Agitating Risk and Romantic Chance: Going All the Way with Jane Eyre?
A central paradox of Jane Eyre is its enlistment in two antithetical traditions, as progenitor of the modern romance and ringleader of the feminist revolt against its stifling conventions. Jane Eyre always figures prominently in any genealogy of the modern romance, sometimes as the culmination of a process of feminization (and, implicitly, of trivialization) in which, as Barbara Milech observes, ‘the generic term “romance” has shifted from meaning a courtly tale of masculine adventure to indicating a popular story of feminine fortune’,1 and sometimes as the forebear of a new breed of romance heroines who participate as much as men in the pursuit of an intense, overwhelming passion that, in Milton Viederman’s words, becomes ‘the grand organizer of the individual’s life … [so that] everything else takes a secondary role’.2 In the former sense romance has come to mean little more than a popular love story embodying wish-fulfilling fantasies of sometimes spectacular contrivance. In the latter sense, romance retains some of the transcendent and regenerative aspirations of its chivalric ancestry, in which this supreme passion, typically but not definitively taking the form of love, is capable of recuperating and transfiguring a ‘fallen’ world. The ‘anti-romance’ strain identified in Jane Eyre — in, for example, a heroine who ‘breaks with the conventions of romance and feminine performance’3 — commonly derives from the reduction of romance elements simply to the formulaic love story, and in this context Jane’s relationship with Rochester is certainly not the kind of ‘delightful romance’ that Rosamond Oliver envisages when speculating about Jane’s past.4
KeywordsGender Ideology Fairy Tale Love Story Female Protagonist Free Gift
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- 1.Barbara Milech, ‘Romancing the Reader’, in Literature and Popular Culture, ed. Horst Ruthrof and John Fiske (Melbourne: Murdoch University, 1987), p. 190n.Google Scholar
- 2.Milton Viederman, ‘The Nature of Passionate Love’, in Passionate Attachments: Thinking about Love, ed. William Gaylin and Ethel Person (New York: The Free Press, 1988), p. 7.Google Scholar
- 3.Nancy Cervetti, Scenes of Reading: Transforming Romance in Bronte, Eliot, and Woolf (New York: Peter Lang, 1998), p. 59.Google Scholar
- 4.Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, ed. Michael Mason (London: Penguin, 1996), p. 412, hereafter cited parenthetically.Google Scholar
- 7.Penny Boumelha, Charlotte Brontë (Hemel Hemstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990), p. 75.Google Scholar
- 16.To Ellen Nussey [20 November 1840], in The Letters of Charlotte Brontë, 2 vols, ed. Margaret Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), I: 234.Google Scholar