"Who am I"?: The many faces of women's identity in Victorian Literature.
This a really interesting excerpt from an essay by Bronteana reader, and fellow Bronte-scholarling, mysticgypsy. She compares several answers to the question 'who am I' as a woman in Victorian literature, two of which are from Bronte heroines:
I am my beloved: Catherine Linton (Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights)For Catherine, who she is as an individual depends on how much she is a part of her soulmate, Heathcliff. As long as she was free to be with Heathcliff, she could be herself, but the moment she goes against her nature, i.e. try to "better" her self by marrying Linton, and thereby breaking her relationship with Heathcliff, she loses a part of herself. After her marriage to Linton, Cathy takes on another persona. She is no longer the girl who would roam wild and free in the moors. Instead, she is confined to the suffocating gradure and Victorian sense of propriety in Thruschcross Grange. Cathy even acknowledges to Nelly that she and Heathcliff were one when she says "I am Heathcliff". Hence, in this case, the woman takes the identity of her beloved.
I am his equal: Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre)For Jane, her identity as an intelligent, independent woman is resolved through ties with Edward Rochester, her imposing employer and master of Thornfield. Although Jane does seek her own independence (and thereby her identity as a single woman), in the end, she finds she does need Rochester to be complete. Firstly, there is the telepathic relationship that she shared with Rochester, which I believe was a strong indicator (from the author) that as long as that supernatural connection was there between Jane and Rochester, they could not be entirely happy without each other. They needed each other to be whole because they were "equals" and complemented each other. Jane needed Rochester during moments of her insecurity (when Rochester was more controlling of her), and by the end of the story Rochester needed Jane when he was (phsycially) found wanting (thus Jane controls Rochester). This kind of relationship is differnet from that of Cathy and Heathcliff in that this is a relationship of equals, where only each will do for the other, but each keeps their own identies. Jane is NOT Rochester in the manner as Cathy affirms she IS Heathcliff.
The rest of the post (although not the rest of the essay) can be found here.