Victorian Literature Essay, Research Paper
When considering the debatable relevance/irrelevance of the study of nineteenth century literature to students today, works of the Victorian era, such as Charlotte Bronte s classical masterpiece, Jane Eyre, can be used as an example. Jane Eyre contains such issues as religion, the role of women and morality during the Victorian Era. It is through the relevance of these issues that one can judge the appropriate/inappropriate study of nineteenth century literature in today s society.
Through the use of her characters, Charlotte Bronte s novel Jane Eyre, clearly demonstrates the nineteenth century s peoples sense of Christian duty. Such blind devotion and faith in God is clearly evident in almost all of the characters in Jane Eyre. When comparing the importance of Christianity in the Victorian Era to that of today, it is obvious that religion in general has, not become less important, but has become less a part of a persons daily routine. This is shown clearly in the following passage from the novel; The meal over, prayers were read by Miss Miller, and the classes filed off (Bronte: Jane Eyre. Page: 36). This quote from the novel suggests that in the Victorian Era Christianity was not unlike a daily chore, observed every morning after breakfast and before the beginning of the day. In Jane Eyre it also becomes obvious that Christianity is widely used in rebuke of a person or as punishment. God has graciously given her the shape that He has given to all of us; Who would think that the Evil One had already found a servant and agent in her? (Bronte: P 56). This speech was addressed to Jane at Lowood where she experienced great shame and grief. If something similar to this were to happen to someone today it would almost certainly not cause any prolonged anger or suffering and definitely not exclusion from any social circles, (as was intended to be the case with Jane). Therefore it is clear that religion doesn t play a major role in today s society as it did during the nineteenth century and the study of it may seem inapplicable.
In Jane Eyre it becomes obvious from the very start that women during the Victorian Era are anything but equal with their male counterparts. In 1966, R.B. Martin stated that Jane Eyre was the first major feminist novel, although there is not a hint in the book of any desire for political, legal, educational or even intellectual equality between the sexes (R.B. Martin). Rather it expresses that the female characters in the novel only want recognition that both sexes are similar in heart and spirit . This sentiment is quite obvious on page 223 when Jane explains what she thinks is equality; Do you think I am an automaton? A machine without feelings? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! it is my spirit that addresses your spirit and we stood at Gods feet, equal, – as we are! (Bronte: P 223). The fact that this statement was a desperate plea for equality suggests that in the nineteenth century equality between the sexes was far from being achieved. However this is definitely not the case in today s world. The novels reference to the role of women certainly is not applicable to society today, simply because equality between male and female has existed for some time.
Another major issue present in Jane Eyre is that of simple human morality. The characters in Jane Eyre face and meet various challenges throughout their roles in the novel. The way these characters react and conduct themselves to these challenges gives the reader some insight into the morality possessed by the average person during the nineteenth century. The clearest example of morality in the novel is in Janes discovery that Rochester has been lying to her, and that he already had a wife and therefore cannot wed Jane. It was Jane s reaction to this, which shows the reader the deep presence of moral values in Jane; My hopes were all dead-struck with a subtle doom, such as, in one night, fell on all the first-born in the land of Egypt. I looked on my cherished wishes, yesterday so blooming and glowing, they lay stark, chill, livid corpses that could never revive. I looked at my love: that feeling which was my master s which he had created; it shivered in my heart, like a suffering child in a cold cradle (Bronte: P 261). It was this passage, expressing absolutely no hope of her ever marrying Rochester which clearly exemplifies Janes extremely strong morals. The moral issue involved was that Jane could never wed Rochester when he was married to another. And for that reason Jane was prepared to forgo hardship on herself in order to protect her moral values. Today, as was the case in the nineteenth century many, if not all, of our laws are based on moral belief. For example, if the same scenario were to happen today, it would be dubbed adultery, and shock many people that Rochester would even consider marrying another. Therefore, Charlotte Bronte s novel, Jane Eyre, in accordance with the issue of morality relates to the modern world and may be used for study reference in that area.
When examining the relevance/irrelevance of the issues in Jane Eyre it seems that the study of the novel in a high school syllabus seems a waste of time and on a large part irrelevant. However when searching deeper and thinking more broadly one begins to realise that however different the issues are in the novel in relation to modern society, it is in fact the study of such issues which should definitely be studied. Through Charlotte Bronte s Jane Eyre, and other Victorian Era authors, students can study the past of social change and know what they may be witnessing in the years of social change to come. Therefore it is not the relation of issues in novels such as Jane Eyre to the issues today, but the study of the immense change which has taken place. Charlotte Bronte s Jane Eyre, is definitely worthy of attention and study in school syllabus.