Pet Lamb and Clothed Hyena: Law as an Oppressive Force in Jane Eyre


  • Alexander Maine Northumbria University



Writing in 1864, the literary critic Justin M’Carthy stated that ‘the greatest social difficulty in England today is the relationship between men and women.’ This came at a time of unprecedented social and legal change of the status of women in the 19th Century. A prominent novel of the time concerning such social difficulty is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre: An Autobiography which attempts to reflect these social difficulties as often resulting from law. As such, the novel may be used as a reflection of the condition of nineteenth century English law as an oppressive force against women. This force is one that enacts morality through legality, and has particular resonance in literature concerning social issues. Jane Eyre will be discussed as a novel that provides insights into women’s experiences in the mid-nineteenth century. Law is represented within the novel as an oppressive force that directly subjugates women, and as such the novel may be regarded as an early liberal feminist work that challenges the condition of law. This article will explore the link between good moral behaviour, and moral madness, the latter being perceived as a threat to the domestic and the law’s response to this threat. It will pick upon certain themes presented by Brontë, such as injustice towards women, wrongful confinement, insanity and adulterous immoral behaviour, to come to the conclusion that the novelist presented law as a method of constructing immorality and injustice, representing inequality and repression.