Jane Eyre: a Novel of All Genres

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Jane Eyre: A Novel of All Genres

Sometimes referred to as "sentimental fiction" or "woman's fiction," "domestic fiction" refers to a type of novel popular with female readers during the middle of the nineteenth century. In their emphasis on the inherent goodness of human nature and the power of feelings as a guide to good conduct, these novels seem partly a reaction against Calvinistic ideas that viewed humanity as inherently corrupt. While Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, is commonly accepted as an example of Gothic literature, Romanticism, and Bildungsroman, it can also be classified as domestic fiction. The novel contains examples of all the most generally accepted characteristics of domestic fiction, as well as those of its more common classifications.

Gothic literature includes elements such as remote locations, ancient manor houses, supernatural encounters, complicated family histories, dark secrets and mysteries, and ruin and chaos to create suspense and terror. Jane Eyre includes most of these elements. Lowood, Moor House, and Thornfield are all remote locations, and Thornfield and Gateshead are each an ancient manor house. Supernatural encounters include: Jane's encounter with the ghost of her late Uncle Reed in the red-room; the moment of supernatural communication between Jane and Rochester when she hears his voice calling her from miles and miles across the moors; and Jane's mistaking Rochester's dog, Pilot, for a spirit. Both Rochester and Jane possess complicated family histories. Rochester's hidden wife, Bertha, is the dark secret at the novel's core. The exposure of Bertha is one of the most important moments in the novel, and the mystery surrounding her is the main source of the novel's suspense. Ruin and chaos are presented in the antics and attacks, especially on Mason, of Bertha, and in the burning of Thornfield.

Romanticism stresses freedom within or from classical notions, overturning of previous social standards, especially the position of the aristocracy, strong emotion, and the importance of nature. It also strongly values the past— "Old forms were valued, ruins were sentimentalized as iconic of the action of Nature on the works of man…" This value of the past is seen in the sentimentalization of Thornfeild, an ancient manor house, as well as the prominent role that the characters' pasts play throughout the plot. Nature is very present in the novel in how Jane often describes the natural settings she encounters and either implies their importance or relates it directly. For example, the setting and natural events surrounding Rochester's proposal are described in detail and forshadow the trouble to come for the engagement. Also, the characters are frequently related to different aspects of nature—Jane often as a bird, Bertha as various beasts, etc. Emotions are very strong throughout the whole novel as well. As a charcter and as a narrator, Jane feels very deeply and expresses hers and the feelings of others strongly and articulately. The conflict with social standards and aristocracy is embodied in Jane's ambiguous social standing. As an orphan, and as a governess, she lives closely with, and almost equal to, the aristocracy, though she is often treated as less. However, she eventually triumphs over aristocracy, namely Blanche Ingram, for the love of Rochester. Also, she overturns social standards in proving that she, a woman, and a lower class citizen, can take care of herself and end up happy. This happiness that Jane finds by the end of the novel is also based partly on the freedom she has found within. Throughout the novel she defines who she is, what she wants, and what she is capable of, and, knowing all of this, she is able to marry her love without feeling indebted or inferior to him in any way.

The nature of Jane Eyre as Bildungsroman is fairly clear-cut. Bildungsroman is a German-based genre that typically details the growth and development of a main character...
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