“There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.” ?Charlotte Bronte
Looking back on the 19th century literature a discovery of characters that fight strongly for their lives, love, dignity will be found. Many female characters came into spotlight during this period. Some of them are women that fight and go against taboos of their society.
The two novels “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte and “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert, ae both written on 19th Century. “Jane Eyre” was written on 1847, and “Madame Bovary” was written on 1856. During this time women usually lacked the power to be superior towards man and independent. These two novels give a brief introduction of marriage taboos during this time and the way how women opposed them.
In Jane Eyre, the protagonist is Jane Eyre herself. She had a traumatic childhood and she was an orphan. Jane is a very hard-working, determined young lady. She was very professional and she started a career as a governess in Rochester’s house. As they were falling for each other, the book slowly revealed marriage taboos. Jane and Rochester loved each other, however they could not get married unless Rocester divorces his lunatic wife Bertha. This was a hidden secret for Jane and she leaves Rochester when she acknowledge this issue. While the book is evaluating to an end, the clear love intentions of Rochester towards Jane are shown, also, the marriage taboos that Jane struggles with. During the whole book the way how Jane opposed this taboos is shown. Leading to a happy ending of Jane Eyre and Rochester getting married.
In Madame Bovary, the protagonist is Emma Bovary. She was sent to a convent when she was young. Emma Bovary was disciplined and obedient. However, Madame Bovary lives in her own imaginative world. She finds the romantic books she reads, a way to escape from the real world. Emma gets married to Charles Bovary, and later on she understands that he is not as the hero she was expecting. To escape this failed marriage, she has affairs with Rodolphe and Leon, both of them uses her for their own intention. Gustave Flaubert expresses the marriage taboos and the role of women from the beginning of Emma’s marriage until the day she commits suicide. Emma Bovary tries hard to overcome marriage taboos, however she struggles to do this, because of her way of solving this obstacles.
During the 19th century, marriage taboos such as divorce, having affairs, the right to show love to a men unless he proposes them, is significantly shown in this 2 novels. Both writers try to adapt the characters by challenging them with the taboos, to show the obstacles that women of 19th century in both France and Britain had faced.
Emma and Jane react against these taboos, even though this taboos are a challenge to them. Both of them react differently towards similar taboos, influenced by their childhood, education, personality, etc. A deeper analyze on Emma and Jane´s life, wishes, and fears too is required in order to understand the reasons of reacting differently towards similar taboos.
Historical information on marriage taboos and women role in society on 19th century.
In the Victorian period of Britain, the women were perceived as inferior to men. Victorian women had limited rights and privileges. Nineteenth-century British women usually lacked a say in decision making, especially when it comes to marriage. Most women were limited throughout their lives by an unfair paradox: As being inferior to a man and being oppressed.
Women were usually superficially educated, and most didn’t attend universities. This resulted in lacking skills for most employment. The limited employment offers such as governess and shop employee were not preferable. As a result, few single women were employed in respectable professions. This shows that women were expected to be unemployed.
Marriage was the primary occupation for women in the 19th century. Arranged marriage were too common, whereas women did not have a say in decisions. Young women were forced to marry quickly. They were expected to be mothers and wives. Moreover, women should not show love towards a man, until he proposes or is wealthy. Marriage was a trade-off of power from a father to a husband. After all, women could not propose to men; instead, they were taught to wait passively for proposals. These were known as marriage taboos.
Another major taboo during the 19th century in France and Britain was divorce. This led to women and men being stuck in marriage, even if they do not want to. There will be consequences like being ostracized from the society and being banned from their families. Having an affair is another taboo, as it was a reason for immediate divorce.
One of the most significant examples which shows how marriage taboos affected the life of women during the19th century in Britain, is Queen Victoria herself. She was under the shadow of King Albert until his death. After his death, her rule became convenient. This helped women to believe in their rights and fight for them. Queen Victoria showed that women were eager to be valued and worth more than just having the simplest position in life, to be confined to a man. Also seen as a paradox, whereas she was a very powerful woman and a queen.
France and Britain share the same perspective on marriage taboos and women. They often don’t have the right of involvement in politics and are expected not be employed. They usually were forced into marriages and did not have a right on choosing their partner unless he comes from a wealthy family. Divorce is also considered as sacrilege and judged. These taboos changed women’s lives during this time. However, a lot of women opposed against these taboos and successfully achieved their rights in the society.
A writer like Gustave Flaubert would bring into life “Madame Bovary”. The protagonist has the tendency to dream and to be endlessly disappointed with reality.
