“Charlotte Brontë,” by Patsy Stoneman

Stoneman uses two short passages from Jane Eyre to frame the major stakes of Brontë’s fiction:

‘Master! How is he my master?’

‘Unjust! – unjust!’

Both of these are directed at John Reed. The frist addresses the concerns of feminism, the second connects those concerns with other social struggles–published 1847, when the Chartist movement was threatening anarchy and the 1848 revolutions were about to shake Europe, it was taken up by other oppressed group as a revolutionary text. However, Charlotte herself was not politically revolutionary: she combined deep sympathy with poor with a fear of the mob, a paradox that Terry Eagleton associates with their position as elevated women, free but still restricted in opportunity. Stoneman calls her a “conservative rebel” (167), a position mirrored by Jane, who is initially attracted by Helen Burns and Miss Temple for their liberal views. While at Thornifield, she imagines escape in the form if imaginative fancy. When she finally is tricked into professing her love for Rochester, its expressed in terms of equality and recognition, rather than outright revolution. Thus Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gabar argue that the madwoman in the attic is the repressed double of the sober Jane who is controlled by the novel’s overt moral schema. However, it’s important that before Jane becomes Rochester’s wife, she acquires moral, psychological and financial self-possession–all of this is quietly revolutionary.

In Villette, the master-pupil relationship is brought to an extreme, because there is an absence of female companionship. Paulina conforms to the type fo woman that will do anything to please; Genevra Fanshawe is brazen about her quest for a rich marriage; Mme. Beck is reduced to jealous surveillance; Miss Marchmont is much like Miss Havisham. Lucy Snowe somehow combines both Jane and the madwoman: both cooly reasoning (and repressing) but when seen correctly, displaying passion. Reason and Feeling constantly vie for authority within Snowe’s psyche. When she buries the letters from Doctor John Graham Bretton, they return as the repressed in the uncanny form of the nun. To what degree do Snowe’s psychological resources allow for escape? Her narcotic walk through the city merely confirms society for what it is, a spectacle from which she is systematically excluded–it nevertheless becomes the goad to her passion for M. Paul. Lucy’s “self-possession” is conditioned on the forms of recognition granted by her “master” Paul. Yet Lucy also uses the power of narration, concealing and repressing with notable pleasure–is this a way in which she can render her own ordinary life interesting? The power of the secret to produce the uncanny pleasure of narrative suspense and denouement.


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