rontë's characterization of Jane Eyre suggests her protagonist's inner conflict between reason and desire, rationality and passion, restraint and emotion. "Roused to something like passion" at the thought of Rochester marrying Blanche Ingram, "Jane articulates fantasies not just of submission to Rochester but also of rebellion against him" (Elsie Michie, "White Chimpanzees and Oriental Despots: Racial Stereotyping and Edward Rochester," 595). Jane is more aware than Rochester thinks of his manipulation and surveillance of her emotions (for instance, the gypsy scene several pages earlier). After being censured for her impetuosity and youthful passions by Mrs. Reed and at Lowood, in this scene Jane instead rejects the opposite notion — that she is "an automatonŠa machine without feelings." Brontë describes Jane "poor, obscure, plain, and little," and in so doing situates Jane's identity in terms of class and gender. Jane's feelings exceed her subordinate status — "if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you." In other words, Jane's love for Rochester would exist regardless of "customs" and "conventionalities" which stand in the way of desire. Brontë juxtaposes material reality and consciousness, ultimately rejecting "mortal flesh" for Jane's 'spirit."
Whereas Jane's class and gender status perhaps limits her 'spirit" from arriving with Rochester "at God's feet," Sam Weller in The Pickwick Papers is little restrained from pursuing romantic interests.
"Mary," said Mr. Muzzle to the pretty servant-girl, "this is Mr. Weller, a gentleman as master has sent down, to be made as comfortable as possible."
"And your master's a knowin' hand — and has just sent me to the right place," said Mr. Weller, with a glance of admiration at Mary. "If I was master o' this here house, I should alvays find the materials for comfort vere Mary vas."
"Lor, Mr. Weller!" said Mary, blushing.
"Well, I never!" ejaculated the cook. (382)
Dickens demonstrates that Sam's feelings outweigh his capacity for restraint. As opposed to Jane, Sam is concerned with substance and not spirit — corporeal reality rather than consciousness. "I should alvays find the materials for comfort vere Mary vas" (my emphasis). Dickens hyperbolizes the libidinous eccentricities of the underclass much in the same way that Shakespeare's low scenes (such as in the Henriad) depict similarly licentious characters. Where Winkle's amorous designs on Arabella are kept in abeyance until the end of the book because the elder Winkle refuses his son a dowry, Sam freely pursues Mary perhaps because his servant-class status allows him to do so. Muzzle has "just sent me to the right place," Sam says, implying that the upper-classes are in fact complicit in the production of a lower-class ethos of unrestrained sexuality. Sam's gender also allows him sexual license. His "glance of admiration" empowers him over the "blushing" Mary; this is working-class sexual harassment! Anthony S. Wohl discusses the sexuality of the underclass, drawing upon Frederick William Harrar's "Aptitudes of Race" to suggest the Victorian middle-class "generalization that in the slums marriage was virtually unknown and that "incest is common and no form of vice or sexuality causes surprise or attracts attention.'" Wohl goes on to suggest how the pathologizing of "out groups" expresses middle-class sexual fastidiousness itself.
The "Woman Question" of course involved a re-evaluation of prevailing conceptions of women as "second-class" citizens subject to male scrutiny and agitation. The industrial revolution ironically limited women's alternatives in the labor force.
The only occupation at which an unmarried middle-class woman could earn a living and maintain some claim to gentility was that of a governess, but a governess could expect no security of employment, minimal wages, and an ambiguous status, somewhere between servant and family member, that isolated her within the household (Norton II 903).
In "The Governess and Class Prejudice," Erin Wells draws upon Bonnie Smith's historicization of the governess:
The governess in the nineteenth century personified a life of intense misery. She was also that most unfortunate individual; the single, middle-class woman who had to earn her own living. Although being a governess might be a degradation, employing one was a sign of culture and means. . . . The psychological situation of the governess made her position unenviable. Her presence created practical difficulties within the Victorian home because she was neither a servant nor a member of the family. She was from the social level of the family, but the fact that she was paid a salary put her at the economic level of the servants. (Bonnie G. Smith, "Chapter 5: The Domestic Sphere in the Victorian Age," Changing Lives)
In both passages the identity of the governess inheres in a decentered subjectivity — the governess is "neither a servant nor a member of a family." The occupation by nature situated women in domestic settings which were to influence profoundly how that domestic space itself was to be gendered and valued. Nancy Armstrong has contextualized the woman's role in the production of middle class domesticity. Armstrong accords the woman a certain power which
established its hold over British culture through her dominance over all those objects and practices we associate with private life. To her went authority over the household, leisure time, courtship procedures, and kinship relations, and under her jurisdiction the most basic qualities of human identity were supposed to develop. (Desire and Domestic Fiction, 3)
Beth Newman suggests the emergence of two "'separate spheres' of domesticity and paid labor" attendant upon the industrialization of labors formerly allotted to women such as 'spinning, weaving, dairy work" ("Introduction" to Jane Eyre, Bedford Edition, 8). Notice how Newman's gendering of these spheres corresponds to the passages above. Sam is an emblem of the masculine sphere of paid labor, whereas Jane embodies the values of the home. Consider how Rochester's employment of Jane colors their relationship. As Armstrong argues, "only when she no longer needs his money can she become the mistress of his heart, and it is in this role, not as a governess, that she takes her rightful place of dominion over his home." From the Marxist standpoint, then, both Jane's social ascent presupposes a change in the material reality; she only becomes empowered over Rochester upon receiving her inheritance, and upon Rochester's physical (or material) crippling.
Last modified 1996