‘Incident, life, fire, feeling’: Jane Eyre and History (2)
The Jane Eyre of most readers' memories is not the subjugated child of the evangelical tracts, or the ‘relative creature’ of whom the moralists of womanhood speak, but a figure of a very different kind. If Jane's realist ‘autobiography’ is disrupted by intuitions of self as jeopardized object it is disrupted also, as we have seen, by a figuring of self-assertive power. By the end of her story, Jane has magically assumed a position of unchallenged ‘ascendancy’. Indeed, if that narrative of jeopardy is articulated through the language of evangelicalism, so partly — but almost blasphemously — is this opposing narrative of power. Jane Eyre, with its central emphasis on absolute, primary need, more directly, more urgently questions the notion that self is or could be an autonomous entity. This, rather than its ‘unfeminine’ demand that women should have ‘exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts’, or its ‘improper’ depiction of female sexuality, is its real offence: not merely against the ‘proprieties' of early nineteenth-century English society, but even, arguably, against our own’.
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