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University of Tulsa

A Patriarch of One's Own: Jane Eyre and Romantic Love
Author(s): Jean Wyatt
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 199-216 Published by: University of Tulsa
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/463696 .
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A
Jane

Patriarch
Eyre

and

of One's
Romantic

Own:
Love

Jean Wyatt
Occidental
College

Jane Eyre has been a focus forfeminist literaryanalysis fromthe first: arly e
texts that have subsequently become models of feminist criticism, like Elaine Showalter's A Literatureof Their Own, Ellen Moers' LiteraryWomen, Patricia Spacks' The Female Imagination, and Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar's A Madwoman in the Attic, all give Jane Eyre a central place. Gilbert and Gubar take their title from Jane Eyre because of its psychological relevance: they rightly point out that its imagery of enclosure and escape and its doubling of the female self into the good girl Jane and the criminally passionate Bertha reflect the experiences and corresponding psychic pat? terns of women living under patriarchy.1 The note of self-recognition in many women's emotional responses to Jane Eyre seems to corroborate the critics' sense of its psychological significance. Harriet Martineau said, in her autobiography published in 1877, "I was convinced that it was by some friend of my own, who had portions of my childish experience in his or her mind."2 A century later, Adrienne Rich reported she was "carried away as by a whirlwind" when she read Jane Eyre as a child; she returned to it in her twenties, her thirties, and again in her forties, drawn by "some nourishment I needed and still need today."3 Jane Lazarre found in "that adored book of my childhood, Jane Eyre," self-validation, an affirmationof her own rebel identity; like Rich she reread it twenty years later to find a new perspective on her own problems.4 These women echo voices from my own experience: students in Women in Literature classes, as well as female colleagues a generation older, respond to Jane Eyre passionately, feel it has something important to say about their own lives.

I want to explore the interaction between novels and female fantasy patterns by asking two related questions about reader response to Jane Eyre. First, how can we explain that women widely separate in time and nation? ality share psychic patterns that make them recognize in Jane Eyre hidden truths about their own inner lives? Second, since girls often read Jane Eyre at a formative time in their lives, what fantasies does it offerthem? Does it reinforce fantasy patterns acquired from growing up female in the Western nuclear family, or does its appeal come from the pattern of resistance to 199

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patriarchal forms that attracts Rich and Lazarre? In fact, Jane Eyre is rich in fantasies addressed to the frustrations of growing up female in a white middle-class family structure skewed by the unequal distribution of power and mobility along gender lines: fantasies of a young girPsdefiant autonomy, fantasies of a good mother...
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