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"BEYOND WHAT LANGUAGE CAN EXPRESS:" TRANSCENDING THE LIMITS OF THE SELF IN JANE EYRE CAROL-ANN FARKAS Simon Fraser University Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, first published in 1847, may have come twenty years too late to be considered a true Gothic romance, but in one important respect the novel does re-affirm a central characteristic of the Gothic tradition. According to Eugenia C. DeLamotte, the Gothic provides a forum for the exploration of a variety of anxieties "that resolve themselves most fundamentally into a concern about the boundaries of the self (14): . . . [Psychological, moral, spiritual, and intellectual energies expended in [an] engagement with the forces of violence are generated by an anxiety about boundaries: those that shut the protagonist off from the world, those that shut the protagonist in, and those that separate the individual self from something that is Other. . . . (19) Boundaries may create definition for the self, but they also create limitations, becoming barriers to knowledge about the world, the Self1 and the Other. In true Gothic fashion, such obstacles are everywhere in Jane Eyre — "boundaries and barriers, after all, are the very stage properties of Gothic romance" (DeLamotte 19) — and they manifest themselves in a wide variety of forms, ranging from the concrete to the abstract, the literal to the symbolic. It is not until these epistemological barriers are overcome, and Jane Eyre has found a personal and subjective certainty about her world and her Self, that she is free to enjoy the stability of identity and the openness and equality of relationship that she so craves. ***** Victorian Review 20.1 (Summer 1994) 50Victorian Review Perhaps the most frequent manifestation of boundaries within the Gothic tradition is the architectural enclosure. In Jane Eyre, such enclosures take the form of the houses and institutions (and rooms therein) that define the various stages of Jane's journey: Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield, Marsh End, and Ferndean. The first three enclosures in this series serve, undeniably, as the location of literal and metaphorical impediments to knowledge. Although each is the site of significant new experiences and insights which make possible the progressive development of Jane's self-awareness, she is, at the same time, beset by a physical and social isolation which places definite limits on the amount and kind of knowledge she is able to acquire. At Gateshead and Thornfield in particular, the flow of information is, in large part, controlled by people who have considerable power and influence over Jane: both Mrs. Reed and Rochester, for various compelling personal motives, act to manipulate what Jane knows about her surroundings, her place in the world, and her identity. Nevertheless, in spite of such obstacles (or perhaps, because of them), Janes does find knowledge and experience in these enclosures. And the more she learns, the less vulnerable she becomes to the attempts of others to limit, or enclose, this process — the less vulnerable she becomes to the Gothic threat of physical and epistemological boundaries symbolized by, and localized in, her surroundings. In fact, as the novel progresses, the development of Jane's awareness is reflected in a gradual shift in the definition of "enclosure," so that by the time she comes to Marsh End and Ferndean, in most respects they no longer represent the enclosure-as-barrier, but rather, they have come to represent the enclosure-as-refuge. Of course, Marsh End is the scene of a significant conflict between Jane and St. John, where the latter, like Mrs. Reed and Rochester before him, is determined to shape Jane's understanding of who she is, and who she ought to be. This conflict does not, however, change the fact that it is Jane's stumbling upon Marsh End that saves her after her flight from Thornfield, and that it is here, while under the Rivers' care and protection, that she finds purpose, personal and financial independence, and family. Her inheritance, and, more importantly, the consequent revelation of her relation to the Rivers, gives her status, a solid and unassailable place in the world. And the knowledge that she is free to "cultivate [her] own faculties as well as to cultivate those of other people" (Brontë 415) — the knowledge that she is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 49-69
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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