Jane Eyre’s Feminist Manifesto

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: 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 besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people the 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 Brontë, Jane Eyre
[NB: Adrienne Rich, in her essay “Jane Eyre: The Temptations of a Motherless Woman,” (reprinted in the Norton Critical Edition of Jane Eyre) calls this quotation Jane’s feminist manifesto.]

And don’t miss the inaugural Carnival of the Feminists at Philobiblon.

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4 comments on “Jane Eyre’s Feminist Manifesto

  1. Michelle says:

    This reminds me of a male friend of mine who was annoyed with the end of Jane Eyre that she married. And he wouldn't be consoled with my and just about anyone else's argument that feminism isn't about giving up domestic life but having the *choice* about it.
    Ah, those were good times and good arguments though. 🙂

  2. Stefanie says:

    Great quote. I love Jane Eyre and Adrienne Rich.

  3. Sylvia says:

    Rich also writes:
    “When she leaves Lowood for Thornfield, when she stands on the roof of Thornfield or walks across its fields longing for a wider, more expansive life, she is not longing for a man… Yet the man appears, romantically and mysteriously, in the dusk, riding his horse—and slips and falls on the ice, so that Jane's first contact with him is with someone in need of help; he has to lean on her to regain his seat on horseback. Again at the novel's end it is she who must lead him, blinded by fire. There is something more working here than the introduction of a stock romantic hero.”
    I never really thought about it (duh) but I guess falling off your horse in front of the governess isn't the way to make a strong impression as lord and master!

  4. Stefanie says:

    Ha! Yes, sort of puts a crimp in one's authority not to mention dignity 🙂

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