Jane Eyre and Helen Burns: Two Representations of Celebrity

Excellent reading for tomorrow’s lesson, Year 11!

Victorian Women Writers & Celebrity

[Alexis Gaither]

When Charlotte Brontë published Jane Eyre under her pseudonym “Currer Bell” in 1847, the story of the principled yet solitary orphan became an instant success (i). Brontë faced the criticisms and assessments that occur with such a success, just as Jane’s character is confronted with similar threats to her reputation throughout the novel. While the superiors of Jane’s childhood and the elite of her adulthood challenge her on many fundamental levels, Jane has a habit of remaining steadfast.

An illustration of Jane Eyre being admonished by Mr. Brocklehurst. An illustration of Jane Eyre being admonished by Mr. Brocklehurst.

This dedication to integrity in the face of public adversity could not have developed in Jane without the guidance of Helen Burns. Helen transforms Jane’s ability to accept misfortune and handle degradation in the public eye. Jane’s arrival at Lowood is under the pretense of a dysfunctional relationship with her guardian, which is only fueled by the strict procedures of her…

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Component 1 Sample Paper

Dear Year 11,

Here is my attempt at the sample paper you had a go at this morning:

Sample Paper Component 1

A1 Read lines 1-7. List five things you learn about Justo in these lines.

  • He has a reputation in Guernica and the surrounding area;
  • People say he is a ‘defender of causes’ – an activist;
  • People say he is a ‘wit’ – a witty or humorous person;
  • He enjoys / relishes having a reputation – he is ‘eager to create his own mythology’;
  • He is known for his strength and performs well at the ‘strength events’;
  • He once carried an ox into town and threw it in the river.


A2 Read lines 8-34. How does the writer show you Justo’s physical strength and power in these lines? (5 marks)

You must refer to the language used in the text to support your answer, using relevant subject terminology.

The writer uses verbs and adverbs to indicate Justo’s physical strength, for example, he ‘tore’ into the pine log, which makes it seem as if breaking a log in half is akin to ripping a piece of paper, it’s that easy for him. It also implies that he has the strength of an animal ‘tearing’ into its prey. During the ‘farmer’s walk’ event he ‘grasped’ the weights, which makes him seem steady and assured, and ‘marched without a struggle’, which emphasises his ease further. The way the writer stresses how easy he appears to find the task: his back is ‘rigid’ rather than being pulled into the ‘dangerous curve’ of ‘most competitors’. The writer compares Justo to the others – he ‘split the log well before any others’ and then marches ‘past the marks where others had fallen’. Other competitors are described as ‘little ones’ and ‘the boy’, which contrasts with Justo’s greatness, and his charismatic interaction with ‘the boy’, coupled with his ‘false drama’ for the audience, suggests that, far from finding the competition difficult, he is relishing the opportunity to show off. Finally, the writer structures this section to show Justo’s physical power: first we are given the impression that he will struggle: ‘his face straining as if he’d never get [the weights] off the ground’ and then we realise that he is only acting. This structure makes his strength appear even more impressive – superhuman, almost.

A3 Read lines 35 to 64. How does the writer show that Maria is interested in Justo in these lines? You should write about:

  • What Maria does to attract his attention;
  • The writer’s use of language to show her interest in Justo
  • The effects on the reader (10 marks)


You must refer to the text to support your answer, using relevant subject terminology.

