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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

JANE EYRE, THE WRITER

“Let the reader add,” “True, reader,” “In those days, reader,” Reader, you must fancy you see a room,” “I will tell you, reader, what they are,” “No, reader,”” You are not to suppose, reader,”” I have told you, reader, that I had learnt to love Mr. Rochester,” ”I had green eyes, reader; but you must excuse the mistake,” “ Stay till he comes, reader; and, when I disclose my secret to him, you shall share the confidence,” (Brontë,1-433) writes Jane Eyre, and by the reiterated use of the word reader, she becomes in our reading a writer on her own right and displaces Charlotte Brontë, her author, from the center of the novel scene. In a Brontë unconscious concession of her role as an author, Jane Eyre assumes herself the writer identity of her literary creator, and allows us to read her biography also as the making of a writer.

Jane Eyre has been mostly read as a story of the coming of age of a young struggling orphan. All of her controversial sexual and gender aspects, as a revolutionary feminist or as a conservative Victorian woman, have also been widely discussed. “The labor component of Jane Eyre stands central to the text’s manipulation of sexual identities. Gendered performances become acts that are increasingly tied to material wealth, and the text suggests that only the middle and upper classes can afford the costly performance of gender,” observes Godfrey. If it’s true that Jane Eyre will be crossed by a number of gender and class issues, from being raised in the middle class home of the Reeds to achieve her woman and class career as the girl bride of Edward Rochester, it is no less true that her work as a governess at Thornfield and as a teacher later, will find an intellectual continuity in her writing. She writes and writes with art and knowledge and it is amazing that Jane Eyre as a character has not been yet analyzed in her first and most obvious trait: author of an autobiography.

Charlotte Brontë created her character Jane Eyre and chose to tell her story in the genre of a literary autobiography. “There was no possibility of taking a walking that day,” (Bronte 1) utters Jane as the first sentence of her confidence. It is only by the end that we will learn that Jane Eyre, as a character, decides, after being married ten years to Edward Rochester and after having given birth to a child, to write her autobiography. She doesn’t explain in the text the reasons or the purpose for this decision. We can only infer that she was aware she had an accomplished life to share. Maybe she also felt that she could become an inspiration to other women orphans, as her love and protection for Adèle suggest. What we don’t know only enhances what we know, that by writing her autobiography, Jane Eyre becomes a writer, and mirrors as a double Charlotte Brontë, who is writing her. All the experience Brontë had as a writer, transfers without a filter to Eyre, who not only writes as well as her author, but shows in her story of what stuff writers are made. What molded Brontë, moulds also Jane.

The making of a writer and how a writer’s mind is shaped, can be observed along the text. Books are important in this story, as well as the solitude that usually pushes young people to become readers, and often, later, writers. Jane tells us about her readings at her Aunt Reed’s house “Bessie asked if I would have a book: the word book acted as a transient stimulus, and I begged her to fetch “Gulliver’s Travels” from the library.”(Brontë14) and also she becomes Helen’s friend because she is also a reader. Helen reads “Rasselas” and its story conveys a meaning regarding their imprisonment at the orphanage: “Few critics of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre have made much of the book that Helen Burns is reading when Jane first meets her at Lowood.”(Richard). Jane will later read to Adele, and will also avidly read books like “Marmion.” at St.John’s house.

Jane reflects on her contributing place in the world, when she considers, after St.John’s proposal, to follow him as a wife and a missionary to India. St.John’s is an inspired man, also an intellectual, and if Jane says “My heart is mute.- my heart is mute”(Brontë 384) regarding a vocation, she understands that she cannot spend the rest of her life mourning for the lost love of Rochester and accepts that: “Of course (as St.John once said) I must seek another interest in life to replace the one lost.” (Bronte 386) This is probably an echo of a choice Brontë herself had to make at some moment of her life and Jane, after marrying and becoming a mother, will still find that she owes something to society - as she did when she seriously considered to be a missionary if not a wife- and decides to write as a personal gift to others. The marked path of the writer is also knowledgeable in the fact that Jane is also aware of what the publishing industry is and makes smart comments as both a reader and a writer, borrowing once again, from Brontë’s experience:

“ I have brought you a book for evening solace," and he laid on the table a new publication--a poem: one of those genuine productions so often vouchsafed to the fortunate public of those days--the golden age of modern literature. Alas! the readers of our era are less favored. But courage! I will not pause either to accuse or repine. I know poetry is not
dead, nor genius lost; nor has Mammon gained power over either, to
bind or slay: they will both assert their existence, their presence, their liberty and strength again one day. Powerful angels, safe in heaven! they smile when sordid souls triumph, and feeble ones weep over their destruction. Poetry destroyed? Genius banished? No! Mediocrity, no: do not let envy prompt you to the thought. No; they not only live, but reign and redeem: and without their divine influence spread everywhere, you would be in hell—the hell of your own meanness.” (Bronte 354).

Not only Jane thinks as reader who enjoys quality reading but as a literary writer who will need, at one time or the other, to be published. She acknowledges, as Brontë herself, that the market may gain power over poetry and genius, but trusts that the best will still happen and that readers will be able to access more than mediocre books.

