Date

5-13-2020

Description

This paper draws on the anthropological literature on gift economies to reconsider the way Charlotte Bronte imagines the possibilities for women's commercial mobility in Victorian England. Specifically, it examines the overlap of gift and commercial economies in "Jane Eyre," investigating Jane's reliance on commerce as the source of her independence. It is the commercial marketplace that first takes Jane from Lowood and places her at Thornfield as a governess, and which later enables her to live autonomously as a school mistress in Morton. Reviewing pivotal commercial scenes in the text--such as the bridal shopping spree that makes Jane "burn with annoyance" and Jane's distribution of her inheritance among the cousins she feels indebted to. I examine the ways that gifts and commodities blend in this novel, and suggest that Jane deftly manipulates their convergence in order to avoid being converted into a sort of bride-commodity herself. Jane is only able to surrender herself to the gift economy of marriage, I conclude, after her inheritance permanently establishes her as a commercial actor in her own right. Money, this novel uncynically affirms, is one of the few tools able to transcend social prejudice and constraint.

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May 13th, 12:00 AM

Selling Out: The Market as Autonomy in Bronte's Jane Eyre

This paper draws on the anthropological literature on gift economies to reconsider the way Charlotte Bronte imagines the possibilities for women's commercial mobility in Victorian England. Specifically, it examines the overlap of gift and commercial economies in "Jane Eyre," investigating Jane's reliance on commerce as the source of her independence. It is the commercial marketplace that first takes Jane from Lowood and places her at Thornfield as a governess, and which later enables her to live autonomously as a school mistress in Morton. Reviewing pivotal commercial scenes in the text--such as the bridal shopping spree that makes Jane "burn with annoyance" and Jane's distribution of her inheritance among the cousins she feels indebted to. I examine the ways that gifts and commodities blend in this novel, and suggest that Jane deftly manipulates their convergence in order to avoid being converted into a sort of bride-commodity herself. Jane is only able to surrender herself to the gift economy of marriage, I conclude, after her inheritance permanently establishes her as a commercial actor in her own right. Money, this novel uncynically affirms, is one of the few tools able to transcend social prejudice and constraint.