Jane Eyre and Rebecca: The Presentation of Women in Society

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Charlotte Brontë and Daphne Du Maurier represent society and class systems within both Rebecca and Jane Eyre. Brontë gives us insight into a society overwhelmed by the patriarchal class structure and skillfully unravels the bildungsroman of Jane Eyre, who started as an orphan but quickly intermingled with stereotypical female roles within the 19th century. On the contrary, Du Maurier explores the possibilities for females to unhinge themselves from the standardized view attached to femininity and women. This is shown through the main protagonist Mrs De Winter who is a working female supporting herself similar to Jane she is orphaned at a young age, subsequently showing a stark contrast within the novels which both represent conflicting views about representation of women.

Rigid notions within Victorian England’s hierarchy remained present as Jane Eyre begins to highlight the significance of social class and etiquette in regards to the brutal mistreatment inflicted by John Reed as he violently torments Jane. He constantly reminds her that she is orphaned and is dependent on the Reed family to provide for her. He also reinforces her that she is without class as well as worth, he suggests that she has “no business to take our books, you are dependent on mamma”, Brontë's use of the inclusive pronoun ‘our’ is the first sign displaying how she is alienated from the family due to her having ‘no money’ and her “father leaving her none”, John continues disparaging her, by evaluating how ‘selfishly’ she takes from the Reeds though they are family, she “eats the same meals we do and wears the same clothes we do”, the repetition of ‘we skilfully shows the idea that Jane is in owe to the reed family and that is not deserving of a position in their family though they are cousin. The “Poor Law Amendment Act” of 1834 set up the workhouse system. Meaning that orphans like Jane were often placed in a workhouse or adopted. Until 1920, there were no official adoption laws, so there were little regulations and rules. If children were adopted into a higher class family they were often mistreated and even forbidden to speak to the family members, in this case, Jane has been handed over to her aunt Reed who treats her like an outcast, showing that from a young age the differences in class divisions define people and that everyone is not equal due to superficial factors such as affluence and gender. John continues disparaging her, because of this he behaves in such a degrading manner towards Jane, as it is a societal tradition and he has been conditioned to do so, henceforth he attempts to strip her from any self-worth. This misogynistic view is further evidenced, by subjecting her to fear “I'll teach you to rummage my book-shelved for they are mine. All the house belongs to me!” the short sentence and exclamation amplify his attempts to present himself as a superior being, Furthermore the utilisation of the possessive pronoun, ‘mine’ and ‘me’ additionally builds on Johns flaunting of his family's wealth and materialism. Bronte speaks through Jane about her dissatisfaction of the time. Jane has no education and is punished whenever she attempts to think for herself or defend her independence, because of this she is forced to believe that she will get nowhere in life without a male superior in her life, later seen with Mr Rochester, However at the time of the industrial revolution, there was a change in societal interaction as well as political and religious movements, therefore, Jane rejected her label of an orphan and having to be dictated by social rules, she demands to be treated as an equal, disestablishing the boundaries between the ideology of a female's role and emancipation from these strict rules.

Comparably Du Maurier sheds light on the problematic structure of a social class; she gives us insight on the conventions of the female role, which is challenged through heroine De Winter, (Winter). Her upbringing is vague however the novel suggest She came from a lower-middle-class background, but her class status is uncertain after the event of her parents death, meaning she was forced to support herself, fortunately she found work under Mrs Van Hopper a wealthy American woman who is perceived as a ‘mother figure’ by Winter and aids in moulding her character however when she tells Mrs Van Hopper warns Winter,” you will bitterly regret this” foreshadowing the fate of her relationship, the fire and exposure of max’s secret. Winter starts off as a paid companion, which was considered a low-class job at the time. though she is lucky to find work and live an independent lifestyle not available to most women as There were limited employment and opportunities for education for women and more difficult to get work with no education, fortunately, Winters had a steady job but exchanged for a lover and beautiful home, Winter falls in love with a mysterious man later recognised to be the cryptic Maximilian, suddenly becomes the lady of the house at Manderley. Her new status and authority conflicted with her whether she deserved her title but she unable to overlook and forget about her lower-class roots and her emotional upbringing, she is both worried and insecure about what both the servants and her newly acquired peers will think of her, in particular, Mr Danvers the caretaker and chief servant, she ‘hated’ Winter through most of the novel as she adored and cherished Rebecca, the harsh use of the noun evokes the strong opinion that she has of Rebecca’s perfect character qualities that winter would never attain to be enough to fill Rebecca’s shoes though later in the novel she is portrayed as conniving and promiscuous, Danvers adores Rebecca both when she was alive and carries her devotion through death showing the emotions Mrs Danvers had for Rebecca, “You tried to take Mrs. de Winter's place”, the short sentence portrays a blunt and spiteful attitude towards Winter, though she has higher status and those beneath her should be respectful. Danvers also uses her influential high ranked position at Manderley to intimidate and manipulate the narrator, in spite of Winter’s superior rank it is shown to be rooted in her as she always feels like she is perched between classes and never feeling at ease at Manderley. When she becomes the wealthy mistress of the mansion, she is unsure of what to do with herself as she is stripped from work and independence instead of having no purpose. Winter is frightened of Mrs. Danvers also her wickedness which is shown once again during the summer costume ball thrown in Winter’s honour during which she humiliates Winter by convincing her to wear the same white dress that Rebecca wore years prior, further evoking tension between Winter and max, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”, the rhetorical question portrays vexation in Max and how Winter and Danvers break social construct by reversing class authority when convincing Winter to wear the same dress. He orders Winter to change immediately, feeling perplexed the narrator walks back to her room passing Mrs Danvers, whose face is painted victorious However in the Victorian era situations like this were very impossible due to the rigid behaviour codes and conventions isolating each class, which governs how they should address each other. This breaking of conventions is seen after she arrives at Manderley, where most characters break the strict social class rules and conventions and are usually the main protagonists Max and Winter with Danvers. Lewes praises the novel’s realism, noting that ‘Reality – deep, significant reality – is the great characteristic of the book’ In reference to a specific passage, he continues, ‘It reads like a page out of one’s own life, and so do many other pages in the book’. The novel’s realism, Lewes argues, is best achieved in its representation of the governess, which is ‘not only accurate but accurate in being represented from the governess point of view’. This latter point suggests that Jane Eyre introduced a new kind of female consciousness to the British novel. Reinforcing this idea, Lewes describes Jane as ‘a woman, not a pattern’.

