Substitute Mothers in Jane Eyre
In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane is an orphan who is often mistreated by the family and other people who surround her. Faced with constant abuse from her aunt and her cousins, Jane at a young age questions the treatment she receives: "All John Reed’s violent tyrannies, all his sister’s proud indifference, all his mother’s aversion, all the servants’ partiality, turned up in my disturbed mind like a dark deposit in a turbid well. Why was I always suffering, always brow-beaten, always accused, forever condemned?" (27; ch. 2). Despite her early suffering, as the novel progresses Jane is cared for and surrounded by various women who act as a sort of "substitute mother" in the way they guide, comfort, and inspire her. By looking into Charlotte Bronte’s own childhood and family background, as well as discovering aspects of Victorian motherhood in the mid-nineteenth century, one may be enlightened as to why so many substitute mothers are present to Jane throughout the novel. The substitute mothers, although a starting point for Jane’s emotional redemption, do not prove to fulfill what a mother in the Mid-Victorian era would be.
Charlotte Bronte’s own mother died when she was only five years old, so she and her sisters were raised by her father, Patrick. According to John Cannon, author of The Road to Haworth, "The image of their mother was strong in their minds, and it is often seen in the fictional characters which the girls created, but they were all far too young to be influenced by her in any other way" (Cannon 19). Charlotte’s father tried to remarry yet was unsuccessful, and he therefore raised his children alone with some aid from his wife’s sister. Charlotte’s older sister, Maria, acted as her own substitute mother; therefore when Maria died at the age of twelve it was like losing a mother twice for Charlotte (Moglen 21). Jane’s motherly figures in the novel are heavily focused on her child and young adult life, when a real mother would be of most importance, and when Charlotte felt her mother‘s absence the most.
Mothers are often missing in Victorian fiction of the mid-nineteenth century (McKnight 18). A large part of this is due to the very real threat of death through childbirth or from other incurable illnesses, but also because novelists like Bronte were capturing the life-threatening reality of motherhood in the century by showing how often mothers simply were not on hand to watch their children mature (McKnight 18). In similar regards to Bronte mimicking her own life with her characters, it is said: "While Jane’s orphaned and outcast condition represented a spiritual truth about the Victorian state of existence, it also signified an artistic truth for Bronte, who explained to Wordsworth the joy she felt in creating characters with ‘no father nor mother but your own imagination’" (Berg 4). He also states that without any family to tie her down, Jane is able to float freely and be in any...