Jane Eyre a Sexist and Racist Book?
From this article about books on the AP reading lists in Britain comes a surprising charge of racsim and sexism against Jane Eyre. It is not that we have not seen such claims before but they were never elicited by so slight a stimulus.
I was especially surprised by the charge of anti-semitism. During one of their bantering sessions Jane asks the ‘favour’ of having her curiosity gratified. Rochester bristles at this, and remarks that he would prefer she requested half of his estate. “Do you think I am a Jew-usurer, seeking good investment in land?” Jane says. The writer of this article infers that Jane is ‘insulted’ when she says this and cites this as proof of the novel’s anti-semitism. The context of the quotation has been a little trimmed in the article. The passage in the novel reads: ‘Now King Ahasuerus! What do I want with half your estate? Do you think I am a Jew-usurer, seeking good investment in land?’ A footnote here explains that this is an allusion of Esther 7 in which the Persian King Ahasuerus offered to fulfill the Esther’s every wish ‘even to half of the kingdom.’ Her request is that he spare her people because his adversary was the usurer Haman. This is not the dropping of a malicious stereotype but an allusion to Jewish history, where she is defining herself as Esther to his Ahasuerus (and possibly casting Blanche Ingram as Haman).
The sexism of the book is contained in this charge: Jane Eyre, the purported feminist hero, cannot possibly imagine finding happiness outside the service of her love and master. The easy answer is to re-read the book. She was perfectly capable of imagining herself as an independent schoolmistress when Rochester asks if she has no secret hope (read looking for happiness in love). She prospers in her Morton school, and when St.John Rivers reprimands her repeatedly for being too happy she declares that she has just cause to, and will be happy and ‘as contented as a queen.’ To imagine that losing someone she loves deeply is something to deplore is inexplicable to me. There is no detailed explaination of why she believes Jane is so dependent so I cannot carry this further, but discussion as always is most welcome in the comments.