The focus of female literary writers from the seventeenth century into the nineteenth century is to reform men’s attitudes toward women. Through their writing, they are encouraging women to gain respect and acceptance as viable, rational and intelligent human beings rather than domestic maidservants created for the pleasure of man. Women writers like Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Bront forcefully bring these issues into the forefront of societies minds. Wollstonecraft’s publication, A Vindication of the Rights of Women is in response to the French Revolution.
Arguing the subjugation women endure from the lack of education and legal rights afforded them will result in undermining the government’s goals. She bases her response on men’s misconception that women lack the basic human intellectual qualities to be equal to men. Bront’s Jane Eyre is the type of personified woman Wollstonecraft ascribes women to emulate. Jane Eyre, a fictional portrayal of a woman seeking her independence and equal rights is unwilling to sacrifice her principles to satisfy society standards.
In 1848 Elizabeth Rigney stated, Jane Eyre is throughout the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined spirit. (468) Rigney and societies belief is based on the writings of men, as Rousseau, who states women should be pure, submissive, decorous, and even angelic creature[s] (289) depending on men for instruction and guidance to preserve their virtue.
Wollstonecraft in her essay detests this type of thinking, believing women should aspire to become masculine. 59) When using the term masculine, she is encouraging if not demanding women to seek out intellectual exercise of which enobles the human character, and which rises females in the scale of animal being, when they are comprehensively termed mankind. . . (259) Wollstonecraft contends, if women are not allowed to have sufficient strength of mind to acquire what really deserves the name of virtue (262) they will remain in a subservient status depending solely on their beauty and charm for fulfillment and direction in life.
Bront’s Jane echo’s Wollstonecraft’s thoughts. Feeling confined in her governess duties at Thornfield Hall she begins to feel just as men feel; [needing] exercise for [her] faculties and a field for [her] efforts as much as [men] do; suffer[ing] from too rigid a restraint, too absolute stagnation, precisely as men would suffer. (544) Although reasonably content in her employment, Jane longs for the same freedom as men to gain knowledge through experience. She is not willing to mold herself according to the standards of society, as is Blanche Ingram.
Jane views Blanche as a product of the training afforded women during this epoch who are taught by example by their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man. (262) While Jane does seek love and companionship of a man, she must be his equal and allowed to grow intellectually with him to form a successful and passionate union. Wollstonecraft is contradictory on her advice concerning passion.
While she advocates women to be passionate in fighting against the inferior status imposed upon them by society, she discourages passion in love. Her belief on this subject is that love, the common passion, in which chance and sensation take place of choice and reason, is, in some degree, felt by the mass of mankind (268) and the foe of reason and intelligence. Her advice to married couples drives this point home; In order to fulfill the duties of life, and to be able to pursue with vigor the various employment’s which form the moral character, a master and mistress of a family ought not to continue to love each other with passion. 69)
However, this is not the attitude Wollstonecraft subscribes to in her personal life with Fuseli, Imlay, and Godwin, where she saw no contradiction between reason and passion. Bront in contrast, employs Jane to be passionate in all areas of her life. Anger is the common emotion Bront uses to define and develop Jane’s character. Angry as a child from the mistreatment she receives at Gateshead and Lowood Institution, as she matures, she learns to temper her passion.
Her ability to combine passion with reason enables her to develop a strong loving relationship with Rochester and refuse St. Johns sterile marriage proposal. Bront and Wollstonecraft along with many other female writers during their time have paved the way for women to establish themselves as equal beings and rise above their subservient status. Expressing her views rationally and emotionally, Wollstonecraft provided women guidance to pursue further their quest for independence and acceptance. Bront illustrates through Jane Eyre; the road to success is not always easy, but well worth the struggle.