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Female Protagonists In Women's Literature Essay

3279 words - 13 pages

They feasted upon it. They thirsted for it. Society looked down on them for it, but these women remained honey mad, remained desperate for salvation in flavor, and craved salvation in indulgence. Considered half-savage and more than a little deranged, they roamed, free to do what so many of the women in "civilized" society longed to do. In Honey Mad Women: Charlotte Bronte's Bilingual Heroines, Patricia Yaeger hypothesizes that "bilingual heroines... are also honey mad women: women who consume, to excess, the languages designed to consume them" (Yaeger 11). She applies this theory to Charlotte Bronte's heroines, but it is also applicable to other literary works such as The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, The Lais of Marie de France, The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, Lillian Hellman's plays, and the poetry of Sappho and Sylvia Plath.

Yaeger discusses several qualities of the honey-mad woman, and applies them to the female protagonists in Bronte's writing.

[b]y consuming not language, but languages, Bronte's bilingual heroines have discovered an alternative method of placing previously unsymbolized emotions and ideas into practice. The second language serves as an emancipatory function in Bronte's texts enacting a moment in which the novel's primary language is put into process, a moment of possible transformation when the writer forces her speech to break out of old representations of the feminine (Yaeger 12).

Yaeger gives several examples of this in Jane Eyre. First of all, the incident involving the word "slattern" was clearly an empowering moment in the novel. Yaeger explains that the word slattern "denigrates women, [which] calls attention to some slackness of spirit or body not shared by men" (Yaeger 13) and it was this word that was bound "like a phylactery around Helen's large, mild, intelligent and benign-looking forehead" (Bronte 105). When Jane sees this sorry spectacle, she tears the word off Helen's head and tosses it into the fire, but instead of being punished, she is found innocent of a previous charge of lying. Yaeger says that in this way, "her attack upon the word is obliquely condoned" (Yaeger 13).

After this pivotal scene, Jane feels free to feed upon honey, to luxuriate in the control and pleasure that language gives her. She is free to seek knowledge and enjoy the presence of language in her life.

In a few weeks, I was promoted to a higher class; in less than two months I was allowed to commence French and drawing. I learned the first two tenses of the word Etre and sketched my first cottage....That night on going to bed... I... prepar[ed]... and... feasted... on the spectacle of ideal drawings, which I saw in the dark- all the work of my own hands; freely penciled houses and trees, picturesque rocks and ruins, Cuyp-like groups of cattle, sweet paintings of butterflies hovering over unblown roses, of birds picking at ripe cherries, of wren's nests enclosing pearl-like eggs, wreathed about with...

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