Charlotte Brontë by Pauline Nestor (auth.)

By Pauline Nestor (auth.)

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He contemplates the prospect of confronting the classroom of young women with mounting excitement and once his fantasies have been shattered by the behaviour of the girls, his negative judgements are still expressed in sexually charged terms. In a particularly distasteful sequence Crimsworth describes his pupils with an obsessive physicality which suggests a deep-rooted disgust: 'her neck is grey for want of washing, and her hair so glossy with gum and grease, is not such as one feels tempted to pass the hand over, much less to run the fingers through' (85).

And without denying the disturbing element in the heroines' responsiveness to male aggression in a paradoxical way that masculine repressiveness proves liberating for Bronte's women. The male abruptness and bullying represents a breach of decorum and convention which enables a corresponding freedom of expression in return. Thus Bronte's heroines acquire a remarkable capacity for frankness, as Jane Eyre explains: 'If he had been polite I would have felt constricted. But since he was rude I felt under no obligation'.

Indeed, it is this recognition which contributes to making Jane Eyre such a potent heroine for female readers. Jane's 'autobiography' begins significantly with her first moment of rebellion. During the previous nine unrecorded years of Jane's life she has been, according to Mrs Reed's recollection, 'patient and quiescent under any treatment'. 1 In the opening pages Jane stands before her tyrannical cousin '[h]abitually obedient', intent on 'how to endure the blow which would certainly follow the insult' (10).

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