‘Surface Appearance Is Not Everything’ Essay

3066 words - 12 pages

“Nineteenth-century Britain has been described as the ‘first industrial nation’ (Mathias 1983)” (Guy & Small. 2011: 13). Britain’s industrialisation during the eighteenth and nineteenth-century brought about significant changes transforming society as the technological advancements affected all aspects of life, that of cultural, social, political and economic circumstances. In particular the modern advancements of steam power technology expanded the industrial processes of printing which stimulated the economic growth within the writing industry, opening up forms of literature to a wider readership. Whereas before, “members of the social elite” had power and control on “the nature of literary culture” the integrity of “their cultural authority” was now under threat, to what Matthew Arnold had referred to as the “mass of mankind who were always satisfied with very inadequate ideas” (Guy & Small. 2011: 13).
Through the innovations of technology, scenes on the domestic, intellectual as well as the industrial front dramatically began to change, which provoked nineteenth-century writers to explore and embrace new ideas and themes “as they attempted to come to terms with what later historians would characterise as the beginning of modernity” (Guy & Small. 2011: 13). During this age of anxiety, I intend to explore and discuss two representations of the undersides of life presented in the early and latter halves of the nineteenth-century, referring to the portrayal of madness and the supernatural within Charlotte Bronte’s (1816-1855) Jane Eyre (1847) and Henry James’ (1843-1916) The Turn of the Screw (1898).

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a representation and reflection of the industrial era in which it was written. Depicting many common facets shown within society at the time, for example the novel “was written against the backdrop of Britain’s industrial and imperial might, exploring the division of class, new wealth, the role of sanctioned women and religious questions of faith and doubt” (Guy & Small. 2011: 8-11). Jane Eyre is a product of ‘bourgeois fiction’ (Williams. 1991: 156-157).
During the nineteenth-century “the portraits of madness executed by both psychiatrists and novelists were primarily women” (Chesler. 2005: 94). Jane Eyre through its fictional autobiographical narrative shows strong representations of madness related to realistic accounts depicting the restraints, conformities and the suppressed nature of women illustrated in the roles they portrayed in a patriarchal Victorian society. It is a novel exploring the unspoken hidden depths of repression and frustration of the female subject. Charlotte Bronte presents “female insanity in its social context, and as a reaction to the limitations of the feminine role itself. Unmarried middle-class women, for example, were widely considered a social problem by the Victorians” (Showalter. 1987: 61).
From the very outset ‘Jane Eyre’ does not fit into the feminine ideal...

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