Women In Victorian Era In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre And Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea
There have been various approaches applied to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso sea. The struggles of women in the Victorian era in finding their identities and gaining acceptance within a male dominated society is evident in both novels. This essay will look into and compare a feminist and psychoanalytical approach to the novels in depth. Bronte’s emphasis is on dreams, with Jane constantly battling between her ID & Ego, in comparison to Antoinette who only desired an ideal life. Moreover how both protagonists are surrounded by co dependant relationships which both women refused to conform to. Similarly, Jane and Antoinette allowed their psychological state to guide them to breakthrough through these moral challenges and issues, in order for them to find their identities.
Bronte and Rhys disclose pivotal moments of their own personal experiences throughout the novels. For instance, Bertha Mason like Rhys was a heavy drinker. Therefore Rhys feels emotionally connected with the character of Bertha from ‘Jane Eyre’. Her inspiration leads to the creation of the post-colonial novel, Wide Sargasso Sea. Women who did not fit in to an image of stereotypical Victorian woman are likened to ‘strange birds’, an outcast from society.
In patriarchal Victorian society, Women were objectified, viewed as a possessions of men and expected to be subservient in their behaviour. For example, a woman’s social status was recognised by the husband’s class status, unless single she was then recognised by her father’s class status, but predominantly the husbands status defined a women’s’ social identity. The dependency on men is unremittingly illustrated in both novels. For instance, Jane’s cousin John Reed reminds Jane of her dependency and status in society ‘you are a dependant’ exemplifies the narrow mindedness and supremacy of the Victorian man. Equally Antoinette’s life is controlled by the men in her life. This is apparent in wide Sargasso Sea when her father died, her mother married Mr Mason in order to save the family from hardship. Mr Mason uses his authoritative position as Antoinette’s step father and makes important life decisions for her which she is expected to conform to. First a boarding school and then an arranged marriage to ‘best suiter’ Rochester whom she barely knows. This strongly suggests how both protagonist were experiencing subjugation and repression of their inner voice.
A feminist analysis of both novels highlights the gender inequality both protagonists experienced. Women had no political rights and were expected to be comfortable in the role of the home in the Victorian era. Jane and Antoinette echo one another’s repressed desires and passions. Jane is plain and fits into the role of an ideal Victorian woman, she is a heroine, one who is very confident. She is able to speak the truth against governing and authoritative figures in her life since childhood. Mrs Reed for example …’can see all you do and think…, …’how you wish me dead’ suggesting how Jane was conscious of people’s behaviour towards her as ‘unjust’. In contrast to Jane, Antoinette does not fit the image of an ideal Victorian woman and is therefore an outcast. Moreover, both women rebel against societal norms, wanting their inner voices’ heard. The novels explore how they fight for individual identity, gender status and how the two protagonists struggle in the realm of a patriarchal society.
The notion of stigma attached rights of women within society. A stereotypical Victorian male, The significance of Edward Rochester the Jane and Antoinette’s life. ‘My master’ exemplifies how this was embedded into the woman of the time and a constant reminder of the undervaluing position of women in the patriarchal society. There is a mutual attraction between Jane and Rochester when she amazes him with her intellect. The relationship is one of passion and balance, Rochester tries to forcibly seize Janes power ‘ I will clasp these bracelets on these fine wrists’ reflects the ownership and the imprisonment women faced, a reminder of the power and control that men had over women and how marriage enslaved women to the system. In contrast to this, Jane is able to express to Rochester how the relationship is not defined by social class or gender as she ‘need a man to complete her’ but ‘spirit that addresses your spirit’ implying how Jane refused to conform to the patriarchal system and staying true to her morals,
Antoinette is seen as the significant other to Jane. She contests Rochester’s masculinity and is not submissive towards him like Jane, as their relationship was based on his mere sexual gratification and not love. Antoinette evokes insecurities in Rochester as she would be deemed as a deviant to the Victorian societal norms and a threat to Rochester’s reputation. As a result Rochester exercises his patriarchal power over Antoinette in confining her into the ‘dark gloomy halls’ in the attic of Thornfield Hall. Implying once Rochester has manipulated her into trusting him, he entraps her to his state and silences her inner being driving her to ‘madness’ when he calls her with a different name ‘Bertha’ stripping her from her identity.
A Freudian theory in both novels, exemplifies how both authors used symbolic motifs, for instance Bertha is locked away as a reflection of Rochester’s hidden secrets.
Rochester incites the desires and passions of both women that are repressed and only evident within their dreams. Bertha wishes her inner desires to be fulfilled. She is idealistically dreaming of the idea to live in England happily with her husband (quote). Perhaps she becomes a ‘powerless outcast for love’, because she was unfortunate to have a ‘mad’ mother who did not educate her with appropriate values. Bertha’s dream evokes her madness to set fire to Thornfield Hall she commits suicide but leaves a part of her in Rochester when he loses his sight as a result to striping Antoinette of her identity and causing her to lose her psychological state due to Rochester’s narcissistic behaviour towards Antoinette, her setting fire is a symbolic reaction to her childhood trauma and her attempt to take back control and ultimately death as her only way out of the patriarchy.
Janes childhood is repressed and she is forced to contain her inner child by Mrs Reed when she is locked away in the red room due to her feisty temperament. This is where Jane experiences her first dream the trauma of which stays with her throughout her adult life. However her final dream enables her to reconcile her Id, ego and superego. She senses the calling of Rochester in her dream almost like a God like call, a spiritual awakening. This allows her intuition to guide her to true ‘longing love’ and survive in the patriarchal society. After finding her identity and becoming ‘equal’ to Rochester in status and wealth, Jane marries Rochester and lives a happy life where both are seen as one ‘…Blest- Beyond what language can express.’
To conclude, Various theoretical approaches have been applied to both novels however a feminist theory is a particularly dominant one and ties in with strongly with the themes of both novels.
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