Karen Swallow Prior celebrates a book about selfhood in her essay Jane Eyre and the Invention of the Self in The Atlantic. If you haven’t read Jane Eyre already, it is well worth your while. A book primarily read by school children and considered as a classic, it has so ubiquitous a presence that if you haven’t read it, you may already know about the terrible childhood of Jane Eyre and how she climbs out of her destitution through sheer willpower. Jane Eyre’s story is Charlotte Bronte’s articulation of the self, the idea of selfhood we now see versions of in the selfie.
“But before the selfie came “the self,” or the fairly modern concept of the independent “individual.” The now-ubiquitous selfie expresses in miniature the seismic conceptual shift that came about centuries ago, spurred in part by advances in printing technology and new ways of thinking in philosophy. It’s not that the self didn’t exist in pre-modern cultures: Rather, the emphasis the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century placed on personal will, conscience, and understanding—rather than tradition and authority—in matters of faith spilled over the bounds of religious experience into all of life. Perhaps the first novel to best express the modern idea of the self was Jane Eyre, written in 1847 by Charlotte Brontë, born 200 years ago this year.”
This book has laid the foundation for the first person narrator. It was written in 1847 and was a by-product of people now were forced to interpret religion and their circumstance for themselves. No preacher could change Jane Eyre’s position, and she alone was responsible for her destiny. Considering that this month witnessed Charlotte Bronte’s bicentenary, this looked like a good link for Link Wanderlust. Which Bronte sister’s work do you most love?