To House a Moor and End a Marsh: Jane and Imperialism through Liminal and Structural Processes in Jane Eyre

Vincent Chien


Liminality, as defined by anthropologists Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner, is a valuable and yet highly underused concept for analyzing Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, especially for the novel’s eponymous heroine. For much of the novel, Jane Eyre exhibits potential for liminality, both in her character and in her narrative space. To be liminal is to be removed, to some degree, from the social structures and institutions of one’s time and place in history. For Victorian era Great Britain, the British colonial empire must be considered a forefront social institution. Therefore, examining whether a figure existing in Victorian Great Britain is liminal or not reveals whether that figure is subversive or supportive to Britain’s imperialist project. Thus, analyzing the liminality of Jane holds significant and urgent implications for postcolonial criticism, especially since past postcolonial criticism of this novel has largely been concerned about whether the novel reads against or with nineteenth century imperialism. Yet, no critic thus far has attempted to examine the postcolonial concern through elements of liminality, despite its implications for postcolonial criticism. This research therefore takes up this approach and analyzes how Jane entering or leaving liminality affects her participation in or resistance against the imperialism of Victorian era Great Britain. Gayatri Spivak’s “Three Women’s Text and a Critique of Imperialism” serves as a theoretical basis for further postcolonial analysis, as do van Gennep and Turner’s writings on liminality. Using what Spivak has already identified as the ways Jane Eyre is involved in imperialism, this essay applies her strategies to show how Jane is complicit in the imperialist tendency through her leaving liminality. This essay also argues against Spivak to show how Jane nonetheless successfully inhabits liminal space and thus is capable of resistance. Borrowing from Louis Althusser’s ideas of ideological state apparatuses and interpellation, however, this paper concludes that Jane is ultimately more complicit in the imperialist agenda than she is resistant to it. This conclusion has the implication of reminding critics, like Spivak, who view Jane entirely as an imperialist subject that Jane is more resistant than she is made out to be and that resistance to an institution as socially entrenched as imperialism is possible. It also reminds critics who prefer to see Jane Eyre as a subversive text and Brontë as a subversive author that individual autonomy is often illusory.


Jane Eyre; Charlotte Bronte; Liminality; Imperialism; Postcolonialism; Colonialism; Victorian; Gayatri Spivak

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