The women of this society are denigrated and undermined by ‘superior’ men being trained from a young age to become subservient housewives, Brontë sheds light on this by conveying her feminism and equality injustices through Jane and the tone set by her powerful rhetoric’s “do you think I am automaton? A machine without feelings?” shows Jane’s raw emotions on the oppression of women and that they were viewed as nothing, the pre-modification dehumanises Jane and fuels her want for Rochester to understand her position and emotions, this is further conveyed when she explains how both genders are the same, “it is my spirit that addresses your spirit: just as if both had passed through the grave,” indicating that Jane is attempting to make Rochester understand that they are both equals and their souls break gender and hierarchical boundaries adding how “at God's feet, equal, as we are!” this further conveying how the sexist discrimination against women is unjust, additionally how God views us, his subjects, as equals mentally and physically. The use of the exclamation exaggerates how she is surfeited with the wave of emotions built up and how others neglected her basic needs and wants around her. Mrs Reed is another example of who may not be a man but has certainly shown dominance and belittled Jane “I shall remember how you thrust me back, roughly and violently thrust me back into the red-room, and locked me up there” the powerful adverbs ‘roughly’ and ‘violently’ evoke trauma and hurt from Jane as her and her father trusted Mrs Reed to take care of her and failed to, because she was between societal class. These are her final words to Mrs Reed before being forcefully taken to Lowood and institution for women who receive education not usually available for the lower class making Jane ‘lucky’ to attend a prestigious school run by Mr Brocklehurt. Through most of Jane Eyre women are seen to be quite irrelevant and only useful for housework and their bodies, As the modern ages was submerging from Victorian England, education and school became more available for everyone and women became more vocal and independent, however these ideas and movements were quite premature therefore Brontë disguised herself under the masculine pseudonym Currer Bell, as it would have been received with greater acclaim by critics showing how brontë showed issues in her time and they had an influence on the novel.

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Du Maurier expresses how women of the 19th century was used and manipulated by the men in their lives for urges and menial labour, this is shown to be the case when Max pressures the narrator to marry him showing his impulse of wanting her and own her like property, ‘my sweet’ he uses terms of endearment to reinforce her trust and love, the adjective shows a deeper meaning to the words on how he treats her like she is beneath him and acts like she is an infant or child. He carries on in a joking manner ‘you little fool’ he addresses her in an insulting manner by calling her a ‘fool’ again amplifying his verbal abuse but admiration for Winter, he is also trying to rush into a marriage after his first which is unravelled further in the novel. We see Max is protective and obsessive over his appearance to the upper-class society; Du Maurier's ideas are rooted in the English aristocracy who enjoyed a high degree of protection in the journalistic world, so Rebecca’s infidelities and illicit affairs would be kept out of the public eye due to social scrutiny from peers. Therefore, newspapers posed a threat to Max as they would reveal their business and ruin his reputation forever, so in fear and worry, he attempts to isolate Winter and become more cautious with her activities to prevent the danger of tabloids and scandal. The events that unfold with Rebecca are kept secretive to his wife to be, the workers at Manderly also his peers. Furthermore, the oppression and ostracism is additionally seen when Max discusses the patriarchal society and his role as male of the house, “a husband is not so very different from a father after all” this shows how he blurs the concept of male dominance into one as an abstract formation, also controversially critiquing how women of this era had their lives constructed for them as they were handed from one male figure to another, usually from father to husband meaning that women were trapped in their lives. According to movie critic Wood, Rebecca is “a woman whose worst crime...was simply that she resisted male definition, asserting her right to define herself and her sexual desires”. Max continues to address her in a child-like manner “And now eat up your peaches”; the imperative portrays how he perceives her as an infant and is the inferior being out of the two. Assumingly Max is older than Winter, meaning he pokes at the idea that he is more mature than she is and more capable of making decisions for her.

