Faery and the Beast

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Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre is influenced by the classic fairy tale hopes and dreams of the traditional ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Yet Charlotte’s message also stands apart from the fairy-tale tradition because, through Jane Eyre, she harnesses all the power of a fairy tale to challenge the ideas that gave rise to the stereotypical ideal Victorian woman. Coventry Patmore’s mid-nineteenth-century poem ‘The Angel in the House’ represents the type of cultural mythology that Charlotte Brontë was already challenging in the pre-Victorian era. She realizes that the best way to defeat this myth is to replace it with a new one of her own making. In the vein of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, Patmore’s poem demands beautiful women to inspire men. Charlotte Brontë’s character Blanche Ingram fulfils Patmore’s demands, but it is only the fairy-like heroine Jane who has the power to rehumanize Rochester. While Blanche is surrounded by references to classical mythology, Jane is associated with fairy tales like ‘The Fairies and the Hump-Back’ or ‘The Legend of Knockgrafton’. Unlike classical myths, fairy tales are a genre that was largely preserved by women, and therefore it can empower a heroine to become a woman’s ideal woman, rather than the artificial man’s ideal woman.