These questions were originally prepared for English 3412, Victorian Fiction, Lakehead University.
1. At Gateshead, Jane is a rank outsider. What factors alienate Jane from the rest of the household, even the servants and the other children? How does the reader respond to Jane in consequence of her social isolation?
2. Explain how the dual narrative point-of-view (Jane as an adult recounting the story of Jane as a child) affects the presentation of the experience in the Red Room, and of Mrs. Reed's subsequent reaction to Jane's screaming.
3. Contrast the curriculum and discipline of Lowood School with that of the typical North American public school. Consider such matters as the number and types of teachers, subjects taught, length of school day, the number of students, the age range among the students, and the central place of Christian dogma at Lowood.
4. Thornfield is the novel's third and major part, for here the romantic plot supersedes the Bildungsroman. Prior to the period in which Brontë wrote Jane Eyre, the major divisions in the English novel had been fairly straightforward: the novel of society and manners, the picaresque, the Gothic, and the pseudo-autobiography. Wilkie Collins was yet to invent the novel of crime and detection, but this too is anticipated by Jane Eyre. How does Brontë combine these various sub-genres?
5. In Rochester we see the kind of hero that the Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, created in Manfred (1817) and Don Juan (1819-1824). Lonely, defiant, angry at the universe and God for his alienation and disappointments in life, and (above all), brooding, ruggedly handsome, physically powerful, sexually attractive, and mysterious because of some secret associated with his past, the Byronic Hero rejects the judgments and conventions of his society. Explain with specific reference to his character, utterances, and behaviour how Rochester may be classified as "Byronic."
6. The importance of fire imagery throughout the novel is evident. For example, in ''as if I had been wandering amongst volcanic-looking hills, and had suddenly felt the ground quiver" (Ch. 18) we have an image that suggests one of the novel's major themes. How does Brontë employ fire both literally and figuratively in the Thornfield section?
7. As in The Moonstone, duplicity and deceit are key features of the novel's plot. In addition to deceitful characters who have something to hide from Jane, there are a number of plot secrets that help to generate suspense. One might argue that each section of the book involves duplicitous characters and at least one major plot secret. Explain these elements with specific reference to the text.
8. Jane's 'preternatural' dreams are intended to suggest her extrasensory perception, which of course is vital to her eventual reunion with Rochester. In Chapter 25, how does Brontë anticipate the dream psychology of Freud and Jung? Notice that these dreams are comments on Jane's situation as well as presentiments.
9. Comment on Brontë's employing fairy tale patterns and allusions in the novel. What purpose do the allusions to "Cinderella" and "Bluebeard" serve, for example?
10. How does the manner in which Brontë communicates the "facts" surrounding Rochester's marriage to Bertha Mason influence our perception of that relationship? What arguments might have Rochester promulgated if he wished to obtain a divorce from Parliament? Why did Rochester keep Bertha a virtual prisoner at Thornfield for ten years? Why does he refer to Bertha as his "Indian Messalina"?
11. Interpret Jane Eyre's dreams at Thornfield (Part Three: Chapter 25). What literary and psychological purposes do they serve? Explain whether you find them plausible or implausible, and why.
12. In her seminal article "Toward a Feminist Politics" (1979), critic Elaine Showalter coined the term "gynocriticism" to explain her concern "with woman as the producer of textual meaning, with the history, themes, and structures of literature by women" (cited by Chris Baldick, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, p. 94). It may be argued that Jane Eyre is not a mere bildungsroman, but an Education Novel with a Feminist orientation, since its object is to provide young women with a developed philosophy of life. This is one of the novel's key features that has led to its being regarded as a landmark in the Feminist Canon. Although hardly a "forgotten" text like many admitted to this canon, Jane Eyre offers modern readers what Harman and Holman term "a wide-ranging exploration of the construction of gender and identity, the role of women in culture and society, and the possibilities of women's creative expression" (A Handbook to Literature, p. 211).
Defend the notion that Jane Eyre is one of the following: (i) a vehicle for gynocritical thought; (ii) an Education Novel; (iii) a narrative about gender-construction.
13. Explain the multiple ironies of Rochester's conversation with Jane in Part Three: Chapter 23. What is Brontë's purpose here? What dramatic techniques does she employ?
14. Apply the allusions to Nebuchadnezzar and Samson (Ch. 37), and to Apollo and Vulcan (Ch. 37) to the characters and actions of Rochester and St. John Rivers in the latter part of the book.
15. The literary device of the mystically heard cry in the night can be traced back to the Old Testament account of an incident in the prophet Samuel's childhood (I Samuel 3: 4). Why does Charlotte Brontë employ this device in Chapter 35?
16. How do Jane's experiences at Moorhouse offer a complete contrast to her experiences at Thornfield?
17. What considerations — other than the proverbial happy ending — do you suspect provoked Charlotte Brontë to restore Rochester's sight at the end of the Ferndean section of the novel?
18. The action of the book may be said to be dominated or overshadowed by four strong male characters: John Reed, the Reverend Mr. Brocklehurst, Edward Rochester, and St. John Rivers. What influence or effect does each of these males have on Jane Eyre's moral development? To what extent do these characters constitute Charlotte Brontë's construction of the male gender?
Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn. The Life of Charlotte Brontë, 3rd ed., rev. 2 vols. London: Smith, Elder, 1857.
Gilbert, Sandra M., and Gubar, Susan. "A Dialogue of Self and Soul: Plain Jane's Progress." The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth- Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979. Pp. 336-371.
Heilman, Robert B. "Charlotte Brontë's 'New' Gothic." From Jane Austen to Joseph Conrad, ed. R. C. Rathburn and M. Steinmann, Jr. Minneapolis: U. Minnesota Press, 1958. Pp. 118-132.
McLaughlin, M. B. "Past or Future Mindscapes: Pictures in Jane Eyre." Victorian Newsletter 41 (Spring 1972): 22-4.
Rosengarten, Herbert. "Charlotte Brontë." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 21, Victorian Novelists Before 1885, ed. Ira B. Nadel and W. E. Fredeman. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983.
---. "Teaching Jane Eyre." B. C. English Teachers'
Update (September/October 1985): 5-6.
Roy, Parama. "Unaccommodated Woman and the Poetics of Property in Jane Eyre." Studies in English Literature 1500-l900, 29, 4 (Autumn 1989): 713-728.
Sullivan, Paula. "Fairy Tale Elements in Jane Eyre." Journal of Popular Culture 12, 1 (Summer 1978): 61-74.
Last modified 30 August 2003
1. Discuss Jane as a narrator and as a character. What sort of voice does she have? How does she represent her own actions? Does she seem to be a trustworthy storyteller, or does Brontë require us to read between the lines of her narrative? In light of the fact that people who treat Jane cruelly (John Reed, Mrs. Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst) all seem to come to unhappy endings, what role does Jane play as the novel’s moral center?
2. In what ways might Jane Eyre be considered a feminist novel? What points does the novel make about the treatment and position of women in Victorian society? With particular attention to the book’s treatment of marriage, is there any way in which it might be considered anti-feminist?
3. What role does Jane’s ambiguous social position play in determining the conflict of her story? What larger points, if any, does the novel make about social class? Does the book criticize or reinforce existing Victorian social prejudices? Consider the treatment of Jane as a governess, but also of the other servants in the book, along with Jane’s attitude toward her impoverished students at Morton.
4. Compare and contrast some of the characters who serve as foils throughout Jane Eyre: Blanche to Jane, St. John to Rochester, and, perhaps, Bertha to Jane. Also think about the points of comparison between the Reed and Rivers families. How do these contrasts aid the development of the book’s themes?
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