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The traditional Bildungsroman novel is autobiographical in form and displays similarities with the author’s own life, mostly with regard to childhood experiences. The novel displays a single individuals growth and development within the context of a defined social order. In most cases the protagonist is orphaned and experiences some form of loss or discontentment in order to spur them away from the family home or setting. The education of the main character is another aspect, which is crucial to their growth and development within the novel. It states in Todd (1980; 161) 1. that?
‘Ideally Bildungsroman heroes, who continue to pursue their own adolescent ideals and inclinations, are expected to conform eventually to a predetermined identity and become integrated with the society whose values are creating and molding them’.
Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations and described Pips childhood experiences in great detail. It has been argued that most of the child characters Dickens portrayed in his novels resembled that of his own childhood experiences. Like Pip, Dickens received very little in the way of formal education.
Charlotte Bronte uses many similarities in Jane Eyre that could be argued resemble her own experiences. She too like that of Jane was the daughter of a clergyman and was sent to a school called Norwood, which bares many similarities with that of Lowood. She also became a governess and this suggests that her own experience of a middle class working woman fighting to find a place in Victorian society was used to express her own views of life in that of Jane Eyre.
In Great Expectations, Pip is typical of the main character in a Bildungsroman novel, as he is an orphan. Pip is brought up in a working class environment with his older sister and her husband, Joe Gargery. Pip rejects Joe as a substitute father and looks on him as more of a friend. This is evident in the passage when Joe states?’you and me is always friends’ (12;ch.2) 2. The absence of a father figure for Pip reinforces the need for him to find some sense of identity and belonging in society.
The possibility of a better life becomes apparent to Pip on his first meeting with Estella and Mrs. Haversham at Satis House. It is at this stage in the novel that Pip realises for the first time that he is of a lower social status. It is evident that Pip is aware of his social status when he says ‘I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very different pair’ (60;ch.8) 3.
In Jane Eyre, once again the main character is typical of the Bildungsroman. Jane is an orphan living with her relatives, the Reeds. However she is brought up in a middle class society but is reminded that she is an outcast. Jane’s struggle with her identity and place in society began before she was born, with her mother marrying a poor clergyman, who was considered beneath her by her family.
Jane also experiences conflict within class structures in society. This is evident when the Reeds attempt to bully and suppress Jane at every opportunity they can, reminding her that she has no money that she can rightfully call her own. Jane’s struggle is not only to find a place in society but also to find a place in society as a woman. Jane is aware from an early age that she has no power as a female of her social status, while John Reed is fully aware of his importance as a male. Thus Jane’s educational growth begins when she is unjustly locked in the red room at Gateshead and is sent away to Lowood to be educated. Once again although Jane receives a formal education, she embarks on her own educational growth in life towards maturity and finding an acceptable place in society.
Jane’s struggle and discontentment is evident in the various stages of the novel. Firstly as already stated at Gateshead and again at Lowood, where she was subjected to terrible humiliation and degradation at the hands of the Reverend Brocklehurst. It seems that Bronte was suggesting that all men in society, even holy men, treated woman unjustly. Even Jane’s relationship with Rochester at Thornfield remind Jane that as a middle class woman, who had to earn her own living, she did not fit into conventional society.
Being a governess meant that Jane was educated to the extent of a lady but being paid a salary put her almost at the level of the servants. Even though Jane loves Rochester she is not prepared to become his mistress, as he is already married to Bertha, leaving Jane no alternative but to leave Thornfield to embark on the next stage of her journey within the novel. It is clear that she was searching for her own identity when she states to Rochester?
‘I tell you I must go?Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think that I am an automaton? ?a machine without feelings? And can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong’ (252;ch 23) 4.
Whilst at Moor House, Jane’s relationship with St John Rivers, once again reminds Jane of her status within society. She is not in love with St John and he is not with her but he still tries to repress Jane by expecting her to marry him and accompany him as a missionary’s wife to Africa. Jane is not prepared to marry him and is well aware of the implications if she is to go away with him, as a friend. Although Jane struggles to find her rightful place in society she always believes that she is equal to those around her.
Pip’s education begins not in the formal sense of the word but within his own personal growth. He feels sure that if he were to become a gentleman, it would make him a better person and he would better himself within society. His ultimate goal is to become a gentleman and win Estella’s love. It is this desire that makes Pip unhappy with his life at the forge and the prospect of becoming a mere blacksmith.
Pip’s education was very limited and although he was sent to evening school whilst he apprenticed to Joe, he learnt more in terms of a formal education from Biddy. He states?’At last I began, in a purblind groping way, to read, write and cipher’ (44;ch7) 5.
Pip’s education is again typical of the Bildungsroman in that he is unassisted and self-educated. His desire to leave the forge is fulfilled when he is visited by Mr. Jaggers, who tells Pip of his inheritance and the mysterious benefactor, whom Pip believes is Miss Haversham. This becomes evident in the novel when Pip states?’Miss Haversham was going to make my fortune on a grand scale’ (138;ch18) 6.
