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The Regency and Victorian eras exploded with prolific women authors such as Mary Shelley, Jane Ausen, and the Brontë sisters (Charlotte and Emily). With this great burst of feminine writers in the 18th and 19th centuries, along came feminist theory and ideas infiltrating the mainstream as well. Jane Eyre, a 19th century Victorian novel by Charlotte Brontë, is one of these famous texts that is often considered to be feminist literature. I, however, disagree with such a categorization. 

 

First, I must give you a very abridged version of the story. Jane, a young woman, dreams of being an independent woman. She’s hired to take care of Mr. Rochester’s daughter and in doing so falls in love with him; however, Jane refuses to marry Rochester partly because her independence is so important to her while it goes against Rochester’s desires. In a great turn of events, we find out that Mr. Rochester is still married and keeps his wife locked up and hidden on the top story of his house! This mystery wife, Bertha, starts a fire which causes Mr. Rochester to become severely disabled, thus needing a lot of help to function. Jane suddenly changes her mind about marrying him and they wed while Jane gloats about how equal their relationship is. 

 

Now, keep in mind — this is a very short summary, omitting many details. The important part to focus on is that Jane only agrees to marry Mr. Rochester once he is disabled and must depend on her. 

 

Does that sound very equal to you? It doesn’t sound very equal to me. 

 

To be quite honest, it reads to me as if Jane only married Rochester because she has power over him by the end of the novel. Now, I love a strong, independent, even dominant woman, but to slap the label of “equality” on that kind of relationship is just incorrect. Jane and Rochester’s relationship is anything but equal; there has just been a power subversion rather than a power leveling. 

 

Power dynamics such as this are not necessarily the healthiest for the feminist movement. Many men, and even women, falsely believe that feminism is dedicated to women taking over and ruling the world; the power swap in Jane Eyre more closely reflects this incorrect misconception of feminism than the more accurate goal of intersectional equity. Given this, it doesn’t seem like such a good idea to put the novel on a pedestal. 

 

I’m definitely not attempting to discount Charlotte Brontë in any way, this is a great book! Instead, I suggest that Jane Eyre be separated from current and later waves of feminism due to its potential to be damaging for the movement. Alternatively, Jane Eyre is good literature for critique and deepening understanding of past ideas of equality versus contemporary ones. It truly is an interesting read and I urge you all to read it if you haven’t. 

 

If you’re interested in other media that contain similar power subversions, I recommend the film Frankenhooker (tw: violence against women) or the novelette “Solitude” by Ursula Le Guin. 

Hi! I'm Alexa, one of the former Campus Coordinators for HerCampus UCSC. I love most old lady things (tea, embroidering, reading, etc.) and I dream of the day that I can retire to a green academia, Victorian home surrounded by cats and a wide array of novels!
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