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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: May 2019

Chapter 11 - Jane Eyre, A Teaching Experiment

Summary

Isobel Armstrong’s chapter reflects on the experience of teaching Jane Eyre through students’ creation of visual art in an MA course at Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English, Vermont. Bertha Rochester’s species being and her exclusion from the category of the fully human are among the most pressing issues raised by the novel – but, in Armstrong’s view, the racism of the juvenilia and the colonial violence of the Angrian sagas does not transfer unproblematically to Jane Eyre. How best, in the twenty-first-century seminar room, to foster an intense engagement that allows readers to inhabit the questions of a multi-faceted text? The novel is approached through a carefully planned pedagogical experiment where art, photography, sound, and movement produced by the students embody their critical analysis of Brontë’s fictional evocation of the idea of the human. Armstrong’s chapter reveals the readings that emerged of human need and Rochester’s family; Jane Eyre as non-subject (dropping out of personhood on the heath, a nineteenth-century King Lear); and Bertha’s dehumanisation. Troubling some of the fundamental implications of Giorgio Agamben’s discussion of bare life, Armstrong considers the status of the deficit subject and what might constitute primal human needs.