A writer like Charlotte Brontë endeavored to tell the story of Jane Eyre, a woman who will also end writing. Even if Brontë doesn’t allude to stories Jane might write other than her autobiography, we can imagine she will, because she writes with the same talent Brontë would exert if she was writing her own autobiography. “When you read, who is speaking to you? A novel or a poem is always told by a specific voice- the voice of the narrator: that narrator is a fictional character, whether they reveal themselves or not. Whose is the narrator’s voice in any particular text?” ( Bolton). These questions help to understand better the writer process, from Brontë to Eyre and eventually from Eyre to another fictional character, which could even be a certain Charlotte Brontë, a writer: “Authors want their readers to develop and maintain a relationship with the text –intellectual, enotional, physical and spiritual. They remove from the page their own bleeding heart, their own anguished mind or their personal knotty tussle…..It is not so much the death of the author, as suicide.” (Bolton). Dispossessed of Brontë’s real life and owning only an imaginary existence, Jane Eyre turns in an unreliable narrator, when it comes to analyze or describe facts of her own life. However, she is reliable as a writer, for what she tells, true or not, real or not, is still moving, credible and always interesting.

Behind Jane, Brontë hides her own unspeakable biography, not as a writer but as a woman. To which extent Jane’s feelings are her own, and which metaphor is hidden, for instance, in the romantic love Jane succeeded to live and Brontë possibly didn’t, is something that will remain for ever matter of discussion. But we can judge, with no risk of mistake, Brontë as a writer in the abyss image of Eyre as such. Who is speaking becomes then a highly interesting literary issue, in this fake autobiography if we speak about the real world, in the admirable novel written by a great writer as Brontë or in this moving testimony if we accept Jane Eyre as a writer who has somehow mastered her literary skills to give us an honest, truthful and useful portrait of her life. The reading of Jane Eyre’s life written by herself, becomes essentially “a revisiting of the way in which Brontë combines the domestic and the spiritual to contribute towards a new tradition of autobiography, in which religious concerns are refocused and to some degree tamed by being directed towards localized and specific moral projects.”(Flint)

Many followers of Brontë will later unconsciously borrow or simply plagiarize this pattern by which a woman writer tells the story of another woman doomed to be a writer: the most famous example is Louisa May Alcott and Jo, the writer on the making in “Little Women”. “Seelye (University of Florida) makes a strong case for examining the influence of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre on a host of US women writers….The domestic novels likely spawned by Jane Eyre reveal some surprising and often dark connection to their English predecessor. The novelists Seelye examines range from the well known (e.g.Louisa May Alcott, Susan Warner, Frances Hodgson Burnett) to the less known or now forgotten (Eleanor Porter, Jean Webster).” (Knight) Most of them would examine “the struggles of independent young women who attempted to combine love and work despite the presence of overbearing men and societal prejudice.” (Fahy) Women in America, and later in Latin America and the world, would be influenced by the model of independence represented by women writers and women writers as main characters in novels. Jane Eyre expresses the first link of this long chain still continued by contemporary women writers.

Hidden in the structure and text of Brontë’s novel, the character Jane Eyre as a writer emerges as part of the 19th century women’s intimate landscape. Jane Eyre allows us to reflect on autobiography as the only possible way in which a Victorian woman could express herself, an issue Brontë didn’t bring up to be openly discussed but which she artistically disguised in the accurate choice of a genre. Jane Eyre overpowers her author, becoming an author herself and going beyond the boundaries of her era. As Hawthorne says, referring to autobiography as a literary genre:
“Some authors, indeed, …indulge themselves in such confidential depths of revelation as could fittingly be addressed, only and exclusively, to the one heart and mind of perfect sympathy; as if the printed book, thrown at large on the wide world, were certain to find out the divided segment of the writer’s own nature, and complete his circle of existence by bringing him into communion with it. It is scarcely decorous, however, to speak all, even where we speak impersonally.” (Hawthorne, 15)
Victorian women couldn’t speak all and it’s Jane Eyre, the writer, who writes for us what Brontë couldn’t write: the autobiography of a woman who becomes a writer.


Works Cited
Bolton, Gilles. "Who's speaking?." Journal of Medical Ethics
29(2003): 97.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Bantam Books, 1987.
Fahy, Christopher A.. "Alcott reading: An American response to
the writings of Charlotte Brontë." Children's Literature
30(2002): 187.
Flint, Kate. "Tradition's of Victorian Women's Autobiography:
The Poetics and Politics of Life Writing." Biography
25(2002): 505.
Godfrey, Esther. "Jane Eyre, from Governess to Girl Bride." Studies
in English Literature 45(2005): 853.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Cambridge University
Pres, 1997.
Knight, DD. "Jane Eyre's American daughters." Choice 43, Iss 5
(2006): 856.
Richard, Jessica. ""I am equally weary of confinement": Women
writers and Rasselas from Dinarbas to Jane Eyre." Tulsa's
Studies in Women's Literature 22(2003): 335.

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