In “Madame Bovary” Emma Bovary is the protagonist, who is an extremely beautiful, yet naive woman. Her character is marked by her sentimentality and daydreaming.. Her early years influence her entire life. At a very young age she is sent to a convent where she indulges in daydreams and in sentimentalizing about life. The education which she recieves there, makes her prefer the world of stories over the real world. Emma becomes a dreamy girl and constantly feels the need for excitement and cannot endure the dull routine of everyday life. At the beginning of the story, Emma Bovary tries very hard to escape monotony. She thinks that marriage will set her free from this dull routine, without thinking of love as a act which involves respect, but as a way to freedom for monotony and escape from reality.Bovary regards marriage as one of the most crucial aspects of womanhood in order to be respected and allowed to have children
The opportunity to escape from monotony comes with Charles Bovary. However, he is not the one that Emma thought would fulfill her dreams. After her marriage, Emma continues to seek for excitement. However, Charles lacks intelligence and imagination; he is naive and incapable to protect her. His personality as well as living with him made Emma feel more depressed. She misses the bliss and passion that she hoped to find in marriage. She cannot tolerate her relationship because it doesn’t fit into the romantic accounts that she has read about. Emma is again trapped by her romantic world. She closes her eyes and hides herself in her dreams. Emma is always looking for ways to change things.
´´At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon.´´ (Madame Bovary Chap.9). Emma Bovary is unhappy with her marriage and has other expectations for it, but she does not divorce Charles. The taboos that Emma has to face stopped her from getting divorced.
Eventually, she finds herself struggling with the limits society puts on her. Emma says: “A man, at least, is free; he may travel over passions and over countries, overcome obstacles, taste of the most far-away pleasures . . . A woman is always hampered . . . there is always some desire that draws her, some conventionality that restrains.”(Madame Bovary Chap.3)
Emma Bovary lives in a world constructed with male values. This is easily noticed when she says: “But a woman is always hampered“ (Madame Bovary Chap.3) She feels that being a woman is always going to stop her from achieving her goals. Women are not independent and this is also reflected in the voice of the narrator. “Like the veil held to her hat by a ribbon, her will flutters in every breeze; she is always drawn by some desire, restrained by some rule of conduct.“(Madame Bovary Chap.3)
Women often are regarded as emotionally and financially below man, thus they are not allowed to fully express their inner world, or to fulfill their dreams and desires.” She hoped for a son; he would be strong and dark; she would call him George.” (Chap. 3) In this paragraph, she is thinking about her child that will be born soon. She wants a son and this idea of having a male offspring shows her hopes of a better life for her son which stands in contrast to her own helplessness. Flaubert attributes the source of these limitations to the body as well as society. Emma’s hopes for a son represent a rebirth of her own identity. She will express her revenge through a male heir who has access to opportunities that have been denied to her.
Secondly, unlike Jane Eyre, she has a narrow education. She reads only books that influence her dreams of becoming sophisticated and cosmopolitan. The theme of the books she chooses all the time revolve around women who are depended on men, and whose happiness depend on marriage. She closes her mind to the real world since these books influence her way of thinking. She remains imprisoned by her middle-class surroundings. However, both Emma and Jane live in the same society, which does not give women the opportunity to live fulfilling lives because they are limited in what they can achieve. Women during this time could not make money the way men did. Emma was raised in a convent and does not have a proper profession, which makes her unable to earn her own money and, thus, she is financially dependent on Charles. A woman’s role consisted of being a housewife.
This significantly shows the marriage taboos perceived in the book ” Madame Bovary”. Getting a divorce was unthinkable during that period. Social reputation and financial benefits are more important than a woman’s happiness. Therefore, not much could be done to oppose the taboo of divorce. The way Emma Bovary deals with it, is significantly different from the way Jane Eyre does, due to her lack of education and the different ways both of them perceived the rights of women in their society. Therefore, the marriage taboo of divorce portrayed in Madame Bovary is similar to Jane Eyre’s, as it is forbidden. However, the contrast between these two books is the way in which Eyre and Bovary are opposing this taboos, illustrating the difference of the characters instead of different taboos.
Both Eyre and Bovary attempt to achieve their desires, but in different ways. These attempts are shown as a way to break free of the restraints society puts on women. “Then upon the mouth, which had spoken lies, moaned in pride and cried out in lust”(Madame Bovary, pg 256 ). As seen in “Madame Bovary”, Emma Bovary is not in a position to break through these barriers. She lacks power like all the other women of her time. Her actions represent the struggle that women had trying to maintain an image to fit society’s standards.
