Two questions – Jane Eyre – Representation and Trauma

  1. Kill your darlings?

Kill your darlings. One of the most common pieces of writing advice – when you love a character – you need to let them go. Put them through horrible, traumatic events for the sake of character growth and storytelling. But is this the only way to tell stories? Why should we put our characters through tragic events just for the sake of entertainment. Why do we inherently find tragedy entertaining? In Jane Eyre – Between her time at the orphanage, in the Red Room, homeless, and all of the other hardships she faced, she still ended the story happy and at peace. What about this ending insists we needed Jane to go through the tragedy of her life for her to be happy. While hardships are more true to life as we all face a multitude of them through our lifetime – isn’t fiction supposed to be an escape? The creation of a world for us to forget about the one we live in for a short period of time. Why should we put the characters we love through the experiences we hate?

  1. What’s the Bechdel test of the 19th century?

While being seen as one of the first major feminist novels, Jane Eyre really attaches herself to the male figures in her life. From Father to brothers to husband, much of Jane’s life is focused on appeasing masculine figures. Why is this novel seen as feminist? Because it’s one of the few that has a female character at the forefront of the story? Should that be a judge of what’s feminism and what’s not? Should we judge what it is based on our current standards or the standards of the time? The title of my question is “What’s the Bechdel test of the 19th century?”. The Bechdel test is used to test the representation of women in modern pieces of media – should the same apply to pieces of fiction that were released when the common representation of women was non-existent?

3 thoughts on “Two questions – Jane Eyre – Representation and Trauma

  1. This was a really interesting post! You’re right that Jane is largely defined by her relationship to the men in her life, and that feels anti-feminist at a glance. But I think Jane somehow transcends that. When reading, I kind of got the sense that Jane knew what she was doing, and still made decisions based on her own circumstances, even if it negatively affected the men in her life.

  2. I do understand where your coming from in your second question. I think that’s really important to note about appeasing the masculine figures. In part, she can admit to herself that her place as a woman is determined by herself, not by a man, but because of the standards brought on by society, she still has found herself at odds with survival, and at that point in time, it is appeasing her male counterparts. Also, I think due to how she was raised, even though she had feminist ideals, she was still taught to follow. She made her own decisions, turning down Rochester, then St. John, and then going back to Rochester. Even though she ended up with Rochester in the end, she did it her way.

  3. As a writerly person, I have to say that “kill your darlings” isn’t necessarily just about characters, but about all writing, including scenes, chapters, concepts and the like. Say, for instance, the part of “Eyre” that talks about her time with Mrs. Reed. This could be a time to listen to someone as they say “kill your darlings” – her time with Reed could be summarized during her time at her school, in little moments of dialogue and in traumatic flashbacks to the Red Room (which she does already experience, potentially making the first several chapters redundant and thus able to be cut from the story). Even everything leading up to her arrival at Thornfield, and then her time just after that, I think could be cut from the story, or made into separate novels in their own right if Bronte felt unable to kill her darlings (or, in some more brutal circles, “kill your babies”, but uhhh I think that circulates less because writers are already mistaken for maniacs often enough). Also, for your question of an old-timey Bechdel test, it’s important to note both that historical context is key here, as well as the fact that the Bechdel test is not really a test for whether or not something is or isn’t feminist, but more a way to open the discussion to WHY something may or may not pass and the current state of media. I have so much to say but I shouldn’t because I don’t want to overwhelm or seem like an ass, I’m sorry – context is important for this being a feminist text like how it’s important for 70’s feminist rhetoric to be placed into context. At the time, it was progressive, despite it now seeming like some dated and horrible thing to be exiled from public consciousness – but having markers of where we’ve come from and how far we’ve made it is a good step towards continuing forward momentum/progress. Yes, it no longer seems to apply to our contemporary concepts of feminism, but it was a milestone to be acknowledged along the way. Oh god this is a big block of text, uhhh bye! Have a great summer!

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