Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre

Fairy tale allusions and elements in Jane Eyre


Seminar Paper, 2006
16 Pages, Grade: 1,2

Excerpt

Table of contents

1. Introduction
1.1 Preface
1.2 The story of Jane Eyre

2. Fairy tale references in Jane Eyre
2.1 Cinderella
2.2 Beauty and the Beast
2.3 Other fairy tale references

3. Significant fairy tale elements in Jane Eyre
3.1 The Prince Charming aspect
3.2 Friends and antagonists
3.3 Jane as a fairy tale heroine

4. Conclusion
4.1 Can Jane Eyre be seen as a modern fairy tale?

5. Appendix
5.1 Bibliography

1. Introduction

1.1 Preface

„Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre has often been described as a gothic novel, but the type of fantasy which is more obviously responsible for its plot structure and character development is the fairy tale.“[1]

When I read Jane Eyre I just couldn’t help myself but feeling that some aspects of the story seemed strangely familiar. A poor orphan girl that has to live with two unpleasant sisters and a wealthy but cruel aunt and suffers from domestic violence. This very beginning of Jane Eyre of course resembles the universally known fairy tale Cinderella and it seems that this is not the only reference to a fairy tale within Charlotte Brontë’s novel. Traces of Beauty and the Beast can be found as well as other significant fairy tale elements.

The purpose of this term paper is to reveal some of the fairy tale elements to be found in Jane Eyre and to discuss if the novel as a whole can be understood as some sort of modern fairy tale.

1.2 The story of Jane Eyre

The novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë was first published in 1847 in London, under the male pseudonym Currer Bell. It is a queer mixture of the gothic novel and the romantic novel as it utilizes the mysterious and supernatural and emphasizes love and passion.[2]

The eponymous heroine and narrator of the novel is Jane Eyre who, after she has become an orphan, lives with her aunt Mrs. Reed and her spoiled and reckless children at Gateshead Hall. The widowed and wealthy aunt had to promise her dying husband to take care of little Jane like she was her own child but in fact she feels nothing but contempt for the girl. Mrs. Reed and her children are unkind and cruel to Jane, never tired of stressing how she is inferior to them as she neither posses any fortune nor outstanding beauty. The fragile and plain, yet intelligent and passionate, girl suffers most from the frequent violations of her cousin John Reed. Jane’s changing temper and her occasional visions or vivid dreams exclude her from the family and lead to further rejection. As situations escalate at Gateshead Hall Jane is sent to Lowood School, a boarding school for girls, where she shall be educated to become a governess.

Circumstances couldn’t be worse at Lowood and the girls have to suffer from the cold and malnutrition but most of all from the inhumane punishments when they are disobedient. Jane remains eight years at Lowood and after her education is finished she obtains a position as governess for a little French girl at a house called Thornfield. Master of the house is Edward Rochester, a moody and imposing man with a lot of life experience. As time goes by Jane discovers that a mystery lies within the walls of Thornfield and a number of strange incidents arouse her suspicion.

Though Rochester appears to be rather rough and often bad-tempered at first he and Jane slowly start to grow an affection for each other which ends up in Rochester proposing Jane to marry him. Nineteen year old Jane feels overextended by Rochester’s affection and believes that it would be wrong to marry a man who is so much more expierenced, older and from much higher status than she is.

The wedding ceremony then ends up in tragedy as a lawyer shows up revealing that Mr. Rochester is already married to a woman named Bertha Mason. It turns out that Bertha is a maniac and was locked up in the attic by Mr. Rochester years ago and that she is responsible for the mysterious occurences at Thornfield.

Mr. Rochester offers to take Jane abroad to live with him, but Jane is not willing to sacrifice her morals or self-respect for earthly pleasures and to become his mistress. Torn between her ongoing love for Rochester and her own integrity and morals, Jane flees Thornfield in the middle of the night, with very little money and nowhere to go.

