The Importance of Being English: Anxiety of Englishness in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea Open Access
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The rise of the Second British Empire is denoted by the American Revolution, which served as a catalyst for the Britons heightened awareness and concern over a national identity. Instead of viewing the secession of the American colonies as a poor reflection on Britain, the English began to refine the qualifications of Englishness, making them more exclusive and promulgating the idea that the colonists were never truly English at all. With the colonization of the Caribbean islands and other subsequent British satellites, identity within the British Empire became even more nebulous and reinforced the need for a distinction to be made between the multicultural imperial British subjects and the racially, culturally and religiously homogenous Britons who possessed the coveted Englishness. This idea of English superiority found its voice in the narrative of the nineteenth-century English novel. This study will examine one of those novels, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, along with its postcolonial counterpart, Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, to analyze the cultural hierarchies presented in both texts and to explore the contested nature and meaning of Englishness through the narrative of the colonizer (Jane Eyre) and the colonized body (Wide Sargasso Sea).