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Thread: Why is Jane Eyre a heroine and Becky Sharp a hero?

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Why is Jane Eyre a heroine and Becky Sharp a hero?

    I was thinking what a clever clogs Sebastian Faulkes is after listening to him take part in The Write Stuff radio programme again. Sebastian Faulkes is probably most famous for Birdsong and Charlotte Grey. Anyway, that reminded me of a disagreement he got into with the presenter of another radio programme a few years ago on the subject of heroines versus female heroes. When I looked that up, I found he had written an article which described Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair as a hero, but Jane Eyre as a heroine. Jane Eyre is a heroine because she wants to marry a man. I suppose Becky Sharp is more interested in money. Then I found this blog that argued this wasn't fair on Jane Eyre. What interested me most was that by running away from Thornfied Hall, Jane Eyre had risked her life. She could not get another position as a governess without references, and her only other option was prostitution. I don't suppose Jane would have resorted to prostitution even if the alternative was starvation, but as the blog says, prostitution was itself a drawn out death sentence. It shows what a weak position a governess was in against an unscrupulous employer. I wonder if that is true those were her only options. Tess Durbeyfield from Tess of the d'Urbervilles seemed able to find work, but then she was a farm labourer. Jane would have no experience in farm work.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    These are two very superficial questions. The difference between female hero and heroine is negligible: there is not denotative difference, and the argument is whether Jane is too girly and Becky manly - which is a very silly one.

    As for Jane's alternate professions: she probably could have found work in a factory - not much manual skill was required here. But this is completely irrelevant to the novel.
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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    I admire both Jane and Becky, and I think Sebastian Faulkes is making some very silly distinctions here. I mean, of course they are both very different personalities, but that is no reason to call one a hero and the other a heroine. They are both the main characters of their stories and therefore equally heroes or heroines. If any distinction can be made, it would be between heroine and anti-heroine since Jane follows the moral path and Becky quite the opposite.

    As for Jane running away without references, there's no reason to suppose that what eventually happened to her (someone believing her story and helping her) was anything rare or unusual. In the normal course of events, that is, if the exigencies of the novel hadn't required her to go wandering Lear-like on the moors, I suppose she'd have sought the help of the parson, explained her situation to him, and letters to Lowood School and Mrs Fairfax could have supplied the missing references.
    Last edited by mona amon; 06-18-2013 at 01:14 AM.
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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Wow, for a writer that's pretty shallow.

    I have to agree with Charles and Mona that that's a pretty silly thing to say and to me, it totally disregards the idea that 'protagonist' pretty much = 'hero' in a lot of 19th century writing. Certainly the early things, because nearly all romantic works ended in bliss/happily anyway. What we see as 'hero' is something positive, they just saw the main character, as it were.

    As to the difference between Jane Eyre as a heroine and Becky Sharp as a hero(ine), as Mona says, if push comes to shove, Becky would rather be an anti-heroine, because she's not sympathetic (I am inclined to think that she becomes worse as things go on). Vanity Fair was said by Thackeray to be 'a novel without a hero', although I think that rather refers to the Misérables-like set-up of the novel: there is no main character as such and Amelia, Dobbin, Becky and Rawdon Crawley (even Sir Michael O'Dowd and his lady and Miss Crawley as well as Osborne jr and sr) are all as important and developed, hence there is no real protagonist per se. Although you can understand why Becky is out for the money and disregards kindness in itself (emphasised in the present she throws out of the carriage when leaving Miss Pinkerton's at the very start of the novel), you start feeling uncomfortable once it is emphasised how cold she is towards her husband. Her downfall is also that she is a bad con-artist who judges the situation badly. With Miss Crawley, she could have got rid of Briggs (probably) (unlike Mrs Bute), waited until Rawdon had got the money and then disclosed her marriage. Instead, she thought Miss Crawley would be pleased and that the shock tactics would work. And I am told she goes too far in her marriage too. When trying to reconcile, she betrays herself by dictating a well-written letter to Rawdon at which instance Miss Crawley smells what's going on. That's a bad idea. The problem why she turns unsympathetic is that she is too cold all round. You could still forgive her if she was conning other people that don't matter (like her landlord), but you can't anymore once it is her own husband and son.
    There is that touching scene where Rawdon is clearly worried he is going to die on the battlefield of Waterloo and she laughs it away, then goes to sleep once he's left and gets up when he is probably there, risking his life in his shabbiest uniform (because he left his good one for her to sell, should he die). That's really touching. He's too good for her.

    As to Jane Eyre. Indeed, the book dictated that she had to wonder about on the moors doing penance (almost). I tend to think, if she could get no references, that it would have been difficult to get work. Although she could indeed have obtained some of Lowood school and Mrs Fairfax. I think it would have been difficult to find work in a local factory, because people would be quite judgemental if they didn't know someone, but in a big city where there was lots of work, it would probably not have mattered.
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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    I haven't thought this through yet, but I think Faulks may have a case.