After she has been wandering around for some time and almost starved she finds shelter at Moor House where the clergyman St. John Rivers lives with his two sisters. Jane lives with them under an assumed name and obtains a position as teacher in St. John’s village school for poor girls. It turns out rather suprisingly that the Rivers are Jane’s cousins and that their uncle John Eyre has died and left all his fortune to Jane who he never met. Jane decides to share the fortune with her recently discovered cousins as she regards the gaining of relatives more valuable than money.

St. John then presses Jane to marry him and join him as a missionary on a journey to India. Jane refuses knowing that he doesn’t love her and decides to return to Thornfield in order to see her true love, Mr. Rochester.[3]

2. Fairy tale references in Jane Eyre

2.1 Cinderella

Cinderella is a popular and classic fairy tale embodying a story of oppression which is followed by triuphant reward. Allegedly the earliest version of that story can be originated in China around A.D. 860 but it first came to global success by Charles Perrault’s version Cendrillon ou La petite pantoufle de verre published in 1697 and of course the Brothers Grimm’s Aschenputtel.[4]

As I have mentioned before there are certain allusions to the story of Cinderella, especially in the beginning of Jane Eyre. The first would be the similar domestic situation of the two heroines. Both Jane and Cinderella have lost their parents and have to live with unkind relatives. Cinderella lives with her stepmother and her two evil stepsisters („[...] two daughters who were beautiful and fair of face, but vile and black of heart.“[5]) while young Jane Eyre has to stay with her cruel aunt Mrs. Reed and her wicked kids. Jane’s stepsisters Georginia and Eliza Reed are like those of Cinderella supposed to be very fair in appearance but unpleasant in behaviour.

A further similarity of both heroines is that they are both somehow inferior to their relatives. Jane, as well as Cinderella, is poor and without any fortune while Aunt Reed and her kids are very prosperous („They will have a great deal of money, and you will have none [...]“[6]) . Jane’s poverty and her dependence are constantly stressed. Both women are inferior to their stepsisters in terms of beauty, Jane because she is small, fragile and plain („[...] my physical inferiority to Eliza, John and Georgina Reed.“[7]) and Cinderella because she is always dirty and dressed in miserable clothes („[...] she always looked dusty and dirty [...]“[8] ).

[...]


[1] Phyllis C. Ralph: Victorian Transformations. Fairy Tales, Adolescence, and the Novel of Female Development, American University Studies, Series IV, English Language and Literature; Vol. 96, New York; Bern; Frankfurt am Main; Paris: Peter Lang, 1989; page 87

[2] see http://www.wikipedia.com (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), Jane Eyre, last modified 05:33, 18 August 2006

[3] see Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre, Dover Thrift Editions, Dover Publications Inc., reprint of the original publication in 1847, edited by Thomas Crawford; Mineola, New York, 2002

[4] see http://www.wikipedia.com (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), Cinderella, last modified 09:34, 18 August 2006

[5] The Brothers Grimm: The Complete Fairy Tales, Wordsworth Editions; printed and bound in Great Britain by Mackays of Chatham, published by Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Cumberland House, Crib Street, Ware, Herfordshire, 1997, page 121

[6] Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre, Dover Thrift Editions, Dover Publications Inc., reprint of the original publication in 1847, edited by Thomas Crawford; Mineola, New York, 2002, page 13, ch. 2

[7] Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre, Dover Thrift Editions, Dover Publications Inc., reprint of the original publication in 1847, edited by Thomas Crawford; Mineola, New York, 2002, page 7, ch. 1

[8] The Brothers Grimm: The Complete Fairy Tales, Wordsworth Editions; printed and bound in Great Britain by Mackays of Chatham, published by Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Cumberland House, Crib Street, Ware, Herfordshire, 1997, page 121

Excerpt out of 16 pages

Details

Title
Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre
Subtitle
Fairy tale allusions and elements in Jane Eyre
College
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Department of Anglophone Studies)
Course
19th century novels
Grade
1,2
Author
Year
2006
Pages
16
Catalog Number
V163920
ISBN (eBook)
9783640786701
ISBN (Book)
9783640786763
File size
503 KB
Language
English
Tags
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, 19th century, novels gothic novel, literary studies
Quote paper
Florian Rübener (Author), 2006, Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/163920

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