EBB and Jane Eyre

Reading “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” the speaker frequently reminds me of Jane Eyre. The sonnet sequence, although addressed to the beloved, is more importantly a conversation with the self, a rational assessment of the situation that the speaker is in. Both Jane and EBB contemplate the dynamic between the lovers, are the man and woman of equal standing? Sonnets VIII and IX ask the questions “What can I give thee back” (i) “Can it be right to give what I can give” (i). The tone here is especially interesting, she does not phrase it as “Is it right to give what I give.” The repeated “can” weakens the tone, conveys a sense of reserve. Jane shares EBB’s concern that Rochester provides her a means of living, a place to live, but she has nothing to give back. Another theme shared between Jane Eyre and “Sonnets” is, in the words of EBB, the “silence of my womanhood” (ix, XIII). Both women are brilliantly eloquent in their writing, contemplative in their inner dialogue, but they have trouble verbalizing their sophisticated emotions. The male-dominated society and language don’t allow space for female voices. As a result, EBB and Jane rely heavily on their spirituality as their way of self-exploration. They address frequently to God and the soul, who are their only listeners. The gothic theme also rises out of the repression of female voices. Jane’s double, Bertha, causes chaos in the male-governed mansion, warns Jane of the danger of marriage before her wedding. Similarly, in sonnet I, EBB notices “how a mystic Shape did move / Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair” (x-xi). Their anxiety over losing their selves in the marriage is demonstrated in moments of terror, where the repressed selves send a violent warning.

3 thoughts on “EBB and Jane Eyre”

  1. I’m sold! The comparisons you make between EBB and Jane Eyre are very convincing, especially on “Their anxiety over losing their selves in the marriage”. I think bringing in Jane Eyre was useful because it added context to EBB’s emotions that were so intense in the sonnets it was hard to understand their references to the material world. For example, I didn’t realize that what “he” gave was money. I think if you wanted to take this analysis further it would interesting to see how the two women’s methods for grappling with their anxieties differed.

  2. Wow, I absolutely love love love this connection! I just finished re-reading Jane Eyre a month or two ago and one of the things I have always loved about it is that gothic feeling that, in my opinion, really gives the story life. I loved EBB’s sonnets and now I’m wondering if it’s because it has so many similarities with Jane Eyre! The spirituality and complex female narration, mixed with the emotional rollercoasters in both stories really kept me on the edge of my seat while reading. I would be interested in a closer comparison to see if there are any more larger themes that overlap!

  3. This is such an interesting analysis! I think placing these texts in conversation with each other really helps illustrate how autonomy within marriage and romance is a driving theme for both authors, which also highlights its social relevance. Since both EBB’s poems and Charlotte Bronte’s book were published relatively close to one another, it would be interesting to learn whether the authors ever read or interacted with the other’s work.

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