Within concept of female authorship needs to take account

Within this essay, I will be examining the representation of
female authorship through the works of Helene Cixous and Gilbert and Gubar. As
a way of explaining how their theories work, I will closely analyse their work
in relation to Jane Eyre. I will aim
to argue how women lacked a voice in literary traditions. This was at the level
of both the characters and the author who faced repression from the patriarchy
at the time of writing. This can be clearly evidenced in the case of Charlotte
Brontë’s Jane Eyre and I will use the work of both Cixous and Gilbert and Gubar
and their explorations of feminine authorship to demonstrate this.

Gilbert and Gubar are concerned with female authorship and
the representation of women. They argue how women have been oppressed by patriarchy
and look at how female authors aim to carve out a space within the patriarchal
literary tradition for themselves. Gilbert and Gubar were focussed on finding women
a place in society and freeing themselves from the restrictions of patriarchy. They
used the metaphor of a pen as being like a penis to explain how male sexuality
is at the root of all literary tradition and that authorship is traditionally
male. This helped show that women have never had a place in literature and have
always struggled to be heard. As a result of this, they argue that the concept
of female authorship needs to take account of the fact females have an anxiety
of authorship.

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Before being able to understand Gilbert and Gubar, we need to
consider Harold Bloom and his model of anxiety of influence. Bloom looks at the
way poets write and how they find inspiration. His “model of literary history,
is intensely (even exclusively) male.”1
Bloom specifically looks at poets being inspired to write as a result of
reading the works of whom they admire. Poets are encouraged to write by what
their precursors have written leading to an anxiety of influence as they know
their work is not original. This anxiety is the “fear that he is not his own
creator and that the works of his predecessors, existing before and beyond him,
assume essential priority over his own writings.”2
Male authors only overcome this by being ‘strong’, denying their precursors
influence and figuring out their own space in literature through misreading previous
poets.

Bloom plays an important role in the development of Gilbert
and Gubars’s theories. They explain that Bloom’s theory is useful for distinguishing
“the anxieties of female writers from those of male writers.”3
Whilst Bloom looks at men and the ways in which their writing is influenced,
Gilbert and Gubar look at female writers with a specific focus on anxiety of authorship.
They explain that women fear being unable to create their own work because
their male precursors are overbearing and forbidding therefore creating an
isolation of the female writer. This is a result of feeling that they can never
fight their male precursors and win believing, they will always hold a position
of inferiority in Literary tradition. This places strain on women causing
feelings of unworthiness turning to anger and creating an anxiety of
authorship. As a result, unconsciously, female authors angry selves are
represented through mad doubles. An example of this, is the relationship
between Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre.

Women have always had to follow male precursors resulting in
them being subjected to a general patriarchal cultural environment in which women
are represented as oscillating between extreme stereotypes of angels and
monsters which I will look at in more detail. Gilbert and Gubar question “how
does such imagery influence the ways in which women attempt the pen?” This
Gilbert and Gubar argue is very different men as in their literary imagination,
the pen is seen to be a metaphorical penis. This placed anxiety on women as
they are excluded due to their obvious lack of a phallus.

To expand on the idea of the angel and the monster, Gilbert
and Gubar look at how due to literature and creativity being defined as male,
“it follows that the dominant literary images of femininity are male fantasies
too. Women are denied the right to create their own images of femaleness and
instead, must seek to conform to the patriarchal standards imposed on them.”4
For women, this is related to them being perfect ideal women who are “passive, docile
and above all selfless creatures.”5
 Thus, comes the angel metaphor: a woman
who is delicate and abides by the rulings of patriarchy. Gilbert and Gubar explore
this in relation to fairy tales. They use the example of kings and queens to
explain that women see the male voice as powerful and try to imitate it. This
can be aligned to Jane Eyre and the portrayal of gender struggles between male
and female characters’ voices and who can speak to who and when. These issues are
evident in many scenes including Janes treatment at Gateshead and the theme of
Bertha’s voice/lack of voice. Whilst at Thornfield, Bertha can be heard in a
variety of ways: “a laugh, struck my ear. It was a curious laugh – distinct,
formal, mirthless.” Bertha speaks through screams and mysterious laughter
however what she is saying is unclear as she is viewed as an animal.

