“The Pantomime of a Marriage”: The Struggle of Revolution and Womanhood in Jane EyreENG 356Aeron Hunt1
Political and social reform and revolution were key issues in Victorian society. The Victorian world was largely influenced by reactions to the French Revolution, which emphasized revolt against traditional authority. Furthermore, Victorians, living in the height of British Imperialism, had a great awareness of relations between England and the British colonies as well as of potential revolutions both within and outside of the British Empire. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre explores the power dynamics of the English Empire and addresses the issue of revolution through Jane’s lifelong progress as a revolutionist.Thus, Bronte’s commentary developed in Jane Eyreon Victorian society and its relation to revolution is completed only when Jane learns to practice revolting in the manner Bronte is condoning. Jane’s journey is completed by her marriage to Mr. Rochester; this we know, since Jane Eyreis a novel written in the Bildungsroman structure. This relation between Jane’s marital status and colonial revolution is fitting to the Victorian Age which would have been aware of the Regency mindset in which marriage was seen to represent the overall state of the nation.1It is from Jane’s connection to marriage throughout the novel that Bronte questions British imperial authority and sanctions revolutionary inclinations that are born out of both intellectual and passionate impulses, while rejecting revolutions that are solely born out of one of either impulses. Being that Bronte’s commentary on the relations of the Empire is paralleled to marital relationships throughout the novel, an analysis of the relationship between Jane and patriarchy (being the institution Jane is revolting against) will reveal the types of revolution Bronte is promoting and those she is not.21Kathryn Sutherland says in “Writings on education and conduct”, “Marriage, the union between man and woman, is an ancient image for political association, and during this period [the Regency] the metaphor gained new currency within the debate over the relation between [the] monarch and [the] people” (32). In other words, if marriage was in good standing in England then the political disaster experienced in the French Revolution could be avoided in England.
There are three main types of action Jane takes in response to patriarchal authority throughout the novel; the first is revolt through forceful passion, the second is escapism through quiet reflection or intellect, and the third (the type Bronte is promoting) is revolt through a mixture of passion and reflection. The two initial responses are both performed under unrealistic expectations. Therefore, they do not actually conquer the suppression of patriarchy which Jane is trying to revolt against, but they allow Jane a false sense of freedom and control.