This change from poor working class to a rich gentleman is once again typical of the Bildungsroman but not in the traditional sense. Usually a man has to work to earn his money and become a gentleman, which is contrary to the way that Pip has earned his fortune. Pip’s inheritance changes Pip from a likeable innocent character into one that desires unrealistic expectations for his life. Due to his good fortune, Pip now looks down on his family as beneath him and considers Joe to be common and uneducated. This is evident when he tells Biddy that Joe? ‘Is rather backward in some things. For instance in his learning and his manners’. (148;ch19) 7.
Jane’s material wealth is once again inherited but this is in the final stages of her development as a character within the novel. This is where the similarities end between Jane and Pip, concerning money. Jane is fully aware of the value of money since she has had to work to provide for herself. By inheriting she manages to secure her rightful place in society. Pip however does not know the true value of money and thinks that it is the answer to all his problems. His snobbery becomes evident when he realises that his true benefactor is Magwitch, the convict, who he encounters in the first stage of the novel. On realising this fact he is disgusted that his benefactor is a murderer, a twist in the novel, which seems to teach Pip a lesson about gentleman in society. Pip realises that money does not make you a gentleman and real gentleman have qualities, which money cannot buy.
Once again as seen with Jane Eyre, Pip leaves his home to embark on a journey of education, leaving the forge, which is situated, on the marshes, near the Thames for London. Again this conforms to the typical Bildungsroman novel, where the main character will embark on a journey, usually leaving a small provincial town for the big city, in order to find his trade or occupation. Often this will be a disappointing experience, where hopes and dreams are shattered and a realisation of what they had left behind them was not so bad. Although with Pip he does not work when he gets to London, Jane has to work as a governess in order to survive.
It is in London that Pip embarks on the next stage of his educational growth, in order to find his real self. Pip squanders his money socialising in order to establish himself as a gentleman but by doing this he only succeeds in getting himself and his roommate, Herbert Pocket into serious financial difficulty. Pip feels sure that Mrs. Haversham intends him to marry Estella and the realisation that this is not so, does not enter Pip’s head until his encounter with Magwitch in London. Pip states?’Miss Haversham’s intentions towards me, all a mere dream; Estella not designed for me; I only suffered in Satis House as a convenience.’ (323;ch39) 8.
Once again the similarity with Jane becomes apparent in that Pip experiences disappointment in matters of love. This conforms to the Bildungsroman, where the individual will encounter love affairs or sexual encounters within their educational journey, which are disastrous.
In the final stages of the novel there is usually, according to the traditional Bildungsroman, a lesson to be learned before the character is fully matured. Pip learns just how wrong he was about what qualities make a true gentleman. This is apparent when he finds out his benefactor is Magwitch, the murderer. Although at first this was a shock for Pip, he realises just how much Magwitch has sacrificed for him by returning to England and risking capture by the police. Pip also feels guilty about the way he has snubbed Joe when he came to see him in London and the fact that he felt ashamed of him. This embarrassment was evident when he stated that?’If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money’ (218;ch27) 9.
Pip realises the error of his ways and tries to make amends by helping Magwitch escape his captures. He also finds out that Estella is Magwith’s daughter, which is ironic as Estella frowned upon the working classes, only to be the offspring of something far worse, a criminal. Although Magwitch dies, Pip was by his side and gave him comfort in his last hours. After his illness he returns to the forge to Joe and Biddy, penniless since the crown reclaimed his inheritance. He has learnt a valuable lesson and has come full circle by returning to his roots without a penny, fully matured and understanding the real qualities of a gentleman.
Jane also returns to her roots by attending the side of her Aunt Reed at her deathbed, only to find that the Reeds have suffered and lost most of their wealth at the hands of John Reed. John Reed has received his comeuppance and died at an early age. When Jane inherits her Uncle’s money and discovers who her real family are, she returns to Rochester only to find out that he has been maimed in the fire at Thornfield. It seems that Jane has also returned to her past to find happiness with Rochester. She is now a lady and is accepted as Rochester’s wife in society. Jane had to be a woman in her own right in order to be able to conform to society. Although Jane has fought for most of her life against the social order, in the end she does not challenge but upholds the values of society.
Dickens and Bronte both express strong opinions in their novels about Victorian society. Dickens implies through the development of Pip that middle class values were hypocritical. He suggests that moral values such as generosity and kindness were far more important than being rich and powerful. Dickens reinforces this by allowing Pip to become rich and then lose his money. If Dickens had allowed Pip to stay wealthy, then he would not have been able to emphasise his point to the reader.
He also questions moral values through the character of Magwitch. He illustrates that people of low social status are capable of possessing better qualities than that of the rich and powerful, who were considered to be far superior as human beings. By doing this he goes one step further and insinuates that the justice system is corrupt. He does this through the character of Magwitch, who is killed at the hands of the law and possesses the qualities that Dickens promotes.
Bronte suggests that patriarchal society was hypocritical since men preached values that they could not uphold themselves. The rules were made by men and were allowed to be broken by men. Rochester is allowed to take mistresses, which is accepted in society but if had Jane become his mistress, she would have been considered an immoral woman. Brocklehurst expected the patrons of his school to look plain, yet his own wife and children were decked with frills and curls. Bronte suggests that Victorian society promoted values that were one sided and treated women unjustly.