On the other hand, as well as ‘angel’ women who conform to
the rules, there are also those who refused, rejecting the gender idealisations
of patriarchy and coming to be known as the parallel stereotype, a monster. “The
obverse of the male idealization of women, is the male fear of femininity.”6
This is the fear of women as monsters, who rage against patriarchy. Men fear
this as it puts them in the typically female position of inferiority. This
concept of the woman as a monster and the men fearing her, stems from Freuds
Psychoanalytical theory and his arguments related to fear of castration.  In this, Freud explores the problems related
to sexual difference and how in patriarchal society, women are viewed as
lacking and are feared by men. During what Freud calls the Phallic stage, boys
have some fear that they are going to be castrated as a result of their sexual
feelings. Although women can’t have the same fear, they fear something is going
to happen to them due to their lack. This ‘others’ women and causes them to be
seen negatively by men.

The woman as a monster, stands up for herself, refusing to
act selfless and docile like the angel. This kind of a woman’s “mind will not
let itself be penetrated by the phallic probing’s of masculine thought.”7
Or to put it another way, these women reject patriarchy and do not allow men to
degrade them. They are prepared to fight for their deserving position in literature.

Another important theorist, is Helene Cixous. Her work looks
at ideas surrounding binary gender opposition, sexual identity and ‘L’ecriture
feminine’ which is a way of exploring a feminine language that contests
patriarchal culture. Cixous looks at the influence of binary opposites in the
patriarchal system. In each instance, the “feminine side is always seen as the
negative powerless instance.”8  Due to repression of sexuality and language,
women have no role in authorship. Cixous’ “whole theoretical project can in one
sense, be summed up as the effort to undo logocentric ideology: to proclaim
woman as the source of life, power and energy and to hail the advent of a new,
feminine language that ceaselessly subverts these patriarchal binary systems.”9
Cixous aims to undo the patriarchal binary norms which oppress women, instead
giving them a higher level of power.

As a way of understanding Cixous, we should consider the work
of Freud and Lacan. Cixous argues that “masculinity and femininity were
characteristics that held no real relationship to biological sex.”10
This argument developed from the work of Sigmund Freud on children’s
relationships with their mother/father. Freud looks at how we are born without
a clear gendered identity. This meant for Freud that “no single factor – being
born a boy rather than a girl, for example – could predetermine an individual’s
identity.”11
Freud believed that this came from what he called the Oedipus complex:  the time when gender was determined. The Oedipal
complex looks at how children, specifically boys, learn about the importance of
obeying their father’s authoritarian position over their mothers. Freud argues
that boys and girls see their mother as lacking. This causes problems for girls
and is an example of how Cixous fits in as through the perception of the
problems of the mother’s lack, the girls are subjugated to the patriarchal
world. These problems surrounding women’s supposed inferiority, are what Cixous
focuses on – particularly, the associated idea that women have no power or voice.

Whilst Freud’s ideas are helpful in our understanding of
Cixous, she looks beyond Freud and considers Lacan. Lacan looks at how language
works in gender and sexuality opening up arguments about how language is
constructed. He considers how when a child reaches 18 months, they move into the
symbolic stage and sexual difference begins to be established. Lacan considers
that “sexual difference is founded in language.”12
In pre-oedipal moments the child is unable to distinguish itself from others
therefore, it is not until they start using language that “the child begins to
construct and maintain a stable self-identity.” As a result of beginning to
distinguish itself from its mother, comes the idea that language is owned by
the father and the father has the rights of authority over language. Lacan
further considers women’s inferiority in language arguing that women have no
place, they are controlled by men and are lacking. The men speak whilst the
women are spoken to and for meaning “even in language, woman is mute.”13
Therefore, feminists including Cixous, wanted to destabilize the phallocentric
symbolic order allowing women to have some authority over language. Although
much of her work seems inspired by Freud and Lacan positively, their work on psychoanalysis
“marginalises woman to the place of the ‘other'” whilst Cixous “celebrates
woman’s difference from man at all levels.”14

Cixous looks in detail at feminine writing and the ways in
which women can have a more empowered role in language. She looks at ‘ecriture
feminine’ describing it as “eccentric, incompressible, and inconsistent and if
such writing is difficult to understand, it is because the female voice has
been repressed for so long.”15
Cixous wants to attempt to resist patriarchy and stop the female voice from
being muted, bringing women’s ideas and the feminine language back. Cixous aims
to do this and reverse binary oppositions based on her “strong belief in the inherently
bisexual nature of all human beings.”16

