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This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact mpub-help umich. Kate Washington . Greg's article "Prostitution," published in the Westminster Review indraws an explicit parallel between prostitutes and women who marry for money.
Greg, who uses the terminology of economics to describe prostitution and marriage as "transactions" undertaken in "a cold spirit of bargain," knows that the parallel will shock many of his Victorian readers. He writes, "Let not the world cry shame upon us for the juxtaposition" Although Greg only touches on the "juxtaposition" of marriage and prostitution in an essay that otherwise focuses on prostitution, his article is among the first in the British periodical press to discuss the economic similarity between the two.
The word "mistress" could mean a female superior or head of household, a wife who was considered inferior to her husbandor a kept mistress. The first meaning is seldom used in Jane Eyre. A crucial exception—and, I will argue, a dramatic turning point in the novel's gender relations—is Jane's ultimate declaration of financial independence: "I am my own mistress" Within the text of Jane Eyre"mistress" most often denotes a "kept woman.
Many Victorian writers, however, saw prostitution as a threat to patriarchal capitalism, and consequently "the great social evil" emerged as a major concern for mid-nineteenth-century Victorian society. While the controversial Contagious Diseases Acts were not instated until a decade later, rescue work to "reclaim" fallen women was on the rise, as was the production of anti-prostitution lectures and sermons.
In Lectures on MagdalenismRalph Wardlaw makes this connection explicit:. Despite Wardlaw's "scale of gentility," he implies a strong censure of all women engaged in prostitution through his use of the words "whoredom," "harlot," and "moral turpitude. In Prostitution Considered Naked Rochester i ll girls Its Moral, Social, and Sanitary AspectsWilliam Acton also emphasizes the importance of the economic transaction in his definition of prostitution.
According to Acton's definition, a mistress who accepted money in a long-term liaison with a single man was unequivocally a prostitute.
She in turn uses the concept of the mistress to show how deeply Victorian marriage was charged with the economics of sexual exchange. Married women could not own property; the legal principle of coverture provided that married couples were legally one person and that the husband was the legal representative of that person. Whether social attitudes toward marriage as an economic contract were changing before feminist reform began to challenge the nature of that economic contract is another question. For example, Maurianne Adams's article, "Jane Eyre : Woman's Estate," discusses the problematic nature of woman's economic dependence, but focuses on Jane's economic status as one of many social and personal obstacles she must face on the road to self-realization.
No critical discussions of Jane's life have focused on her similarities to Rochester's mistresses or, therefore, to the major sexual economy of the text. Certain critics of the novel's socioeconomic relationships have made only glancing investigations of Jane's sexual relationships.
Mary Poovey's chapter on the novel in the influential book, Uneven Developmentsdiscusses Jane as an economic and social agent in the context of the controversy in the s over the liminality of governesses.
She is less concerned than I am, though, with exploring how those social constraints affect Jane's psyche. For Politi, Jane's refusals to be subordinate to Rochester are hollow because of Jane's complicity in a patriarchal system.
Politi is perhaps over-eager to blame the text rather Naked Rochester i ll girls to explore its genuine political complexity. By reading the marriage plot of Jane Eyre against the recurrent theme of mistresshood in the novel, I show how the novel criticizes the intersection of women's sexuality with their economic dependency.
Although Jane is aware of Rochester's "former faults of morality," she does not blame him, assuming that they "had their source in some cruel cross of fate" But, possibly because she knows of his "former faults of morality," she admonishes herself: "It does good to no woman to be flattered by her superior, who cannot possibly intend to marry her; and it is madness in all women to let a secret love kindle within them, which, if unreturned and unknown, must devour the life that feeds it; and, if discovered and responded to, must lead, ignis fatuus -like, into miry wilds whence there is no extrication" At this point, Jane recognizes that Rochester is her superior not only because he is her employer, but because of his financial status and sexual experience as well.
This recognition reminds Jane that any "secret love" between them will not result in marriage, but in mistresshood—the metaphorical "miry wilds" that she imagines here. Jane, who is already engaged in a non-sexual exchange with Rochester as the governess of his ward, realizes that others suspect Rochester will seduce her. Even the kind Mrs. Fairfax is afraid that the employer-employee relationship between Rochester and Jane may turn into an illicit sexual and economic exchange.
Fairfax says to Jane, "'Last night I cannot tell you what I suffered when I sought all over the house, and could find you nowhere, nor the master either; and then, at twelve o'clock, saw you come in with him'" At first, Mrs. Fairfax's anguish at the pair's relatively brief absence looks melodramatic, but her phrase, "I cannot tell you what I suffered," serves as a useful reminder that for middle-class Victorian women, the thought of premarital sexual activity was effectively unspeakable. Fairfax does not have the vocabulary to warn Jane explicitly. Rather, she must deal in hints and innuendos:.
It is impossible to tell here whether Mrs. Fairfax is trying to frame a guarded warning that Rochester is already married, or simply hinting that he may not marry Jane at all.
In any case, Mrs. Fairfax shocks the reader, and Jane, into realizing that the romantic marriage Rochester and Jane plan is an exception rather than the rule, and that it is particularly fraught with danger when the woman is an employee of the man. Fairfax, and shows that if Jane were to marry Rochester, she would be suspected of trying to marry him for his money. Jane exhibits a great deal of anxiety about her impending change of status before the first, failed wedding of the novel.
Although the outcome of that wedding—the revelation that Rochester is already married to Bertha Mason—justifies her fears, it is important to remember that Jane has not had premonitions of Rochester's planned bigamy per se. Rather, Jane's fears stem from her anxiety about her potential economic and social dependency on Rochester, which Mrs.
