The Bildungsroman, a novel that details the growth and development of a main character through several periods of life, began as a German genre in the seventeenth century, but by the mid eighteen hundreds it had become firmly established in England as well. Such important Victorian novels as Great Expectations, base themselves on this form, which continues as an important literary sub-genre even today. The Bildungsroman typically told the story of a man growing from boyhood to adulthood. Charlotte Brontë's appropriation of the form for her heroine, represents one of the many ways in which her novel, Jane Eyre, challenges the accepted Victorian conceptions of gender hierarchy, making the statement that a woman's inner development merits as much attention and analysis as that of a man. Through a careful reading of Chapter one, this essay will attempt to suggest ways in which, in the light of my understanding of the novel; key themes and issues are signalled at the novel's outset.
The novel opens on a dreary November afternoon at Gateshead, the home of the wealthy Reed family. A young girl, Jane Eyre sits in the drawing room reading Bewick's History of British Birds. Jane's aunt, Mrs Reed, has forbidden her niece to play with her cousins Eliza, Georgiana, and the bullying John. John Reed goes looking for Jane and finds her sitting at the window seat. He sits himself in an armchair and gestures for Jane to come and stand before him. He starts chiding Jane for being a lowly orphan who is only permitted to live with the Reeds because of his mother's charity. After asking Jane what she was doing and reminding her that she is not allowed to read his books, he ...
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The development of Jane Eyre's character is central to the novel and this is seen from chapter one. Jane possesses a sense of her self-worth and dignity, a commitment to justice and principle, a trust in God, and a passionate disposition. From a young girl, as I have shown in chapter one, she is forced to contend with oppression, inequality, and hardship. Although she meets with a series of individuals who threaten her autonomy, Jane repeatedly succeeds at asserting herself and maintains her principles of justice, human dignity, and morality.
1. Brontë, C. Jane Eyre. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1992.
2. Campbell, S. Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre. London: Penguin Books, 1988.
3. Gregor, I. The Brontë's: A Collection of Critical Essays. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, 1970.
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