Written by Charlotte Brontë in 1847 and published under a pseudonym, Jane Eyre: An Autobiography instantly became a staple amongst British Literature for its hybrid-like combination of different themes of modern times. Brontë received critical acclaim for her sophisticated insertion of sub plots involving prejudice, suffering, romance, betrayal, and supernaturalism.
Jane Eyre: An Autobiography follows the life and struggle of a young girl who can't quite seem to find love or happiness. When we first meet her, she is living under the dire conditions of her Aunt, Mrs. Sarah Reed. Throughout the novel, we see that as Jane matures into a young woman; her ability to express herself via the novel's narration matures as well, which allows the reader to literally grow with her. As she grows older, we see Jane make decisions that don't always reflect her innermost desires. This sophisticated portrayal of decorum versus desire (See Poem) is why Jane Eyre continues to be one the most lauded works of fiction. Although there is no one way to approach the novel, through Brontë's use of plot and setting, she argues that independence is truly the key to happiness.
Critical Article Analysis
Kate Washington's article "Rochester's Mistresses: Marriage, Sex, and Economic Exchange in Jane Eyre: An Autobiography" explores women's position in Victorian society. Washington juxtaposes prostitution and marriage and criticizes them both by regarding them as the same thing. Fundamentally, Washington believes that most Victorian era marriages were forms of prostitution. Since women would predominantly marry for financial securitiy, it was, in essence, 'kept mistresshood'. The main difference between kept mistresshood, marriage, or plain old prostitution is the motivation for marriage. Oftentimes, kept mistresses would not marry for love, wives would marry for love but would still be seen as subordinate, and prostitutes would not marry at all. Washington argues that Jane, if not for her intense desire for independence, would have become a kept mistress in a blind bigamist union with her mate. Washington believes that the novel was not just a tale of a poor woman whose ascension to independence was as improbable as anything, but also one that attempted to defy misogynistic patriarchal Victorian society where, instead of for convenience, women married for love.
Even as a child, Washington asserts, Jane yearned for comfort and freedom, like referring to herself as a 'rebel slave' (Brontë-10). Seen as strange, insubordinate, and disrespectful by her aunt and cousins, young Jane grew into a passionate, loving young woman. Her denial to St. John Eyre Rivers reflects her innermost desire for love, something she'd been deprived of since youth. Washington smartly juxtaposes St. John's and Mr. Rochester's offers by referring to John's offer as 'a marriage without love' and Edward's as 'love without marriage'. In an effort to prevent Jane from losing what little independence she had, she refused both offers and instead became what Washington calls a 'streetwalker', a beggar, lost. She finally finds herself again when she finds her inheritance and once again joins Edward, where she is not a mistress, a companion or a "slave in a fool's paradise" (Brontë-369).