English Studies 178
Tutor: Seamus Allardice
Research Task 1
Brontë’s Preface to Jane Eyre
Class: Class is a very difficult and complex concept, where it could be defined as a group relation made up of workers, and its share of the wealth created through work. During the nineteenth century, class were defined as “the working class” “or the middle class”. However, the three classes that emerged, during the nineteenth century, was the upper class (the idea of leisure), the middle class (bankers and merchants, made up of men) and the working class (more defined as poor).
Gender and feminism: Gender is a term used to form the social role of men and women. In the Victorian society class-consciousness became more acute where the leisured wife served as a marker of her husband’s status and success. Working women appeared not to be woman at all. There were social changes, over the course of the nineteenth century, for women which gradually characterized them as independent and self-determined. Since the ideal of femininity has been codified, the pressure of middle-class values also affected the ideas of masculinity. At the end of the nineteenth century, masculinity and femininity were troubled categories, where women became masculinised through public sphere and men became feminised in their weakness, brought up by leisure and inactivity. Renewed ideals of gender thus emerged, more focused on the bringing up of children.
Ideology: Ideology is a set of beliefs or a system of institutions and practices which conveys the impression of something that is internally coherent and complete. However, ideologies do not only exist on ideas. Victorian ideology, however, was fissured by competing emphasis and interests. The middle-class ideology, often associated with the Victorian period, was contested and always under construction. It was thus always open to revision, dispute and the emergence of oppositional formulations.
· Brontë wrote the preface on the second edition of Jane Eyre to demand a few words both of acknowledgement and miscellaneous remark. She dedicated the second edition of Jane Eyre to Mr. Thackeray, and acknowledges it in this preface.
· Brontë clearly has high regards for Mr. Thackeray as she dedicated the second edition of Jane Eyre to him. Her rhetorical style that she uses is for us, as readers, to understand why she alludes this man and, thus, she asks us this rhetorical question for where she gives us the answer afterwards.
· Brontë writes as Currer Bell, because he was the editor of the First Edition of Jane Eyre and wants the information provided published from Bell’s perspective.
3. Class and gender ideologies were very common during the Victorian period of the nineteenth century. Jane Eyre is defined as a proud character and therefore, no Christian grace is perceptible upon her. Commentary on the reception of Jane Eyre by Victorian middle-class readers will be furnished, upon the favourable commentaries of the excerpts The Christian Remembrancer and The Quarterly Review, included in the Norton Critical Edition of the novel, Jane Eyre.
Jane Eyre is seen to be a woman of the, last, lower, class as the world has treated her very badly.
“If the authoress has not been, like her heroine, an oppress orphan, a starved and bullied charity-school girl, and a despised and slighted governess (and the intensity of feeling which she shows in speaking of the wrongs of this last class seems to prove that they have been her own)” (Brontë, 450)
The reception that one finds here, is that Jane Eyre has had bad experiences throughout her life, where she was a child, from the lower class however, as an orphan. She worked her way up by becoming a governess, but by coming from the low class in the Victorian society, life has certainly not treated her kind.
During the Victorian period, gender ideologies were very diverse between muscularity and femininity. “In point of literally consistency the hero is at all events impugnable, though we cannot say as much for the heroine.” (Brontë, 451) Mr. Rochester is a character who secretly violates the laws of God and man, yet the Victorian middle-class readers are enchanted with him for his honour and generosity.
Jane Eyre [has inherited in fullest measure the worst sin] which is to be proud, and therefore she is ungrateful as well.
“She is one of those ladies who put us in the unpleasant predicament of under-valuing their very virtues for dislike of the person in whom they are represented” (Brontë, 452)
If Victorian men were proud, it would be the ideal of masculinity, but for Victorian women it’s the opposite. For a Victorian woman to come out of the last class into a working class and to have pride, is not the way a Victorian woman should be like. Therefore, Jane Eyre is disliked by Victorian middle-class readers.
The reception of Jane Eyre as character is clearly based on Brontë’s own experiences as a Victorian woman, and can one clearly see how Victorian class and gender ideologies consist of high importance during the Victorian period of the nineteenth century. Thus, Victorian middle-class readers knew the importance of these concepts and therefore can one critic on the reception of Jane Eyre, as one reads the novel.
Brontë, C. 1848. The Christian Remembrancer. Norton Critical Edition: W.W. Norton & Company, INC. (449-450).
Brontë, C. 1848. The Quarterly Review. Norton Critical Edition: W.W. Norton & Company, INC. (451-453).
Ellis, J. 1847. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. English Studies 178 course handout: Stellenbosch.