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Lecturer's expectations

Alan Dilnot, Lecturer

In this section, one of your lecturers - Alan Dilnot - sets out what he expects from student assignments on this topic.

Essay topic:

Mr Rochester describes in Vol 3, Chapter 1, the circumstances in which he was married to Bertha Mason, and how he came to incarcerate her in the attic at Thornfield. What do we learn about him from this, and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?

How I would expect students to go about researching and writing this particular essay

I would expect students to have read the whole of Jane Eyre, and to have made some preliminary notes about their reactions to it. I would expect them then to give a careful re-reading of the passage where Mr. Rochester describes how he came to marry Bertha Mason (this occurs in Chapter 27). They should establish how Mr. Rochester judges his own actions, and compare this with how Jane views them. Sudents should also consider what alternatives were available to Rochester, bearing in mind the differences between the conditions and values of the world of the novel and the conditions and values of their own world. (For more help with this, go to the Skills for Writing in Literature section of this tutorial: Interpreting the Text and Making Judgements.)

An aspect of the topic that might give students difficulty is the idea that the novel "endorses" a character's behaviour. Students should consider how such an endorsement might be conveyed. It could come as a direct declaration from the narrator. However, the narrator is Jane Eyre and the reader must allow for the possibility that she is an interested party. Or endorsement could come through demonstration: The novel might indicate that certain kinds of behaviour have inevitable consequences, pleasant or unpleasant. Or the degree of endorsement could be indicated through rewards or punishments handed out just prior to the end of the novel.

The students are not expected to do a great deal of secondary reading. The course booklet contains several commentaries on Jane Eyre which highlight the chief critical problems. Lectures on the novel will supply further guidance. Secondary reading is not a substitute for the student's own response, but should be used to stimulate it.

Four hours of concentrated work should be enough for the writing of the essay. (Time spent reading the novel itself is not included in this.)

What a "good" essay on this topic would need to contain

A good essay on this and on most other critical-interpretative topics would show that it understands that there are valid points to be made on both sides of the question. In this case it would consider whether Mr. Rochester's narrative was totally candid, whether a better course of action was available to him, and whether he himself had been treated unjustly. It would consider whether what happens to him subsequently rewards him or punishes him. A good essay would build up its case by taking into account possible objections and answering them judiciously.

The course booklet has a section entitled "Assessment", which makes the following points:

"The marker will ... assess your ability to find interesting, fruitful ideas about the work, both from secondary sources and from your own insight. Your ability to expound these ideas clearly will be judged, and whether you are able to keep them in close interaction with the work that has suggested them. This relates to your ability to construct an essay that follows a sequence of thought, keeps its eye on the idea you have discovered and unfolds its implications fully, avoiding repetition."

A "high distinction" essay would go beyond established criticism to reach an individual insight into the problem. Its argument would be supported by evidence that was drawn chiefly from the text itself. While acknowledging that the evidence might be open to more than one interpretation, the essay would persuade the reader of the validity of its special approach to the text.

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