This began with a reminder of the historical background to Charlotte Bronte’s most famous novel. Chartism, Catholic emancipation, and the Irish Famine were just some of the issues in the newspapers of Charlotte’s day. In addition, Dr Byrne told listeners that the 1840s – the decade in which Jane Eyre was published – are known as ‘the hungry 40s’, and follow the beginning of economic depression in the mid-1830s. The Napoleonic wars meanwhile had left Britain with a shortage of men.
Jane Eyre is not, as many have claimed, a feminist novel, added Dr Byrne. Rather it is an individualist novel, created in an age when the romantic idea of ‘self’ was being formed. This linked to the “romantic eye”, seen also in Wordsworth and Byron, with the self the centre of all things. brusselsbronte.blog