What Makes Jane Eyre An Unusual Woman For Her Time?
Charlotte Bronte wrote 'Jane Eyre' in the mid nineteenth century. At
this time women were treated as inferior and believed to be less
capable then men. In the Victorian age this belief was widely accepted
and most women would marry and have children. Women were generally
expected to serve men; this meant many ladies were both emotionally
and financially dependent on their husbands. The fact that most women
abided by these traditional values meant that it was extremely
difficult for women to get jobs in the Victorian age. Employers were
often against the idea of employing women because they were not
believed to be as efficient as men and it was looked down upon in
society. The only jobs widely accessible to women were Governess
posts, this was felt to be a women's job as it is the mother who would
traditionally care for children in those times.
The novel is written in the first person narrative meaning Jane is
telling her own story. It is clear from the very beginning that Jane
Eyre is an unusual child,' my worse ailment was an unutterable
wretchedness of mind.' As a child Jane is forced to mature fairly
quickly due to the resentment she receives from her benefactress.
Unusually for a young child in that time she spends a lot of time
reading books ' the word book acted as a transient stimulus'. Jane is
keen to learn, an unusual quality for a girl of her time because most
would be ready to rely totally on men so had no need for this
knowledge. This want to learn stemmed from Jane's desire to be
independent. As a child Jane is singled out from her cousins and
forced to learn independence, it seems only natural that Jane would
therefore value her ability to rely only on herself.
Throughout the book Jane avoids getting into situations where she
feels 'owned'. When living in Gateshead Jane felt Mrs Reed owned her.
Therefore Miss Eyre links being 'owned' with bad experiences so she
tries to avoid belonging to anybody or being dependent on someone to
avoid remembering her time spent in Gateshead. When Mr Rochester is
her employer he offers her a fifty-pound note where only fifteen is
due, her need for complete independence is shown,' I declined
accepting more than was my due'. Jane refuses this offer because in
her eyes it would be admitting that she is not totally independent and
relies on him. Most women would have welcomed extra money, as during
the Victorian reign money was scarce especially for unmarried women.
Jane differs in the fact that money is not important to her, only her
own independence. She is unusual for her ability to be happy with what
she has instead of wanting what she has not. This selflessness is a
rare quality, certainly not common within the relative poverty of many
people living in her time.
When Jane flees Thornfield after finding out about Mr Rochester's
sinister secret she goes hungry for some time. Even when St John and