This post was written in response to Charli Mills Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge, at Carrot Ranch.
January 26, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme, “women create.” It can be art, sewing, ideas, babies. What is at the heart of women as creators? Go where the prompt takes you.
Creating Jane Eyre
“Who’s the author of this abhorrent attempt at a novel?” asked Lady Eastlake.
“Currer Bell,” replied Mrs. Mozley.
“Who on earth is he?” asked Mrs. Rigby.
“Some say he’s a woman,” said Mrs. Mozley
“Women don’t describe such coarse and shameful relationships between men and women,” snapped Lady Eastlake.
“Unless it is such a woman who has long forfeited the society of her own sex,” said Mrs. Rigby.
“It’s unchristian. We should make sure it’s banned,” suggested Mrs. Mozley. “Just in case it’s a woman’s creation. Imagine how degrading it would be for the rest of us.”
When Jane Eyre (1847) was first published by Charlotte Bronte under the masculine pseudonym Currer Bell, it was received with mixed reviews. Some were highly praising and others harshly critical.
Some of her staunchest critics were female and criticized Jane Eyre for being vulgar, improper, anti-christian, as well as politically incorrect. Her three main female critics were Lady Eastlake, Elizabeth Rigby and Ann Mozley, the three women I’ve brought together in today’s flash.
Among the most outspoken critics was the conservative Lady Eastlake, who accused Charlotte Bronte of lack of femininity, and of agreeing with the working class uprisings of the Chartists, who were demanding votes for the working classes.
In addition to Lady Eastlake, Elizabeth Rigby, an author and art critic, and the first woman to write for the Quarterly review, stated that if the book was by a woman, “she had long forfeited the society of her own sex.” Rigby also considered Jane Eyre showed “coarseness of language and laxity of tone.” Rigby was especially irate about her unflattering depictions of the aristocracy, accusing Charlotte Bronte of a “total ignorance of the habits of society.”
Ann Mozley, writing for the Christian Remembrancer in 1848, writes “Never was there a better hater. Every page burns with moral Jacobinism.” The Jacobins were French revolutionaries who aimed to abolish the monarchy and do away with class distinctions, as well as instituting a universal vote, an idea abhorrent to upper class, Anglican Britons.
According to these and other critics, Jane Eyre challenged traditional views about how women should act and behave, and therefore threatening the established social order.
Jane is indeed rebellious and demands respect and equality, although she knows her place, she also believes that her fate isn’t written in stone. Here are her unforgettable words to overbearing Mr. Rochester:
Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since the 19th century. Censorship, accepting injustice and exploitation, and gender, racial or religious discrimination is something we aim to overcome.
Well done Jane Eyre for shocking them all out of their complacency!
You’d be happy to know that my sequel takes up her fiercely independent, outspoken and resilient, free spirit.
In Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, Charles Dickens visits Jane Eyre (at that time, Mrs. Mason) at Eyre Hall for a few days over Christmas. Dickens confesses that he has left his wife and has a young mistress, although it is a well kept secret, because he is not prepared to affront the establishment. When Jane tells him she is having an affair with Lieutenant Kirkpatrick, her former valet, and she is no longer hiding her feelings, he replies:
“How invigorating! Are you going to shock us all and defy the laws of propriety? How brave of you!”
That’s my Jane!