Both writers explore social expectations and regulations for Jane and Winter to abide by. One of these expectations is to grovel towards men and tend to their every need. This is illustrated when Jane has her residency at Lowood through Mr Brocklehurst who further reinforces Jane to obey him as he enjoys intimidating the girls in the academy, torturing them, keeping alive them by half-starving them, and telling them that they’re going to hell for their sins, “I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world” he adds to this by saying ”my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh” the monologue shows how In the traditional curriculum of the time, girls and young women did not study “serious subjects” such as maths or science but young women were all expected to have a knowledge of the Bible and basic Christian teachings which were provided at Lowood in unique ways. This aids Jane when she leaves the institution to mature as she develops an understanding to follow Christian decorum and resists temptation these ideologies imprinted on her have resonated with her and has a drastic impact on her character. After finishing her time at Lowood, Miss Temple decides to help advertise her services for work and quickly becomes a baroness at Thornfield Hall, where she teaches Adèle Varens. She falls in love with Mr Rochester and they decide to want to marry, however Rochester keeps a deep secret from her, making her realise her fate “I grieve to leave Thornfield: I love Thornfield - I love it, because I have lived in it a full and delightful life” the repetition of the noun ‘love’ shows her devotion and passion for her job and for her true love, it shows that they have treated her with kindness and she is at peace as she felt safe and able to be vocal. She goes on that “I have not been trampled on. I have not been petrified. I have not been buried with inferior minds” the inferior minds refer to the neglect and mistreatment she received from the Reed family and finally being listened and understood. Being a baroness gave Jane a neutral vantage point from which to observe and describe the oppressive social ideas and practices of nineteenth-century Victorian society. Brontë was aware of women’s subservient position in Victorian society and of the difficulties that were faced by a woman who wanted to make her way in the world and to not be dependent on anyone. It was not respectable for a middle-class woman to earn her own living, she was expected to make a career out of a marriage and serving her husband and children or at most show her public interests to doing unpaid charity work.

Du Maurier surrounds most of the novel on Manderley, it is used to symbolise the preservation of his previous mistress, the charming Rebecca de Winter. However, for most of the other characters in the novel, such as Max, Manderley and its memories are not so pleasurable. Max wants to forget about Rebecca, who was evil and manipulative, meaning that she had been replaced, however Mrs Danver’s attempts to preserve her memory and name, but because Rebecca is so intimately tied to Manderley the symbolism comes to its inevitable conclusion at the end of the novel, when Manderley is engulfed in flames, presumably set on fire by the heartbroken or vengeful Mrs Danvers, metaphorical cleanse and free Rebecca’s spirit. At the precise time when Max and Winter were finally ready to forget Max’s sordid past with Rebecca, they find that Manderley has been destroyed. Manderley is a representation of the patriarchy system and all if the misogynistic social codes, strictness and hierarchical system. Max is the patriarch, who represents authority, masculine privilege and dominance, which similarly like the novel, is heavily influenced by her life, Maunderly was based on the picturesque mansion called Menabilly on the coast of Cornwall, which Du Maurier settled into with her husband.

The novel represents the stark contrast between the strong, self-controlled figure of Jane, and the animalistic qualities of Rochester’s first wife, Bertha. However, as many critics have shown, there are parallels between the angry child shut in the red room, and wife confined to the attic. She is infuriated at Rochester about the injustice of Bertha and she is kept in the attic as his secret. As her mind is slowly deteriorating, Bertha’s heart and brain conflict until she gives in and allows Rochester to be happy, she jumps from the window, in view of the fact that the 19th century beliefs are shown throughout the novel one unjust law of the bible is that Rochester would be able to get a divorce from Bertha and move on with his life. “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?” the phrase ‘mocking demon’ and rhetorical question shows how her mental and physical youth have started to decline and she no longer can fight for his love, she is no longer weighting Jane and Rochester true love and happiness. However, lying to Jane and keeping his wife locked away shows how Rochester has rejected Jane’s trust and she has to force herself to stop loving him by dismissing Rochester as her lover which results in her meeting St. John, who shows her how undesirable a cold-hearted approach to the world is and how she deserves to know how she deserves to be treated and not come second to others. Adrienne Rich states that the incident with John Reed was the first temptation of Jane Eyre as a powerless little girl in a hostile household. The moment at which she snapped at John Reed was merely the choice to overcome her victimisation of his psychic and physical violence against her. Even though she was punished and told to ask forgiveness, Jane still feels as if her actions were justified and that she is merely the scapegoat of the household. Bertha’s half-Creole and half-English, raised in Jamaica among the British aristocrat half of her family, showing similarities between Janes prejudiced life and Bertha's discriminatory upbringing. She is also called

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Jane Eyre and Rebecca: The Presentation of Women in Society. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/jane-eyre-and-rebecca-the-presentation-of-women-in-society/
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