Fairfax's suspicions exacerbate. While Jane considers her work as a governess Naked Rochester i ll girls labor in exchange for Rochester's money, there are exchanges in which she will not participate. Jane implies that there are two potential ways for a woman to gain independence: she may either bring her inheritance to a marriage or she may earn a "legitimate" living once married by working, for example, as a governess.
The conviction that financial independence is an important marker of women's personal and subjective autonomy is evident when Rochester takes Jane shopping. Jane is disturbed by both Rochester's selection of gaudy clothing and his proprietary attitude toward her:. Jane's refusal of fine new clothes is particularly ificant in that "fancy dress" was one of the primary social markers of the Victorian prostitute. As Mariana Valverde observes, "medical and political discourses. What constituted finery was class-specific, in that finery meant clothing that was inappropriate to a woman's class or station in life: "Finery in [the] pejorative sense meant clothes that were too showy.
Jane's fear of being brightly dressed, then, stems from the contrast between the ificance of these new clothes and that of the accustomed and expected plainness of her dress as a governess. On Jane, the bright silks and satins would be inappropriate because of her class position though not, as Valverde's argument makes clear, to her new station after her marriage and would therefore indicate a lack of economic and sexual integrity.
While Jane does not object to the cloth Rochester selects per seeven calling the satin "superb," she insists that she will not "venture" to wear it.
If she were to wear the clothes that he purchased for her, Jane realizes, she would look more like Rochester's mistress than his ward's governess. It is the association between Rochester's purchase of these elaborate clothes, which are tokens of mistresshood, and Jane's body that she finds upsetting: "Glad was I to get him out of the silk warehouse, and then out of a jeweller's shop: the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation" This feeling of degradation, linked as it is to the increase in buying, stems from both her economic position and from Rochester's glee in keeping her increasingly in his debt.
Jane immediately re his pleasure as the smug satisfaction of "buying" her. Jane narrates: "He smiled; and I thought his smile was such as a sultan might, in a blissful and fond moment, bestow on a slave his gold and gems had enriched: I crushed his hand, which was ever hunting mine, vigorously, and thrust it back to him red with the passionate pressure" Not only does his look appear to take possession of her, like a "sultan" with his "slave," but he also constantly attempts to take physical possession of her, with his hand "ever hunting" Jane's.
We might read the seeking hand as a synecdoche for Rochester's whole body, seeking Jane sexually both before and after the wedding. It is clear, however, that Jane sees a large part of her "degradation" as the combination between Rochester's sexual and material ownership of her. This Orientalist metaphor of Jane's sexual thrall is reinforced when Rochester picks up the thread of what Jane calls his "eastern allusion. She seizes on the metaphor he uses and seems purposefully to misconstrue it, responding as if he had asked her to behave like the "whole seraglio": "'I'll not stand you an inch in the stead of a seraglio.
This non sequitur makes clear the extent to which Jane is obsessed with asserting her own independence as she anticipates her dependence on Rochester. In another effort to assert her independence, Jane insists on retaining her salary and work schedule even after her marriage. I'll furnish my own wardrobe out of that money'" Here, Jane tries to negotiate two separate relationships to Rochester: as his employee and his wife. In Naked Rochester i ll girls words, she is trying to do what was legally impossible for early Victorian women: maintain a separation between the financial and emotional dimensions of marriage in order to avoid a dependent position.
Jane is very clear that what she is rejecting is not Rochester's love, but the exchange of his money for her loss of autonomy. Jane's suggestion is deeply ironic, for she could not be paid by Rochester if she were his wife because he would, by law of coverture, be paying himself. Still, she seems to think that the symbolic act of working for her keep would Naked Rochester i ll girls her from dependency and mistresshood in marriage. At the end of the discussion, she returns to the question of her wardrobe: Mr.
Rochester will not dress her, not even for her wedding. Jane not only declares her independence to Rochester, but also seeks to establish financial autonomy by writing to her wealthy uncle, in the hope that he may leave her an inheritance. Rochester an accession of fortune, I could better endure to be kept by him now'" ; my italics.
Again, Jane ignores the fact that any property she were to bring to the marriage would become Rochester's. But this desire for independence, read within the larger plot-structure of the novel, helps her to avoid total dependence on Rochester. Joyce Zonana points out that it is in fact this desire that saves Jane from the bigamous marriage, for "Jane's letter to John Eyre alerts Rochester's brother-in-law, Richard Mason, to Rochester's plans. Because of her love for Rochester, Jane faces a dangerous paradox when he asks her to come away with him after their wedding is pre-empted.
Jane is caught between her love for Rochester and her equally strong desire to maintain her independence. When she refuses to him, Rochester accuses Jane of having tried to marry him for his wealth and social position: "you don't love me, then?
It was only my station, and the rank of my wife, that you valued? Now that you think me disqualified to become your husband, you recoil from my touch" Rochester thus speaks Jane's own worst fears—that the attempted marriage to Rochester could be construed as her surrender to dependency and mistresshood. Jane hardly needs the reminder; as Maurianne Adams notes, "the sudden emergence of Bertha Mason Rochester from her attic hideaway confirms and verifies what Jane had already feared, that as Rochester's wife she would be but his mistress, a kept woman, without any independent social status" Why do you shake your head?
But Jane understands differently: "'If I lived with you as you desire,'" she informs him, "'I should then be your mistress—to say otherwise is sophistical—is false'" Jane contends that if she were to accompany Rochester, their relationship would be marked by economic dependency and sexual exchange. Her self-definition as a governess or as an economic agent would then be subsumed under a definition that is purely relative to Rochester: she would be his mistress.
Jane has learned her lesson from Rochester's disdain about his former mistresses.Naked Rochester i ll girls
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