Jane Eyre, on the other hand, challenges taboos and fights for her rights, her career and her love. Eyre is the opposite of Bovary, she not only possesses a sense of her self-worth and dignity, a commitment to justice and principle, but she is aware of these taboos and eagerly challenges them. Her integrity is continually tested over the course of the novel, and Jane must learn to balance the frequently conflicting aspects of herself so as to find contentment.
These two women have different lives and different childhoods. Emma had everything as a child. She had a family that loved and protected her and a good education. On the other hand, Jane grew up as an orphan. Her aunt didn’t give her love and affection. ” I will never come to visit you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty. . .” (Chap. 4) This difficult childhood makes Jane to struggle with the idea that she will never find a true home or community despite wanting a place she belongs to. She was an orphan, but she doesn’t limit herself into romanticism or dreams.
Jane works hard to achieve her independence as she doesn`t want to rely on her aunt. This teaches Eyre that autonomy is what makes people happy. She develops a sense of how to get out of the small bubble that Bovary is struggling to leave behind. In contrast, Bovary never understood true independence, as she keeps depending on men such as her father and, later on, her husband.
In “Jane Eyre“, one main idea is the necessity to break societal norms and being proactive. Jane makes it clear that, in order to not be chained by such boundaries, people may need to oppose standards set by society.
Bovary, on the one hand, lacks education, so her eagerness to fight for women’s rights and her place in society is not as significant as Eyre’s. Eyre, on the other hand,challenged these taboos, in order to win important values. Her hard work is paid off pay off her hard work and her fight for women’s rights. Therefore, the marriage taboos are similar in both books “Madame Bovary” and “Jane Eyre”, but the way how the protagonists challenge them is different as an outcome of their education.
In Chapter 27 she speaks about feelings and the importance of following principles: “Feeling . . . clamoured wildly. “Oh, comply!” it said. “. . . soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?” Still indomitable was the reply: “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. . . . (Jane Eyre Chapter 27). From this paragraph it is easy to understand that Jane asserts her strong sense of moral integrity over her immediate feelings. This is what Emma Bovary lacks and makes her live in a cage of her own dreams. Jane sheds light upon her understanding for religion. Emma received a religious education, but she doesn’t depend on religious principles. Jane knows that marrying Rochester, a married man, would goes against her believes and endangers her moral integrity which is more important to her than her feelings towards Rochester. This is where the taboos come in and challenge Eyre’s future. Falling for a married man is a sin. Regardless of her feelings, she is aware that such an affair is not fit to end in marriage.
Bovary also challenges this particular taboo. In this case, she is the one who has two affairs. Both times she overcomes the challenge and exemplifies the unhappiness in her marriage marriage through these affairs. However, Eyre is more responsible and aware of these taboos and challenges those in an educated manner.
Raising her voice is another feature that Jane shows.“…Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel;…….. they suffer too much rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer;…… It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.“ (Jane Eyre Chap. 12)
Jane believes that both women and men share similar temperaments and that adoration may produce ill effects on moral character. The most striking example of men and women sharing these similarities can be found in the character development of Jane Eyre and St. John Rivers. St. John is austere, ambitious and she often describes his eyes as rocks, ice, and snow. Marriage with Rochester means escaping putting passion over strict principles, but marriage to St. John means sacrificing desires and following those rules. At the same time, life with St. John means life without true love, a thought Jane cannot live with. He also represents masculine dominance which Jane is trying to escape.. Her consideration of St. John’s proposal leads Jane to understand that a large part of one’s personal freedom is found in a relationship of mutual emotional dependence and respect. Refusing his marriage proposal is a sign of female independence and expression of her wishes.
Jane is locked in a struggle to find her place in the world and to establish herself as a powerful person. There are many obstacles that stand in Jane’s way in this quest for social justice for her gender. Jane strives for equality between men and women. Furthermore, equality in marriage means both husband and wife having fair and equal roles. Eyre does not stop until she achieves this aim. She marries Rochester only when she fully achieves an equal status and is assured he will treat her in a fair manner. The victory that Eyre achieves is one of the ways to describe her personality as strong, committed, stable and intelligent. This supports the previous statement that Eyre is committed to challenge and improve the marriage taboos of the 19th Century.
Bovary, on the other hand, is not committed to that goal. She knows that marriage taboos are preventing her to live a happy life and be equal to her husband, but she does not bring up the courage to stand against them. Emma Bovary commits suicide, leading to failure of opposing these taboos. The challenge before her is stronger than her and takes her down. Showing her lack of stability and strength to challenge the difficulties. Her personality influences her choices, decisions, and her actions upon marriage taboos.