Moving on to apply these theories to literature, Jane Eyre is
a perfect example of how Cixous and Gilbert and Gubar’s theories work. The
concept of women’s inferiority and lack of voice can be evidenced from the
start of the novel whereby John Reed asserts his male authority over Jane. On
entering the room where Jane is he screams “Where the dickens is she” before
demanding his younger sisters to do as he says. This shows, even to his family,
there is a sense of male authority and female inferiority. Further in this
episode, Jane asks what he wants, John responds firmly, “Say, “what do you want
Master Reed?”” This hints at the lack of voice for women. Jane is being told
what she should say and how she should speak making her lack a sense of self. Jane
is trying to have independence as a woman and find a position of authority
within the patriarchy. These ideas evidence Gilbert and Gubar and Cixous’ theories
on women, their lack of voice and position in society.

It can be argued that Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason are doubles.
The two characters represent different aspects of the oppressed feelings women
have been subjected to. This includes Charlotte Bronte herself who will have
felt repression at the time of writing. It can be argued that Bertha is not
only a double for Jane, but the two of them are doubles of Bronte’s self.
Bertha portrays the repressed, hidden, angry side of Charlotte whilst Jane
represents the part of Charlotte that she aspires to be: “Jane Eyre and Bertha,
Rochester’s mad wife, are dual figures – the angel and the monster – or even
two sides of the same figure.” In this case Jane would be the angel and Bertha
the monster. Although they can be seen to be two different sides of the same
person, it can also be argued that “Bertha not only acts for Jane, she also
acts like Jane.”17
This can be seen through a comparison with the episode at the start of the
novel between John and Jane and with Bertha at the end. Jane is described as a
“bad animal” similar to the description of Bertha: “It grovelled seemingly, on
all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal”. This
therefore, describes Bertha to be the monster.

Whilst Jane is attempting to become a more independent woman,
through Bertha, it is clear to see the struggles women faced. This is therefore
representative of how women/authors faced struggles in becoming independent due
to patriarchy. Although not appearing until late in the novel the presence of
the Bertha’s character influences much of the plot. One of the main arguments
of Cixous and Gilbert and Gubar, is how women lacked a voice and they aimed to
reverse this. This problem is shown by Bertha’s character who is a perfect
example of women’s repression. She is kept locked up on the third floor of
Thornfield away from view of anyone and the only voice she appears to have,
comes in the form of frequent cries and screams, as well as the occasional
laugh; highlighting this obvious lack of a voice that Victorian women had. The
screams and cries of Bertha, can be seen as the angry side of Janes character and
Bronte’s repression.

Furthermore, the concept of male authority belittling women,
is seen when Jane attends Lowood and is humiliated in front of everyone. Mr
Brocklehurst exerts male power showing how authoritarian the patriarchy was:
“You must be on your guard against her…shut her out from your converse.” This
shows Janes position of inferiority and during the humiliating, degrading
speeches from Mr Brocklehurst, we can see male power clearly summed up as Jane
is forced to accept everything that is said about and against her. She has no
right to stand up for herself and therefore no voice. However, as the novel and
plot move on we see how Jane attempts to go against the patriarchy and carve out
her own space in society something feminist theorists were keen to highlight.
Jane finds for herself a potential better life as a governess and moves away in
an attempt to build some independence something which women were told was
unachievable. As she moves to Thornfield, away from the negativity of her
demeaning position at Lowood, she tells of how she “longed for a power of
vision… and desired more of practical experience.” The language used by Jane
shows she wishes for a more independent life something many Victorian women
longed for but had always seen to be unacceptable due to patriarchy.

Another important scene in the portrayal of gender/boundaries,
comes when Rochester dresses up as the female gypsy. On beginning to converse
with the gypsy, Jane is unaware of her true identity however, through changes
in language, she realises the truth. Rochester starts talking about his own
feelings: “He must love such a handsome, noble witty, accomplished lady” leading
to Jane no longer being fooled by his disguise admitting at the end, “you did
not act the character of a gypsy with me.” By posing as a gypsy woman,
Rochester adopts an ambiguous role and position of inferiority in terms of
class and gender. He is able to overcome restrictive obstacles that would have
been placed on him by social and gender boundaries in the Victorian setting of
the novel. This shows a desire for equality between men and women as it puts
Rochester in a lower class woman’s position. At the same time, it suggests that
men are able to monopolise the whole field of language as through imitation and
mastery they are able to speak as a woman and yet still, deceive women. This
scene suggests patriarchal power of the voice as a way of ventriloquising the
female voice.