Friday Feminist – Charlotte Bronte

Again, not someone who could have identified as feminist – the word wasn’t invented. But I recently re-read Jane Eyre, and came across this fascinating paragraph in Chapter 12.

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions beside political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, 1847


11 responses to “Friday Feminist – Charlotte Bronte

  1. Interestingly the call to action for woman at that time resulted in a condition diagnosed as hysteria (the Patriarchy asserting itself?), the cure for which was conceived as a hysterectomy (surgically remove the cause).
    It was this that perplexed minds for a more humane solution (Freud, Jung et al, men mostly, though in the case of Jung, women as well).

  2. BTW, that’s what they told me at Uni in 1999. It is remarkable for it’s glibness and austerity. We were tested on our ability to regurgitate the details. NZ Uni’s are way behind UK and US Uni’s on this hysteria thing.
    Indeed, is NZ a feminist backwater locked in some Victorian past? I quite like Camille Paglia, no-one I have mentioned her name to, knows of her, or Barbara Tuchmann (some, yet few, not a feminist, a female historian). Also where is Mary Shelley?
    It’s seems to be a very prickly issue here, indeed I’m starting to get the freak on myself.

  3. I got these definitions out of my trusty concise OED, bought when I first went to university in 1984, so it’s the 1982 edition. I would really rather like to have the Smaller Oxford – you know, the two volume version, mostly because I enjoy etymology.

    hysterectomy: removal of womb [f. Gk hustera womb + ectomy]
    hysteria: psychoneurosis with anaesthesia, convulsions, etc., and usu. with disturbance of moral and intellectual faculties; uncontrolled or morbid excitement.
    hysteric: hysterical person; hystical fits or convulsions. [f. L f. Gk husterikos of the womb (hustera; see -ic, hysteria being thought to occur more frequently in women than in men]

    I think I’m more of a Paglia feminist than a Dworkin feminist, ‘though I’m probably not nearly as libertarian as Paglia is. Sooner or later I will get around to describing where I locate myself politically, but it will take a bit of explaining…

  4. I don’t think you essentially need to locate yourself, unless of course you do ;->
    I have the Smaller two vol. it, they were gifted to me by some very wise and understanding people. I can just read it alone for hours.
    To me, Paglia is a wise person. I don’t know Dwork. I grew up among strong women, some feminist, some not, the female line in my family is strong with the tradition of educating themselves.
    Besides, once you read Shelley, you’re going to read of Godwin. Also I was stung by being considered misogynist in my poetry by some, until I discovered that for some even the mention of gender is bias, especially if you refer to the poetic emanation of She. But as a poet you must tackle it.
    Plus William Blake taught his wife to read and colour (paint sort of). Oh and Sappho…and Maria Prophetissa (both ordered to suicide)…so many, so little time.

  5. I have never read Mary Shelley. She is, of course, Mary Wollstonecraft’s daught. Wollstonecraft died a few days after giving birth to her.

  6. Yes she was. Mary Shelley write brilliant notes before Shelley poems in an edition I have, I will post excerpts if you wish. PB Shelley is difficult to approach, there is a bio called The Pursuit,
    There is alot more to the Shelley’s than history has told us. Mary was in large part a great collaborator and equal to PB. Frankenstein is a book of modern genius.

  7. Yes! I would enjoy learning much more about her and what she wrote.

    I’m not so fond of Percy Bysshe, but only due to ignorance. I have wallowed around in T S Eliot for years, and Yeats, but I very rarely read poetry, despite years and years of speech and drama lessons. From time to time I read some to the girls, especially if one of them mentions something that brings a particular poem to mind.

    Well PB Shelley never sat comfortably with The Patriarchy. Plus, his poems are of a piece with few small catchy fragments or Byronic heroes. Some children may like the lilt and sway of his words, they will not understand them until a later age, though they will sense they hold great meaning.
    Or they may sleep as most do, unknown to them.
    Most of us know not of The Peterloo Massacre,
    ‘Rise like Lions after slumber
    In unvanquishable number –
    Shake your chains to earth like dew
    Which in sleep had fallen on you –
    Ye are many – they are few.’

  9. I went and read that – it’s stunning.

    ‘What is Freedom? – ye can tell
    That which slavery is, too well –
    For its very name has grown
    To an echo of your own.

    ‘Tis to work and have such pay
    As just keeps life from day to day
    In your limbs, as in a cell
    For the tyrants’ use to dwell,

    ‘So that ye for them are made
    Loom, and plough, and sword, and spade,
    With or without your own will bent
    To their defence and nourishment.

    Very Marx. And Dickens for that matter, further through the poem. My New Golden Treasury of English Verse doesn’t have it. Not very nice, I suppose. It does have Ozymandias, and Ode to teh West Wind, and To a Skylark – all much safer poems.

    Rgarding children, dangerous poems, and rhythms – I did find my husband reading Easter 1916 to our elder daughter a couple of years ago. She liked it.

  10. Children are made of sterner stuff than we. Shelley was kicked out of Oxford for supposedly being an atheist. He rejected his father’s baronetcy. He was effectively exiled by court order. He was denied his children by court order because he was supposedly an atheist. His first wife committed suicide, he was blamed. Two more of his children died. He was persecuted by ghosts, or maybe men. Byron (mad, bad and dangerous to know) didn’t help.
    Then he went sailing…
    Shelley was more the poet than Byron in the degree that he was an original thinker, Byron was super star of his time though, indeed it has been argued that Shelley is the greatest ever English poet. Why is he not considered in the Yeats, Keats at al pantheon?
    He despised The Patriarchy.
    William Carlos Williams asked on his deathbed if he was as good as Shelley (why, we must ask). For the Merican’s both Shelley and Blake are very tendentious, the Revolution that promised so much…and failed so miserably.