When Brontë Gave Me Wings
Since seventh grade, I’ve been a proud member of a school community that pushes girls to reach their full potential and encourages them to become feminists from the day they step foot on campus. Given who we are as an institution and as a community, it isn’t surprising that after analyzing the book of Genesis from a secular perspective, eighth graders then tackle Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. I didn’t find Genesis terribly compelling, but Jane Eyre became my bible and transformed the way I view feminism, literature, religion, and my identity as a young woman.
My school may sound like a beacon of female empowerment, but not every eighth grader falls in love with Jane Eyre quite like I did. It’s undoubtedly a challenge for 13- and 14-year-old girls to find things like a two-page description of the curtains in Thornfield Hall’s red room compelling.
English-loving upperclassmen often debate pushing Jane Eyre to the 11th grade British literature curriculum, but I defend its place in eighth grade because it provides a concrete gateway to discussing feminism earlier on. When we read Jane Eyre, I discovered a strong female role model to look up to as I entered high school; I was inspired to apply Jane’s characteristics to my own identity. Her diligent work ethic, strong sense of self, reckless independence, and raw emotion resonated with my eighth-grade self and caused me to be more proactive about standing up for my beliefs.
One fictional role model led to my discovery of seven real-life ones. By the end of eighth grade, I formed a close-knit friend group of eight young women whose values mirror both mine and Jane’s. With them by my side and with Jane’s bold and outspoken nature in mind, I began seeking out creative and activist outlets as my core modes of self-expression.
It then occurred to me that as much as I idolized Jane and her values, I also aspired to be like her creator: Charlotte Brontë. After all, she was the wind beneath Jane’s feminist wings, and the one who brilliantly told a story that has since been engraved in both feminist and literary culture.
Since that epiphany, writing has become my preferred form of self-expression. When I found myself surrounded by insurmountable teen talent at the Kenyon Review Young Writers’ Workshop this summer, I was both intimidated and inspired by my peers’ prose. I was also reminded of my role as a feminist when I met a boy from South Carolina whose conservative views were explicitly referenced in his pieces. Rather than staying silent, I became fascinated by his moral compass and political views. Something inside me made me want to learn more about his beliefs and to expose him to mine. “Are you a feminist?” I asked. One simple question led to an initially bothersome answer, a three-hour explanation of feminism, and him wearing my “radical feminist” sweatshirt to class the next day. If we can all be as blunt and bold as Jane, we really can bridge divides.
With junior year looming before me, I still look up to Jane as a character and to Charlotte Brontë as an artist and as a visionary. I believe that reading Jane Eyre as early as I did, and in such a feminist-minded environment, made the experience a pivotal moment in my life. The novel will continue to be relevant as I mature into someone who I can only hope will be as confident as Jane. Her words are words to live by: “I am no bird, and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Corwin, Dorrit. "When Brontë Gave Me Wings ." 20 October 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 18, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/when-bront-gave-me-wings>.