Jean McGruer

Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School



There is much in Bronte's novels that is autobiographical: one cannot help but notice the similarities between her small, plain, and often painfully shy heroines and their creator. They are teachers and governesses, they are women who long to be loved and cherished, they have strong beliefs. This study is not intended to be biographical, however, for there is much in her heroines that does not reflect Bronte. Women of Bronte's background, educated gentlewomen, often lacking financial security, rarely had many options for employment, and even fewer for a career. They were seamstresses, companions, governesses, teachers. They were often poorly educated, receiving only rudimentary skills, and if by some misfortune they were left without family or friends, their prospects for survival were bleak. Women were expected to marry, and yet marriage was certainly not an ideal position, for a married woman had few rights: her husband had the right to her property and income if she had any. Divorce was all but impossible. Bronte's novels depict women struggling to survive and lead meaningful lives in an age when society failed to recognize that women were as rational as men and had as much right to respectability and independence. Such a statement is not too harsh, for Mary Wollstonecraft, writing before Bronte, and John Stuart Mill writing after, complained of the same things. In the seventy-seven years which separate their works, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and The Subjection of Women, few improvements in women’s rights were made. Wollstonecraft's work contended that there could be no transcendental values in mankind until one half of the species was treated equally with the other. She argued that in the absence of proper education, women were unable to develop fully enough to make them moral and rational partners of men. Her initial premise was that for man and woman, truth, if I understand the meaning of the word, must be the same, yet in the fanciful female character, so prettily drawn by poets and novelists, demanding the sacrifice of truth and sincerity, virtue becomes a relative idea, having no other foundation than utility, and of that utility men pretend arbitrarily to judge, shaping it to their own convenience. Women I allow, may have different duties to fulfil but they are human duties, and the principles that should regulate the discharge of them, I sturdily maintain, must be the same. She maintained, further, that women must have opportunity: a woman in order to be truly generous and virtuous, "must not be dependent on her husband's bounty for her subsistence during his life, or support after his death''. Women, as rational and equal beings, must be as capable of participating in medicine, politics, and business as men; their occupations, "so far from being liberal, are menial.”

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Brontë, Charlotte, 1816-1855 -- Characters -- Women
Women in literature



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


No Copyright - United State