The themes in Jane Eyre and Arcadia vary, but one theme that unites them both is feminism. It could be argued that in Jane Eyre the main theme is Marxism, but as the main character is female there is a feminist element as well. As the story progresses the Marxist theme is diluted because Jane is more empowered, and the feminist theme is more central. In Arcadia there are many themes but they all revolve around the main theme of feminism.
Whereas Jane Eyre is a typical Victorian narrator who we trust, Thomasina is a character that we are drawn to. Throughout Jane Eyre it is hard to grasp how far Brontë’s views are feminist. She reveals a lot of her own opinions through Jane, and there are moments when Jane expresses feelings of injustice when women are treated as though they are inferior to men, but Jane is also portrayed as a woman who knows her place, and does not feel equal to men or even women of a higher class to her. In Arcadia, Tom Stoppard conveys Thomasina as a very intelligent young woman with great wealth and a certain degree of power over Septimus. Stoppard doesn’t fail to show the attitude towards women of the Victorian era, but at the same time he shows his own view towards women. By making Thomasina’s character very intelligent (especially for her age) he instantly empowers her. A typical Victorian author would not write their female characters as intelligent, or as women with opinions different to those of their male superiors (like Thomasina).
One of the last lines in Jane Eyre – “Reader I married him” is a great portrayal of feminist views. This direct address coming from a female narrator was completely unheard of during the Victorian period; it gives Jane authority. This line implies that the marriage was Jane’s decision, or that she consented it (again empowering her) as opposed to Rochester. This is echoed by Rochester’s eventual physical condition (poor, injured and impaired) where he is humbled and Jane’s status is raised, as she no longer depends on him, he depends on her.
Jane was given a considerable sum of money, and she could have chosen not to spend the rest of her life with Rochester but she still did. Furthermore, the way in which Rochester used to speak to Jane (whilst still pleasant) sounded as though she were a little girl, but at the end (as a result of her sudden gain of power) he changed the way he spoke to her and spoke to her more as an equal. In some ways, Jane did grow up by the end of the book, more in certain frames of mind than physically.
Whereas the ending of Jane Eyre empowers women, the ending of Arcadia portrays the inevitability of a woman’s life. The fire in both stories is symbolic, in Jane Eyre it brings Rochester and Jane together (he’s physically dependent, she still chooses him) and in Arcadia the fire is a release as well as a tragedy, but it releases Thomasina from the inevitability of womanhood. The fire brings together but sets free. In both stories the fire was a pivotal point. Jane is left empowered at the end of Jane Eyre but Thomasina is left susceptible to death, life is fragile and she’s not in control. That is of course if she didn’t deliberately cause a fire in order to end her own life, because if she did then she is as empowered as Jane, taking life in her hands and ‘playing God’. However, the very fact that the audience would consider the idea that Thomasina took her own life shows that we recognize how bleak her future seemed.
The ending of Jane Eyre is considered happy, and the Ending of Arcadia tragic, but these statements could be questioned. Jane Eyre represents independent, free-thinking women during the Victorian period; she is gradually empowered with money, friendship, an independent job and newly discovered family, yet in spite of these things she still chooses to settle with Rochester, care for him, and tend to him as a loving wife. Jane succumbed to the stereotypical expectations of Victorian women, belittling her efforts and strong mindedness, and possibly leaving her unhappy or unsatisfied. Similarly, Arcadia’s ending with Thomasina’s death (although initially appearing to be tragic) could be interpreted as a happy ending.
A typical Brontë convention is the idea of death being a release, and the fire (whether it were a fault of Thomasina’s or not) could be seen as her escape from her dismal future prospects that were already set in stone. Furthermore, if the fire was of Thomasina’s doing then it amplifies even more so that it was an escape and that she felt the need to run away from what her life was becoming. Both arguments are a question of whether or not what the reader contracts from each text, is what the author intended.
Thomasina’s death is one of the best dramatic ironies since Romeo and Juliet. Thomasina had a great yearning to waltz with Septimus before her 17th birthday, to have one moment where she felt the love of the man she loved who did not love her in return, but loved her mother. The play ends with a blackout, and just a candle left on stage. The candle is symbolic: it could show the last glimpse of light left in her life, that moment dancing that she’d remember forever, or it could repeat the theme of inevitability (she was sharing such an important, special and unlikely moment with somebody she loved, and all that time, the cause of her death was lighting her last happy memory).
Jane Eyre initially appears to be a novel based around Marxism, but it could be argued that this is not the main theme of the novel. There are feminist elements to the novel and as the author was a Victorian woman and the main character is female, it could be said that Brontë’s intention was to create a feminist novel.
Arcadia’s themes are much more complex as there are so many more – themes of science, progress, intellect, adultery, nature, the arts and literature. The idea is played on that our planet is gradually going cold and fading to nothing. Thomasina intelligently explores these ideas; she has many intuitive opinions that she has formed about life and the universe. The criticism of art and literature is a less central theme. Despite all of these themes, the central theme is the subject of Thomasina’s wealth and intelligence through feminism and all the other themes spin around feminism because of Thomasina. This said, Lady Croome is a powerful authoritative character and in some ways takes the role of the father; she somewhat has the male role of the novel which reflects the feminist view that women are equally capable of a male role. In spite of all that Thomasina is capable of, her fate is no different to that of any other upper class Victorian girl.
To conclude, Jane Eyre is a novel in which the ending is significant but doesn’t wholly focus on feminism, whereas Arcadia has more of an unjust feeling at the end, which is generated from the strong feminist views throughout (and particularly towards the end).
Courtney from Study Moose
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