The writer uses a wry, ironic tone of voice to describe Maria’s contriving to be in the vicinity of Justo: ‘It so happened…’, ‘And who could have imagined that…’ and ‘it was natural that…’ The implication is that none of her actions were coincidental; they were all premeditated in the hope of attracting Justo’s attention, highlighting her interest in Justo. The verb ‘unleashed her most feminine laugh’ make it clear that Maria is exaggerating her actions in order to attract Justo’s attention. This quotation also suggests that she is using her femininity to entice him. The writer uses superlatives: ‘most feminine laugh’ and ‘broadest smile’ to show how she accentuates normal behaviour in the hope of attracting his attention. She repeatedly contrives to be in Justo’s path, not only at the beginning of this section, where she ‘discover[s] the need to visit friends near the finish line’, then when she arranges to present the prize to the winner and finally when she ‘skirted the gathering so that he would have to pass her again’. The repetition serves to emphasis her determination to gain his attention. Structurally, her behaviour becomes less and less subtle; by line 49 she asks him outright if he would like to dance with her and flirtatiously appeals to his pride: ‘if you’re not too worn out from all the chopping and lifting’. This is a subtle way of challenging him; Maria knows that an appeal to Justo’s ego is the most effective way of getting him interested in her. When she defends him to her sisters: ‘He has character’, the writer makes it seem that her interest in Justo is not simply physical but that that she is attracted to his personality, adding depth to the ‘silence’ that characterises her as they walk home from the strength event.

A4 Read lines 65-87. What impressions do you get of Justo in these lines? (10 marks)

You must refer to the text to support your answer, using relevant subject terminology.

Justo’s behaviour with Maria’s family give the impression that he is a warm, friendly and confident person. The way he is described makes it seem that he is ‘part of the family’ from the start. He gives her mother a ‘vigorous handshake’ and ‘patted the father on his shoulder’. In this, the writer contrasts him with other suitors, who are perhaps more formal in their behaviour, bringing ‘flowers or sweets’. Justo’s failure to do so could make him seem rude, but rather, he just appears down to earth and relaxed. The fact that he wears his work clothes emphasises this. He uses his strength to help around the house, suggesting that he is keen to serve others and perhaps not as proud as we might have thought. I also get the impression that he treats women as equals: it is Maria’s mother’s hand he shakes ‘vigorously’, not her father’s, and he expects Maria to help him with the woodcutting, repairs, etc. When he proposes to Maria he does so in such a way as to emphasise his sense of humour, digressing from the course of the ‘farmer’s walk’ and holding both weights in one hand in order to retrieve the ring. This might make him seem arrogant or proud, but the way the text is structured (this episode immediately follows his helping with the household chores) ensures that we interpret his behaviour as good-natured and playful, rather than egotistical.

A5 Evaluate the way Maria is presented in this passage. You should write about:

  • Your own thoughts and feelings about how Maria is presented in the passage as a whole;
  • How the writer has created these thoughts and feelings.

You must refer to the text to support your answer.

Maria is ‘twenty’ and ‘the eldest of six girls’. Her behaviour is sometimes typical of the eldest sibling: she is confident and straightforward; she enjoys being in charge. We see this in the way she attracts Justo’s attention by placing herself in his path and arranging to present the prize. Both of these actions are bold, and suggest that Maria is someone who knows how to get what she wants. She seems to have a certain amount of power in the town as she is able to ‘arrange’ to ‘present the prize’ and also seems to understand men well for someone of her age. On one hand, she appears to be a bold, outgoing character, not typically ‘feminine’ at all. For example she asks Justo to dance and puts on her work clothes to help around the house. However, her feminine side is emphasised too: she ‘unlease[s] her most feminine laugh’ and smiles to attract Justo’s attention. These things suggest that Maria knows how to use her femininity to get what she wants. We presume that she is beautiful as it is common for her to have suitors at the house: ‘Others interested in Maria…’ so she is certainly desired by men in the town. This is perhaps why Maria seems so knowledgeable about men: she is used to their attention and this has given her the confidence to be able to flirt with Justo in the way that she does. Finally, she appears level-headed. When she walks home in silence, we are told that she her father is unable to word due to injuring both legs in a fall at the farm. Perhaps this is part of her motive: she feels the responsibility of looking after the family and this may be part of her motive for marrying a strong man like Justo who is dependable, competent and able to perform the household tasks (such as ‘heavy lifting’ and woodchopping) that her father is unable to do. This makes Maria seem shrewd – she chooses a husband well – and also selfless – she does not merely think of herself when choosing a husband, but of her family as a whole. Overall, she is someone who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. If Justo is a strong man physically, Maria is a strong woman emotionally. They are a good match!