CHRISTIANITY AND THE STATE OF SLAVERY IN JANE EYRE Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • POSTCOLONIAL READINGS OFJane Eyre have often highlighted the historical occlusion of West Indian slavery in the novel. Carl Plasa, for instance, argues thatPenny Boumelha points out that by her reckoning there are “ten explicit references to slavery in Jane Eyre. They allude to slavery in Ancient Rome and in the seraglio, to the slaveries of paid work as a governess and of dependence as a mistress. None of them refers to the slave trade upon which the fortunes of all in the novel are based” (62). While Jane Eyre's allusion to slavery in the seraglio is indeed the most precise historical allusion in the novel, critics working with general schemes of slave and imperial history have not been able to identify or unpack its topical reference to an anomalous moment in the history of British abolition of slavery. Like all of Jane's references to slavery, however, this allusion gains considerably in importance when read against that history, as I will demonstrate in this essay. I will also elaborate the generic and more broadly historical intertextuality of Jane's Gothic narratives of identification with the slave. By doing so, I disclose further meanings of slavery and empire in Jane Eyre, as well as the ways in which Gothic and heroic modes become a means, for Brontë and her characters alike, of articulating fraught racialized identifications and disavowals. Jane's growth of religious feeling, which Barbara Hardy has influentially suggested is taken “for granted” rather than demonstrated (66), is, I argue, grounded in her consciousness of the tensions between slavery and Christianity as they are played out in domestic and imperial spheres at a particular historical moment. That historical moment may be established through Brontë's allusions to slave rebellions and charters, and to a particular edition of Sir Walter Scott's poem Marmion.

publication date

  • March 2007