    By literary tradition heroines tend to lie back and allow things to happen to them, they are at the mercy of others, or God, or the elements, needing a hero in fact, as Jane Eyre does after running across the moors, or as Amelia needs a Dobbin. Hero's are pro-active making things happen, trying to shape their own destiny, like Becky.
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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I see there was another thread a couple of years back regarding Faulkes and heroes.

    I suppose a lot of people don't like spurious gender differentiations in titles. Heroines for Faulkes might mean romantic heroines; otherwise they are heroes. I don't know; it usually does not sound right to me. I am not sure I would want to describe Ripley from the film Alien as a heroine. It would draw unnecessary attention to her sex. However, Ripley was originally written as a man before Ridley Scott had the idea of making him a woman (iirc). In older literature, say pre-70s literature, a woman would be called a heroine whether her intention was to bag a man or not, so it seems odd to start calling them heroes. In A Town Like Alice, written by Neville Shute in 1950, the main protagonist, Jean Paget, is certainly very proactive. There is a romantic side to the book and she does get her man, but her real heroics in the first half of the book had nothing to do with that. I'd still call her a heroine rather than a hero.

    Dorothy Hare, from A Clergyman's Daughter by George Orwell, is definitely no romantic heroine. She is not sexually attracted to men. She's a bit like Tess Durbeyfield in that she is blown by the wind, through little fault of her own. She is even harder working and more conscientious than Tess. She's also a bit like Jane Eyre in that she finds herself homeless with no money, would never resort to prostitution, but finds it very difficult to find work. Dorothy Hare is middle class. She's happy to do domestic work, but no one would take on a well spoken woman with no references for that sort of work.They would think she had something to hide, or her employers would feel uncomfortable. I think the book was written at a time of high unemployment, so factory work seems hard to find too. Like Jane, Dorothy takes up teaching, one of the few occupations available to middle class women at the time, it would seem. A Clergyman's Daughter was written in the 30s. It seems unlikely that a down-and-out person would die after only a few days or weeks at that time, but that lifestyle would wear down anybody's health over time. It was extremely unpleasant.
    Last edited by kev67; 06-18-2013 at 04:05 PM.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    I wouldn't call Jean Padget a hero either, even after all her achievements. perhaps because her man is a "hero" in the traditional sense and my gender prejudice is kicking in. Anyway she is prepared to play the traditional woman's role in their relationship- unlike becky.

    Do you have to have panache to be a literary hero? I'm trying to look beyond the gender thing because I feel Faulks could have a point regarding Becky Sharpe. There must be other female protagonists that are heroic.
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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    hm, interesting point, but that doesn't reckon with the fact that Jane also brings about her own destiny. Rochester too, but Jane certainly also. She applies for her job at Thornfield, she pretty much decides that anything is better than Gateshead and she leaves after her thwarted marriage also pretty much of her own accord. It would certainly not have been for Rochester's sake that she left anyway. OK, I agree, she is at the mercy of God or whatever, so to say, but that's mainly because there needs to be a novel. If nothing happened to her, there would be no story.

    Becky I agree is more pro-active, unlike her husband, Amelia and even Dobbin (soft sod, really), but that was maybe a quirk of Thackeray to reverse the gender roles (which Brontë did too symbolically at least), but at the same time, she is thrown into Rawdon Crawley's company and Jos Sedley's company by accident. She decides to set out and seduce these two men (more or less in an Austnesk way) so they ask her to marry them. Her first attempt fails, but her second is successful. However, it depends how you look at that.

    I'm not sure how different these two are, unless if it is about how they end up. Both books are essentially about something different. [I]Jane Eyre[I] is about love and marriage, Vanity Fair is about people and how they deal with temptation. Naturally all of the latter's characters are going to be either proactive (Osborne, Becky, Miss Crawley, Pitt Crawley jr and sr) or insufferably passive (like Amelia, Dobbin, Rawdon and Briggs). Most selfish people would be proactive, others would dream up stuff and revel in their delusions. Therefore, if it is Jane's ultimate goal to marry and be happy with a loving husband and children, then in a 19th century context she has to wait for her groom to ask (as all women would, even Becky), but it does not make Becky less of a heroine because she is proactive.

    This distinction also rather has to do with social context. Working class women could and had to be more proactive than high class ones. Even before they were married. High class ones had to sit and wait, low class women would starve if they did that. They needed to make their own lives. Becky is pretty much working class. Amelia is not. Jane is.

    I can't help think Faulks is reasoning from a modern gender equality perspective.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kiki1982 View Post

    I can't help think Faulks is reasoning from a modern gender equality perspective.

    Exactly, where we used to have a masculine word and a feminine word that meant the same thing, we now have two words with slightly different meanings that Faulks is trying to define.
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