English News

Addeys Literature Student Reaches for Gold

 

Addey and Stanhope School is pleased to announce that Sophie in Year 13 has entered the prestigious Connell Essay Prize.

 

Sophie researched and composed her essay in her own time. The set title was ‘Who is your favourite character in English literature and why?’ and she has written powerfully about her choice of Jane Eyre.

 

The prize is £500, plus a full set of Connell Guides to Literature. This will be especially useful to Sophie if she wins, as she plans to read English Literature at university. We wish her the very best of luck in the competition and are proud of her commitment to the subject.

 

Please see below for the winning essay

 

Who is your favourite character from English literature and why?

 

                My favourite character from English literature is the eponymous hero “Jane Eyre”, the protagonist of the novel named after herself. She is my favourite character from English literature because of her unwavering strength, her defiance as a woman in a sexist society and because of the depth of her character.  Through her progression, Jane is ahead of her time and still relevant today.

                In the novel we follow Jane’s journey through the key stages of her life, ‘Jane’s pilgrim’s progress toward maturity’[1] as described in the feminist literary criticism The Madwoman in the Attic. This is the essential concept carried through the following essay; it is Jane’s journey to herself and the symbolic defiance of convention in her decisions that strengthens her and endears me to her character. In equal measure, Jane’s so-called faults seclude her from the expectations of her time and yet humanise her, bringing Jane to life for the modern day reader. By removing her from her contextual period, Jane’s unlikely personality emphasises how unique she is as character.

                Aptly named ‘Eyre’ (reminiscent of ‘heir’ and ‘air’), we are already set with inclinations of the rich future that lay in wait for Jane. She will discover and inherit her own free and airy spirit. From the beginning she is reading alone, admirably and independently pursuing intellect. Though her reading shows Jane’s impassioned perseverance to achieve intelligence, an underlying sinister edge is clear in that she is a girl wrongfully chasing a contextually masculine trait. This irregular defiance is also present in her physically (when taken to the red room Jane ‘resisted all the way’ and the simile ‘like a mad cat’ describes her flailing and fighting limbs). Structurally Jane’s defiance is constant. She defies instruction and goes to Helen Burns while she lay dying and she further defies convention and is openly reciprocal with her master Rochester. Defiance against the path that is set for her is one of Jane’s quintessential traits. As such, she is my favourite character from English Literature as she does not submit to the subservience of women and rather, as a strong force of nature, fights against it for something more. Such a resounding attitude is still important today, in a world where women still work towards being entirely equal to men. As such an essential attitude has stood the test of time through the embodiment of the head-strong Jane Eyre, she is undoubtedly my favourite character from English literature.

                Moving forward, Jane is placed at Lowood. Her friendship with Helen Burns culminates with Jane’s first exposure to the acceptance of religion, with Helen’s declaration that ‘God is good’ and that Jane will ‘come to the same region of happiness: be received by the same mighty, universal Parent’. Though the novel is largely anti-religion (refusing to ‘accept the forms, customs, and standards of society’[2]) Burns’ interpretation appeals to Jane as it epitomises what she looks for – acceptance and the family she has her entire life lacked. Though Jane strives through her strength, the need for affection is rooted in her hard beginning and this humanising trait brings her to life. Such a need for acceptance is applicable in a social sense as much as it is in terms of family. In this, religion must have an effect on Jane and her passion so that she can successfully take the next step in her life (her job as the Governess at Thornfield Hall) and begin to talk on equal terms with Rochester. In this confrontation with a part of herself as brought forward by Helen’s religion, she slightly alters a personal quality (her passion) as to develop further. This captivates me to her character as she is not ignorant of change, especially change that brings her closer to the emancipation from the expected fate of women in Victorian England. In his essay titled ‘The Subjection of Women’, John Stuart Mill states that ‘Marriage’ is the ultimate goal for women at the time, ‘and the object which it is intended should be sought by all of them’[3]. Though she marries Rochester, Jane does not marry in order to promise ‘a lifelong obedience to him at the altar’[4] but rather out of love. This is a defiant choice, both deeply admirable and awesome given the context. Not only does she defy what is meant for women, but she acts in opposition of the roots of a Victorian patriarchal society in which the role of women has gradually developed over time. As a millennial, I can only look on Jane’s actions throughout the novel, whether they are changes made in the knowledge that she must adapt or vital decisions, with the utmost respect.

Despite her development, Jane never expels her passions completely. Like her defiance, her passion is commendably a key aspect of her person. Without it Jane would not have been able to ultimately find herself.  In this, we find another confrontation with herself but on a more symbolically significant level, with ‘Rochester’s mad wife Bertha’[5]. Bertha is the completely unhinged and personified form of Jane’s wild and passionate side of her nature. Coming face to face with Bertha, Jane recognises ‘those bloated features’. Yes, she had seen Bertha the night before, but she may also recognise herself in the wife. Like Jane, Bertha is completely ostracised (as a foundling and a Governess Jane is often in an isolated position throughout the novel). Bertha is also a woman confined literally but walls and figuratively by the constructs of men. It’s this confrontation that pushes Jane away and towards revelation and closer to herself. The act of coming to terms with her own nature now collides with Jane’s unusually autonomous nature. If she was not so strong-willed and had not been made to confront the very foundations of her own being, Jane would have been stuck in the place of a submissive Victorian woman. This was never the fate meant for Jane, and I entirely favour her for her willingness to decide her own destiny. In following Jane’s strangled journey, I am inspired as a reader to fight harder on my own.

Jane Eyre arguably ends on a controversial note.  Despite her self-discovered liberation and happiness as a teacher far from Rochester, Jane eventually returns to him. How can a book that fights against what is thought to be appropriate for women end with marriage? It is noted that ‘all the most sympathetic women characters…are married by the end of the novel’ and ‘In general social terms, the novel does not ultimately challenge the status quo’[6]. Though this is true, several other truths conflict against these. Jane Eyre was first published in 1847, 22 years before the publication of John Stuart Mill’s essay mentioned previously. The time in which the novel was first distributed clearly asserts that to ‘challenge’ social convention at the time would have been impossible as essays on the position women were published long after. Charlotte Brontë even initially published the novel under the male pseudonym ‘Currer Bell’. In a Victorian world of strict gender roles, it is too harsh to find fault with the novel for not challenging ‘status quo’.  And can Jane not be a strong woman and find love simultaneously? The entire novel sees Jane breaking free of constraints, becoming confident enough to forcefully inform Rochester that ‘I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a fee human being with an independent will’. In her powerful speech, listing as if she is ordering her master from a more powerful position, the controversy of the ending is solved. Marriage is entirely her choice (‘Reader, I married him’). Jane chooses almost every important step that she takes, and she never stops. She chooses to leave Rochester as morally the time to marry is unjust, she chooses to reject St John as he cannot love her the way she deserves, and she finally chooses to marry Rochester because they are at last one another’s complete equal . Jane is my favourite English literature character as she decides her fate without the input of any man.

It is evident that after careful consideration Jane Eyre is my favourite character from English literature. She develops throughout the novel, unafraid of change in order to grow and yet remains a complex and layered character. Most importantly, she radically questions the forced position of women in the Victorian world and further breaks out of it to achieve something greater. Jane and her feats are still relevant as the fight for equality between men and women remains today, and Jane’s example is one to walk proudly in the wake of. It is characters in English literature such as Jane that open up a world where women are free to make decisions as men do, to live as openly and as equals; for this I am truly endeared to Jane Eyre.

 

 2016)

 

 


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