Paper 1: Jane Eyre and “Framing Text”
Due in hard copy to Bobet 321 by 11 a.m., Oct. 8
What we’re doing:
Choose a passage in Jane Eyre that strikes you as particularly significant. Then select a critical argument about it from the nineteenth or twentieth century (you may choose from the texts in your Norton edition, or propose an alternative). In class writing and discussion, I’ve asked you to develop your own ideas about passages based on close reading. (Close readings should be “surprising” but “convincing” to anyone reading the passages you chose in context of the larger work.) You should have genuine questions about the specific moments or scenes you select; questions that you would like to answer through the writing process (i.e. questions that you can’t answer immediately – questions that require you to look closely at the text before drawing a conclusion).
This assignment builds on this by asking you to listen to what an expert reader of Jane Eyre has to say and incorporating that person’s argument into your reading. What does the essay you choose show about the aspect of the text that interests and puzzles you? You’ll agree with some parts of the essay and disagree with others: “frame” your paper by zeroing in on the part of the essay that reveals something about your question about Jane Eyre. Make a debatable, persuasive argument for how your reader should understand that novel.
* With instructor permission, you may write on another course text.
Why we’re doing it:
- To discover something new about this novel, which has been read carefully by so many people
- To communicate that discovery: practice persuasive writing by pairing evidence with convincing and surprising interpretation
- To use someone else’s perspective to transform your own
The Form of the Essay
4-5 pages in MLA format
Use the critical argument to frame your own reading of the text, using no more than 250 words describing what it says and why it’s important to your argument. Then develop an argument based on a persuasive reading of one or two specific textual moments in the novel. One way to understand this process is that it moves from an idiosyncratic reading (“When I read this, I was like…”) to a persuasive reading (“In the following passage, notice this…Here, Jane’s comments show that x. So-and-so suggests that this passage…but/and yet/moreover…”)—to prompt your reader to respond: “Whoa—that’s true!”
The article you engage with can come from the nineteenth or twentieth century. In addition to the excerpts at the back of our edition, you may also choose an article cited by one of the critics in our edition, or a peer-reviewed article of your choice from the online MLA Bibliography. Your paper will disagree, build on, or “talk to” this argument based on evidence from the text—not generalizations about right or wrong, or outside knowledge about the Victorian period. Use the criticism to get a wider perspective on the text, but this is a zoom-in paper.
In the nineteenth century, critics are often interested in whether a text is morally good or bad. This is not the purpose of this paper, so you will want to pay close attention to what parts of the text they notice, and what they say about those passages. These reviews often judge the novel based on implicit cultural norms about (for example) what would make a good Englishwoman or Christian in real life, but your argument needs to be prove-able based on evidence from the novel. What makes a good Englishwoman or Christian in Jane Eyre? Some questions you could ask: What does their reading help you notice? What concepts or language did they use that bear closer attention? If you wanted to show that reviewer the text in a new way, to what passages would you show him or her?
In the twentieth century, “expertise” in literary criticism can mean many things: not only is the literary critic meant to be very good at extracting surprising-but-convincing meanings from the text, he or she does so in light of other kinds of knowledge, including other novels, poetry, and non-fiction of the period, historical events, or the ways of talking about and interpreting the world that were current at the time Brontë was writing (for example, in discourses about race or phrenology). Critics also work in more general terms, developing theories about how to read texts, and how texts make meaning within certain social structures (for example, how the retrospective narrative structure of Jane Eyre shapes its meaning). Choose an article that asks questions you find worth answering. You might also consider this literary critical analysis as a model for argumentative writing.