Neo-Victorian Women: The Other Side(s) of Jane Eyre
With Charlotte Brontë’s bicentennial in 2016, neo-Victorian texts that seek to retell the narratives of Jane Eyre’s marginalized characters have emerged. These texts engage with Brontë’s most famous novel in ways that address the triumphs and challenges of Brontë’s long-debated feminist sentiments. My thesis focuses on three of these neo-Victorian texts and questions why authors feel compelled to adapt Jane Eyre, and what about retelling Brontë’s nineteenth-century novel enables authors to see their own ideological conditions in a new or different way. I argue, based on Cora Kaplan’s assertion that the debate surrounding Brontë’s feminism is significant due to the emotion it evokes, that the tension between the feminist and non-feminist implications of Brontë’s text renders Jane Eyre an ideal site for revisiting the nineteenth century in terms of gender, race, and class. Focusing on gender in Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele (2016), race in Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester (2017), and class in Helen Dunmore’s “Grace Poole Her Testimony” (2016), I argue that neo-Victorian texts that retell Jane Eyre critique nineteenth-century ideologies through a twenty-first century feminist lens and comment on modern female experience. Collectively, the novels analyzed here position themselves within the context of Jane Eyre’s ambiguous feminism to engage with the role of fallen women, racially different women, and women bound by class demarcations in order to ask questions about whose voices are heard and whose are silenced, and about the conditions of womanhood in both the Victorian age and the present-day.