Feminism 101

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Jane Eyre // Charlotte Bronte

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I first read Jane Eyre in school in Year 9. At 14 years of age I was aware of feminism as a premise, inadvertently advocating it my own life against a misogynistic uncle and the boys in primary school who told me it was okay that I was bad at football because I am a girl. But reading this novel was the first time I became aware of feminism as a movement, as a campaign to achieve equality regardless of gender, social class and beauty.

The character of Jane Eyre is a working-class, abused, orphaned and not-particularly-beautiful young woman with the most inspiring work ethic. Jane is employed as a governess to a young French girl at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with the mysterious, almost Byronic Mr Rochester, her boss. On their wedding day it is revealed that Mr Rochester is already married to a mentally ill and unstable woman who, incidentally, is kept in the attic. Jane flees Thornfield Hall soon after.

On her way across the moors she meets St. John, a loving clergyman who, along with his sisters, nurses Jane back to health after she falls ill. When Jane tells St. John of her true identity it is revealed that they are cousins, which prompts her awareness of a family she knew nothing about. She inherits thousands of pounds from her rich and recently deceased uncle and returns to Thornfield Hall a woman of a higher social standing than which she left.

The elevated social position of Jane is the most important part of this novel in relation to its theme of feminism. It is only upon her return that Jane can marry Mr Rochester, not only because his wife has dead and she is rich, but because Mr Rochester is blind; a newly rich and plain-looking woman is the perfect match for a handsome, blind aristocrat.

It is clear through the brave feminist statements in this novel – “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” – that Bronte is not advocating the subordination of women. Jane Eyre presents the reality of the positions of women in Victorian England, allowing the development of feminism to be analysed but also an awareness on what is yet to be achieved to be highlighted. Jane Eyre is a wonderful, emotional, passionate and truly empowering book that I would urge everyone to read.

Words and collaboration by Caitlin O’Connor

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