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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Reader, she marries him: Jane Eyre and social class

Rochester brings a whole crew of his wealthy, "upper class" friends to visit him at Thornfield, where they eat and play games (charades!) and pretty much drive the huge staff crazy - and Jane Eyre is an intermediate figure: she's a servant (the hired nanny for his "ward," Adele), but she's clearly more educated and sophisticated than those with whom she works - but she feels like an outsider among the aristocrats, which she is: she joins them at night only because Rochester literally orders her to do so; none take the slightest notice of her, as she sits to the side by herself, quiet and observant. And when Rochester addresses her (and admires her) it's in a sidebar - not among his wealthy and somewhat glamorous friends. So how do we place this?: Jane's desire is not to disrupt the social order, not to raise all of the servants to a level of respect and equality. The English social class conventions are far too entrenched for her to take on - and so are the conventions of the English novel, in fact. Her desire is to join - and perhaps make them slightly better and more cognizant - but the whole novel is driving toward her incorporation in a "higher" social caste: reader, she marries him. Think how differently American novels treat this theme. But as noted in earlier posts, I think there's another dimension, too - a feminist dimension, obviously, but also a literary dimension: her position as observer, unknown and unnamed, not recognized for her talents and abilities, is much like the position of the female novelist in her era: she's unrecognized as a character, just as the Brontes (et al.) are unrecognized, hidden, and disguised within the literary world: the woman novelist must pretend to be what she isn't, and must sit demurely aside while the great male writers of the era - Dickens, Thackeray, maybe Hardy? - strut about in the limelight. Reader, this will change.

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