The Life of Women in the Early 19th Century

The Life of Women in the Early 19th Century

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What do you learn from Charlotte Bront about the Life of Women in the
early 19th Century?

Charlotte Bront was born at Thornton, Yorkshire in 1816, and was the
third child of Patrick and Maria Bront. She had four sisters and one
brother altogether before her mother died in 1821. All of the girls
except Anne were sent to a clergyman's daughters' boarding school,
which in 'Jane Eyre' is recalled as Lowood.

The eldest sisters Maria (who is recalled as Helen Burns) and
Elizabeth became ill there and died in Haworth. Charlotte was then
employed as a teacher, became a governess and in 1842 went to study
languages in Brussels with her sister Emily. This relates to Jane
Eyre's life as she was also a governess and later she studied
languages with her cousin St. John Rivers.

Charlotte's brothers and sisters all died during the next few years
leaving Charlotte to publish novels and to marry the Reverend A. B.
Nicholls, her father's curate. Charlotte died in 1855 after leading a
very successful life.

'Jane Eyre' is an autobiography, yet Charlotte Bront writes it, so
people believe that the novel has an embedded narrative. 'Jane Eyre'
is a reflection of Charlotte Bront's life but Bront did not want
people knowing everything about her, so she did not name the novel
after herself, instead she was the shadow behind it.

Jane Eyre has a tough childhood when under the guidance of Mrs. Reed
at Gateshead Hall as she was not Mrs. Reeds real daughter. "I [Jane]
knew that he was my real uncle [Mr. Reed]" but Mr. Reed had died and
made Mrs. Reed promise "that she would rear and maintain me [Jane] as
one of her own children." Mrs. Reed treats Jane as a total outsider
and with very little respect at all. "Take her [Jane] to the red-room,
and lock her in there", this was said by Mrs. Reed to Bessie and Abbot
when Jane and Master John Reed had been fighting. Mrs. Reed did not
ask for an explanation to why either of them had been fighting, she
just automatically blamed it on Jane and she was the one punished, as
always.

Mrs. Reed also teaches her children not to treat Jane with the same
respect as their other siblings. This is proved when John tells Jane
"mama says you ought to beg, and not live here with gentlemen's
children like us". John takes this seriously and consistently beats
Jane whenever he gets the chance, but "she [Mrs. Reed] never saw him
strike or heard him abuse me [Jane]" even though "he did both now and
then in her very presence"

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Jane did not like staying with her aunt and cousins, but when asked by
Mr. Lloyd, "an apothecary", he suggested that she should consider
school as an option for escape from Gateshead Hall. Jane reflected
upon the idea and came up with the conclusion "I should indeed like to
go to school".

When Mrs. Reed had written to the owner of Lowood School, Mr.
Brocklehurst, he came to interview Jane. Mrs. Reed was also present at
this interview and gave Jane a bad reputation before her even
attending, by telling Mr. Brocklehurst to keep an eye on her. "I
should be glad if the superintendent and teachers were requested to
keep a strict eye on her". This was injustice of Mrs. Reed as Jane had
done nothing wrong to deserve such humiliation from students and
teachers before they even met or spoke to her.

When at Lowood School, Jane encounters experiences that Bront was
going through at the time the novel was written, such as when the
disfiguring disease of typhus broke out. Charlotte Bront's sisters,
Maria and Elizabeth, died from this when they were at the Clergy
Daughter's School, Cowan Bridge, as did Jane's best friend at Lowood,
Helen Burns. Helen is a portrait of Bront's eldest sister, Maria.
Bront was sent to the school at Cowan Bridge which is portrayed in
the form of Lowood School. Jane's experiences at Lowood are accounts
of what happened at Cowan Bridge because Bront otherwise would not
know how a school was run or what it would be like, as she had not
been anywhere other than that school.

Jane had seen Helen Burns standing "dismissed in disgrace" from a
class one time. This made Jane surprised as she had conversed with
Helen previously and had thought highly of her, and how could such a
great girl be punished as she did not seem of the naughty type.

Jane made friends with Helen and had got to know her well but she did
not quite understand some of Helens ways of going about things such as
one time when Helen had been forced to wear a 'Slattern' label around
her neck, she "tore it off, and thrust it into the fire" because "the
fury of which she [Helen] was incapable, and been burning in my [Jane]
soul all day." Helen was a calm child who never showed any emotion and
never complained about anything. This puzzled Jane as she was a girl
with strong views and was not afraid to express her feelings.

Jane asks a lot of deep and meaningful questions especially about the
ways of life. She wants to learn a great deal and as she thinks highly
of Helen, she asks her "What is God?" Helen answers as best she can to
Jane's difficult question.

When Jane has grown up into a young lady, she becomes a governess as
Bront did, at a residence called Thornfield. Here, she meets the
owner of the mansion, Mr. Rochester. Her first encounter with him was
out of the mansion's grounds on a country road to the town Milcote.
"Man and horse were down" as they had slipped on a sheet of ice.

Jane, being a polite and helpful lady, "walked down to the traveler"
to ask if she could be of any help, but as the majority of the male
society are too proud, Mr. Rochester refused. Jane could see that he
could not even stand up properly so she persisted in asking him
instead of leaving and carrying on her way. If anyone had seen them
two together, Jane would have had a bad reputation, as a young lady
and a man of middle age together, alone, on a cold night, unless
married, would have been highly disrespectful of this time.

Jane was also left in a difficult position when she found out that her
fiancé, Mr. Rochester, already had a wife locked up in the very same
place that she had been residing in for over a year, and had slipped
any knowledge of her realizing who she was or even that she existed
until just before they were about to marry. Jane felt humiliated as
she had every right to be, but Mr. Rochester thought that Jane would
still love him even though "I have a wife already" he admits. That is
disrespectful of Mr. Rochester as Jane is a human being and has
feelings and emotions to look after. He only cares about what is good
for him and, even though he claims he has respect for others, he does
not put it into practice, "you are scheming to destroy me" and "just
now you have refused to kiss me"

Jane, as a woman with great power, had to leave Gateshead Hall having
gone through the humiliation that she did. It would not have been
right for her to stay, so she ran away in the middle of the night
taking "twenty shillings (it was all I had)" She did not take anything
that was not rightfully hers. How could a woman at her time cope out
in the world with only twenty shillings? The idea was immoral, but
Jane, being as great and powerful minded as she is, coped considerably
well in her circumstances, and, having a petite physique it makes her
story phenomenal.

When Jane found out that she had inherited a lot of money from her
uncle, and that she was very rich, she did not refuse to teach in the
school straight away like some people would, she said "I will retain
my post of mistress till you get a substitute." This was a very kind
thing to do because otherwise the school would have been shut and the
children would not have had anywhere to go, and no-one to teach them,
and as they loved Jane's teaching so much, Jane says " I promised them
that never a week should pass in the future that I did not visit them,
and give them an hour's teaching in their school" This shows that even
though Jane has a lot of money, she does not think she is better than
others and does not regard associating herself with less fortunate
people and immoral thing to do.

At the end of the novel, Jane goes back to Mr. Rochester to look after
him and accompany him in his final days. She feels sorry for him as he
is blind and disabled in one arm and she stands by her first love for
life. "READER, I married him"

After ten years of their marriage, Mr. Rochester started to regain his
eyesight in his blind eye "have you a pale blue dress on?" which shows
what an impact a small lady like Jane can do to a madly in love man,
like Mr. Rochester.
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