Becoming Jane: Subject and Narrative Formation through the Language of Suicide and Marriage in Charlotte Brontë’s *Jane Eyre*
Scholars have understood Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, a quintessential female Bildungsroman or coming-of-age novel, as ultimately a conservative work, since the marriage at the end of the novel appears to subsume and domesticate the rebellious, feminist actions of the eponymous protagonist. As both a Bildungsroman and a fictional autobiography, the novel, published in 1847, tracks the psychological development and maturation of Jane that allows her to become a productive citizen and the author of her own story. From the beginning of the novel, Jane is aware that she must actively cultivate herself as a subject to establish her place in society. This awareness complicates the conservative understandings of the novel, because it compels Jane to develop her narrative abilities so that she can determine her own fate and suggests that Victorian women can do the same. Both as the narrator and the protagonist, Jane uses language to differentiate herself from the “other” and to redefine what constitutes success and failure in her life. More specifically, she uses the language of suicide and marriage to describe failed and successful processes of development for herself and other characters throughout the novel, demonstrating her awareness of these developmental processes. Jane’s self-conscious development as both a subject and a narrator parallels Brontë’s blending of the Bildungsroman and autobiography. By tracking Jane’s development as both a subject and a narrator and demonstrating Jane’s awareness of this process through the narration of her own story, Brontë provides a model for Victorian women to assert themselves by becoming the authors of their own lives.