Colonialism and Gender
Charlotte Brontë, from Jane
novel, Jane Eyre engages the subject
of colonialism in a number of ways. Rochester's
mad wife, Bertha Mason, is half Creole, the
daughter of a West Indian planter whom Rochester
marries in Jamaica. Jane Eyre obtains her
small fortune through her uncle, John Eyre,
who had made the money in Madeira. Jane's
cousin, St. John Rivers, tries to persuade
Jane to come with him to India as a missionary
and his wife. The passage below, a conversation
between Jane and Rochester, in which Rochester
tries to buy clothes for Jane for their upcoming
wedding, uses the image of the harem to portray
Jane's sense of her position.
Glad was I to get him out of the silk warehouse, and then out of
a jeweller's shop: the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense
of annoyance and degradation. As we re-entered the carriage, and I sat back
feverish and fagged, I remembered what in the hurry of events, dark and bright,
I had wholly forgotten — the letter of my uncle, John Eyre, to Mrs. Reed: his
intention to adopt me and make me his legatee. 'It would, indeed, be a relief,'
I thought, 'if I had ever so small an independency; I never can bear being
dressed like a doll by Mr. Rochester, or sitting like a second Danae
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golden shower falling daily round me. I will write to Madeira the moment I get
home, and tell my uncle John I am going to be married, and to whom: if I had
but a prospect of one day bringing Mr. Rochester an accession of fortune, I
could better endure to be kept by him now.' And somewhat relieved by this idea
(which I failed not to execute that day), I ventured once more to meet my
master's and lover's eye; which most pertinaciously sought mine, though I
averted both face and gaze. He smiled; and I thought his smile was such as a
sultan might, in a blissful and fond moment, bestow on a slave his gold and
gems had enriched: I crushed his hand, which was ever hunting mine, vigorously,
and thrust it back to him red with the passionate pressure —
'You need not look in that way,' I said: 'if you do I'll wear
nothing but my old Lowood
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frocks to the end of the chapter. I'll be married in
lilac gingham — you may make a dressing-gown for yourself out of the pearl-grey
silk, and an infinite series of waistcoats out of the black satin.'
He chuckled; he rubbed his hands: 'Oh, it is rich to see and
hear her!' he exclaimed. 'Is she original? Is she piquant? I would not exchange
this one little English girl for the grand Turk's whole seraglio; gazelle-eyes,
houri forms, and all!'
The Eastern allusion bit me again: 'I'll not stand you an inch
in the stead of a seraglio,' I said; 'so don't consider me an equivalent for
one; if you have a fancy for anything in that line, away with you, sir, to the
bazaars of Stamboul without delay; and lay out in extensive slave-purchases
some of that spare cash you seem at a loss to spend satisfactorily here.'
'And what will you do, Janet, while I am bargaining for so many
tons of flesh and such an assortment of black eyes?'
'I'll be preparing myself to go out as a missionary to preach
liberty to them that are enslaved — you harem inmates amongst the rest. I'll get
admitted there, and I'll stir up mutiny; and you, three-tailed bashaw as you
are, sir, shall in a trice find yourself fettered amongst our hands; nor will
I, for one, consent to cut your bonds till you have signed a charter, the most
liberal that despot ever yet conferred.'