Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, published in 1847 under the pseudonym Currer Bell, provides a revealing snapshot of the Victorian era. This period was characterised by strict social hierarchies and rigid gender roles, significantly shaping the novel's themes and characters.
The novel's backdrop of the early Victorian era coincides with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. These societal changes subtly permeate the narrative, illustrating the shifting economic landscape's effects on society, particularly on the class structure.
Brontë, through her protagonist Jane, boldly challenges the era's conventions. Jane's desire for independence and her rebellion against conformity were considered revolutionary at the time. Informed by Brontë's own experiences in the harsh Clergy Daughters' School, Jane's character mirrors the limited opportunities and strict societal expectations women faced.
Religion, specifically Brontë's upbringing in the Church of England, plays a significant role in Jane Eyre. Jane's struggles with her faith reflect the religious tensions of the period, providing a critical examination of the prevailing religious attitudes.
Influence from the gothic tradition in English literature can be seen in the novel's darker elements, such as the eerie atmosphere of Thornfield Hall and the mysterious Mr. Rochester. Romantic literature also informs the narrative, particularly its focus on individual experience and emotional depth.
Class and gender inequalities are central to Jane Eyre. Jane, as a governess, blurs class boundaries, while her assertive nature contradicts the passive role assigned to women in Victorian society. Additionally, the character of Bertha Mason, the so-called "madwoman in the attic", serves as a potent symbol of suppressed female rage and sexuality.
Upon its release, Jane Eyre sparked controversy due to its portrayal of a defiant, independent female character and its critique of Victorian societal norms. Despite this, it has stood the test of time, largely due to Brontë's insightful exploration of gender, class, and morality within the historical and cultural context of the Victorian era.