THE ENDURANCE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE’S JANE EYRE
“We do not separate into distinct causes this great and never-ending cause of the ignorant and the poor.”
This story is old. Perhaps originating in the 1st century, telling the tale of a young Greek slave girl who overcomes her miserable existence and becomes an Egyptian queen. Retold many times with the protagonist having many nationalities, the 17th-century version, Cendrillon (The Little Glass Slipper, 1697) by Charles Perrault is probably best known as it was the basis for the Disney movie, Cinderella. Perrault and Disney describe a young orphaned girl forced to serve her stepmother and stepsisters, but eventually rescued by a prince.
Similarly at the mercy of a powerful woman (an aunt instead of stepmother) Bronte’s Jane Eyer describes an impotent protagonist, an underdog, who navigates a world of obstacles with only her wits and strength of character to guide and protect her.
In the presentation of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1816 – 1855) walks a fine line between offensiveness, and what would have been viewed as fantasy or fairy tale. Certain expectations of the reading public require the author’s considerations in any time period. Bronte’s ideas, influenced as they were by the prejudices of 19th century England, had to be presented in such a way as to ensure the credibility of her characters, as well as skirt the controversy to which her depictions (particularly of Jane’s headstrong nature) might give rise.