Charlotte Brontë's book Jane Eyre is a Victorian novel that has passed into common consciousness and proved remarkably adaptable, generating several film and stage versions. That Jane Eyre shares this fate with the two greatest horror novels of the nineteenth century is instructive. Like them, it speaks to deep, timeless human urges and fears, using the conventions of Gothic literature to chart the mind's recesses.
The detailed exploration of a strong female character's consciousness has made readers in recent decades consider Jane Eyre as an influential feminist text. The novel works both as the absorbing story of an individual woman's quest and as a narrative of the dilemmas that confront so many women. Its mythic quality is enhanced by the fact that at the time of its writing its author was, like her heroine, unmarried and unremarked, and considered unattractive. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë created a fully imagined character defined by her strength of will. Though Jane is nothing more than an impoverished governess, she can retort to her haughty employer Rochester: 'Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?-You think wrong!' (p. 284). Jane's willfulness scandalized many contemporary critics, who called her (and the novel) 'coarse' and 'unfeminine.' Such criticisms were powerless against the novel's popularity, and Jane's indomitable voice continues to enthrall readers more than 150 years after the novel's original publication.
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