Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name




Committee Chair

Wise, Elaine O.


Bronte¨, Charlotte, 1816-1855. Jane Eyre; Bronte¨, Charlotte, 1816-1855--Criticism and interpretation; Beauty and the beast (Tale)


This thesis is an exploration of the changeling heroine in Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre. Its purpose is to demonstrate that Charlotte Bronte reworked the traditional "Beauty and the Beast" fairy tale motif through the creation of the changeling heroine, Jane Eyre. The changeling heroine in Jane Eyre is juxtaposed with the typological characters often employed in Romantic literature: the Angel, the Fallen Angel, and the Byronic hero. Specifically, the changeling heroine creates a liberating alternative to the Romantic ideal of the beautiful Angel. The triumph of the changeling in Jane Eyre simultaneously demonstrates the failure of these conventional typological characters and the Victorian values behind them. Bronte was fascinated with the "Beauty and the Beast" motif; it appears prominently in her juvenilia. The first four chapters of this thesis contain an overview of the "Beauty and the Beast" tale type and explore the ways in which Bronte utilizes this plot in her juvenilia. Inside of this traditional fairy tale plot structure, Bronte's early writing is shaped by the Romantic world view and the aesthetics promoted by Romantic giants like John Ruskin. Most importantly, Bronte employs the Romantic typological characters of the Angel, the Fallen Angel, and the Byronic hero. These three types of characters fit easily into the "Beauty and the Beast" plot. The Byronic hero is the Beast, the curse that makes him bestial is usually connected to the hag, wicked fairy, or Fallen Angel. He is redeemed by the Angel, who is the Beauty. Chapter Four makes a close analysis of these typological characters in Bronte's early work. Bronte's typological characters in her juvenilia are heavily influenced by the works of Byron and Milton; in fact, she names both authors explicitly in her early stories. These sources are also explored in Chapter Four. As Bronte revisits the "Beauty and the Beast" motif with these three typological characters in her juvenilia, she works out the Romantic ideals to their logical ends and discovers that the typological characters are ultimately unsuccessful. The Beauty cannot save the Beast. Bronte responds to this dilemma by breaking out of the Romantic feminine ideal of the Angel/Fallen Angel dichotomy. Thus, Bronte creates a new type of heroine for her novel Jane Eyre, a heroine who can have a long-term, successful relationship with the re-humanized Beast: the changeling Jane Eyre. The changeling is able to break out of the Angel/Fallen Angel dichotomy because it comes from an entirely different literary tradition. Chapters Five, Six, and Seven analyze the character of the changeling and the folklore tradition behind her. To establish this, these chapters demonstrate the importance of fairy tales in Bronte's early life and her access to the oral fairy tale tradition of the North Country. It is significant that Bronte's changeling heroine is a product of fairy lore she heard and read in Haworth; this fairy lore tradition is very different than that of the Victorian fairy, which is discussed in the Conclusion.