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Movie – Feminist Themes in Jane Eyre, Novel and Film Versions

An Analysis of Feminist Themes in Jane Eyre and its Film Versions

Concern for women’s rights dates from the Enlightenment, when the liberal, egalitarian, and reformist ideals of that period began to be extended from the bourgeoisie, peasants, and urban laborers to women as well. As did most interest groups of the time, feminists gained force and stability through its writing. The period’s blossoming ideas concerning women’s rights were fully set forth in Judith Murray’s On the Equality of the Sexes in 1790. Dr. Allyson Dowta, author of Women and the Written Word, states that without Margaret Wollstoncraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792, “the feminist movement would have remained a fledgling and unconnected effort. Wollstoncraft’s contribution…united feminists worldwide” (95). In 1810, Charlotte Smith’s What Is She? joined this list of tour de force feminist works, followed by Lucy Aikin’s Epistles on Women in 1820, Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem in 1831, and Margaret Fuller’s landmark book Women in the Nineteenth Century, an encouragement for women to liberate themselves from societal bondage, in 1845.

Though this type of analysis of the female condition became more and more abundant throughout the 1800’s, feminist literature didn’t remain entirely expository. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, feminist writing came in a genre of popular short stories, poems, and works written apparently for entertainment. Margaret Holford’s Margaret of Anjou, a novella published in 1816, Elizabeth Ogilvy’s “The Geniad”, a collection of five autobiographical poems published in 1825, and Catherine Williams’ Fall River, a novella published in 1833, were all notable examples of this t…

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Ellis, Kate and Kaplan, Ann. Nineteenth Century Women at the Movies: Adapting Classic Women’s Fiction to Film. Bowling Green, OH: Popular, 1999

Jane Eyre. Dir. Christy Cabanne. Perf. Virginia Bruce, Colin Clive, and Beryl Mercer. 1934.

Jane Eyre. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Perf. William Hurt, Charlotte Gainsborough, and Anna Paquin. 1996

Jane Eyre. Dir. Julian Aymes. Perf. Timothy Dalton, Zelah Clarke. 1983

Jane Eyre. Dir. Robert Stevenson. Perf. Joan Fontaine, Orson Welles, and Margaret O’Brien. 1944

Peters, Joan D. “Finding a Voice: Towards a Woman’s Discourse in Dialogue in the Narration of Jane Eyre.” Studies in the Novel. 23 no 2. (1991): 217-36.

Zonana, Joyce. “The Sultan and the Slave: Feminist Orientalism and the Structure of Jane Eyre.” Signs. 18 no 3. (1993): 592-617

Challenging the Identity of the Family in What Maisie Knew by Henry James

Challenging the Identity of the Family in What Maisie Knew

Although Henry James did not confine himself exclusively to the scope of

literary themes facing America, in his novel What Maisie Knew, he did

challenge the changing identity of the modern family. At the turn of the

century, the dynamics of the family institution became an important theme in

American literature due to such issues as the increased social mobility of

the industrial age, the new emerging independence of women, and a modern view

that lent itself to challenging tradition. For many of James’

contemporaries, Edith Wharton, for example, a colleague and friend of James,

this theme became the focus of works like “The Other Two.” In this work, the

new situations facing the family illustrate themselves through the central

agent of the child, who remains the focus for bringing these circumstances to

light. While the child never enters the action of the story, she becomes the

catalyst that brings about the adult confrontations that shape, not

necessarily for the better, the identity of the family. In James’ novel,

though set in Europe and intended to present an extreme case, the same type

of situation remains. The focus for this work, however, targets the

psychology of the child. James proves more interested in the effect that the

dynamics of the modern family have on the children than on the issues

themselves. The situations that the members of Maisie’s “family” create

force her into a number of roles that strip the innocence of her youth and

quickly introduce her to the corrupt reality of adulthood.

Although Maisie must encounter situations that, at first, are apparently

beyond her control, she quickl…

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…lues given by the narrator and the other

characters in the novel, as well as Maisie’s own actions, we can trace her

understanding and her ability to affect her situation throughout the novel.

Her own understanding Maisie never entirely reveals until the end of the

novel, but we can see that she deserves more credit than she receives. What Maisie Knew. Ricks, Christopher (ed. and introd.). New York, NY: Penguin; 2010.

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