In What Sense is Jane Eyre a Feminist Novel?

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

In what senses can we take this major Victorian novel as a feminist text? Writing in 1966, R. B. Martin, who makes many fine points about about the novel’s techniques and meaning, argues that it is essentially pre-feminist:

The novel is frequently cited as the earliest major feminist novel, although there is not a hint in the book of any desire for political, legal, educational, or even intellectual equality between the sexes. Miss Bronte asks only for the simple — or is it the most complex? — recognition that the same heart and the same spirit animate both men and women, and that love is the pairing of equals in these spheres. . . . The famous plea that women ought not to be confined ‘to making pudding and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags’ [Chap. 12] is not propaganda for equal employment but for a recognition of woman’s emotional nature. The condemnation of women to a place apart results in the creation of empty, capricious women like Blanche Ingram, who tyrannize over men whenever possible, indulge in dreams of Corsair lovers, and can communicate only in the Byronic language of outdated romantic fiction. Only equals like Jane and Rochester dare to speak truth couched in language of unadorned directness. [pp. 93-94]

Even in Martin’s terms, can you take Jane Eyre as a feminist work?

How does he define feminism, and which works in this course would meet his definition?


Martin, Robert B. Charlotte Brontë’s Novels: The Accents of Persuasion. NY: Norton, 1966.