Jane Eyre and the Victorian Women
Dress of the Victorian Women


In the time of the 19th century when Jane Eyre was experiencing the life of a traditional women society had very specific ideas of how women should look and dress. Most women wore draped and high-wasted gowns with a high rise tight bust and long bottom going to at least ankle length. Women such as Jane wore plain dresses to do work and because they were poor. Jane knew she was plain women and nothing like Rochester’s other suitor Blanche Ingram. Women such as Blanche would wear very elaborate and brilliantly made dresses because she was a wealthy socialite. All women’s clothing rich or poor had essentially one style and they had few other options but long dresses. Corsets and other frame work under dresses were also increasingly popular throughout Europe to give women the image of a small narrow waist and large hips and bodes. The way women would dress was based on a long tradition of modest women to cover to their wrists and ankles. Women would push this boundary continually by progressively tighter tops and a more exposed chest.
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Marriage and Divorce
marry 2.jpgJane Eyre and other Victorian women lived a life of average expectations and knowing that there were few life choices besides having a child and being a wife. Woman of the 19th century received little education consisting of only basic reading and etiquette. They were raised to be proper and lovely women to find proper and wealthy husbands. Their life and who they could marry was primarily based on the income of their parents and men would marry women of similar family wealth. Men would leave for periods of time on business and be gone depending on travel time so many women would have to stay at home without the help of a husband. Divorce was difficult in this time and the primary reason for it was adultery. Men could file for a divorce on merely claims but women must have had proof of adultery. Once married, all of women’s belongings, money, and property were given to her husband. If she chose to divorce she could have none of these things back and had essentially nothing. Men had rights to and children, but women had almost no rights and could only have what her ex-husband would give her and before 1839 the husband was given immediate custody. When a woman would marry she would start having children early on and care for the house and children. Richer married couples might hire a governess and/or nurse to take care of their children for them.


Stereotypes and Etiquette


Victorian women were definitely viewed more as objects than as women. They were also viewed as prospects and things to boost a man’s social standing or public perception. Women didn’t have jobs because men didn’t want to see women in a place resembling leadership. The education of women reflected that. Most women probably looked and acted like dolls. The sources that I used reinforced this opinion by saying that women were placid, shallow, unintelligent, soft beings. Some things that I saw were crazy, like the rule that women couldn’t lift heavy things in the presence of men, or make sharp motions. Looking at all of these odd, almost extreme mannerisms that were expected out of women makes me realize that Jane eyre really was a revolutionary. At first when I read the book, I thought that is how a regular woman would act. Now that I have read about the proper etiquette for Victorian women, I understand that
she was a radical feminist.


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Employment

The working-class women were the ones who had to provide for their family. Some of these women worked in mines underground until the ‘mines and curriers act’ in 1842. Agricultural jobs did not pay well so these women usually looked for industrial employment. Some could find jobs working in an assembly line or working for industrial laundry services. Women also became street vendors, some were ‘French polishers’. Women could not expect to be paid the same wages as men for doing the same job. Pregnant women would work up to the day they gave birth and came back when physically able. Middle-class women were able to find salaried jobs as salesgirls, cashiers, typists, and secretaries because they started to get more education. Working as a maid or cook was common. Employment from women in solidly middle-class families was strictly school teacher or governess. As telephones became more popular they telephone operators. Back then there were only three medical jobs for women; nursing, midwifery, and doctoring. Englishmen would not have women surgeons or physicians.