘’His sense of her inferiority — of its being a degradation — of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.’’, (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, p.183). Darcy’s proud words hurt Elisabeth’s pride and aroused her frustration. Moreover, we could say that through this book we can understand Austen’s beliefs for women and their place in the Victorian society. She strongly believes that women are at least as intelligent and qualified as men, and considers their unequal status in society to be unjust. Through the novel’s plot, Austen wants to show us that a woman has the right to refuse to marry for financial purposes (Mr. Collins) and pursue her happiness, respect and real love (Darcy). Regarding her dialogue with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the fact that Elisabeth remained respectful and unfazed, depicts her inner strength and courage; Elizabeth emerges as the feminist that she merely hinted to be.
In conclusion, Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë did not care about the appearance and the social status of their heroines, but they indeed cared for Elizabeth’s and Jane Eyre’s inner world, charms and resist spirit. Their rebellion manifest shows that beauty and social classes can never embody someone’s true values. Nowadays, people are still interested in Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, since gender issues are not completely resolved and they continue to provoke problems and debates.