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CONFLICT AND REVELATION: LITERALIZATION IN THE NOVELS OF CHARLOTTE BRONTË

  • Janis McLarren Caldwell (a1)

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THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT, WITH the publication of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë established a landmark in the history of the novel, but there is little agreement as to exactly what she accomplished or how she pulled it off. Brontë's detractors, as well as her defenders, have often stopped short of treating her as a mature artist or social theorist, explaining her power as “personal” or “autobiographical.” They adjourn further analysis of such qualities by expressing their distaste for, or at best, faintly embarrassed appreciation of, her intensely personal, perilously autobiographical, violently passionate style. There is a family resemblance between Matthew Arnold's disgust at Brontë's “hunger, rebellion and rage” (Letters 132), Virginia Woolf's wariness of her “self-centered and self-limited” but “overpowering personality” (Common Reader 222–23), and Terry Eagleton's ambivalent acknowledgment that Brontë's novels, though politically compromising, nonetheless contain a radical “sexual demand – an angry, wounded, implacable desire for full personal acceptance and recognition” (xix). Each of these critics, to varying degrees, distrusts the personal and emotional as factors that pull Brontë (and her readers) too close to herself and too far away from either her social conscience or her art. Of course, in The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar valorize rather than regret Brontëan rage, but they still emphasize the violent emotion, on the verge of spinning out of control, pervading her “confessional art” (440).Gilbert and Gubar consider Brontë's oeuvre, especially Villette, “a literature of consciousness,” claiming that Brontë is “in some ways, a phenomenologist – attacking the discrepancy between reason and imagination, insisting on the subjectivity of the objective work of art, choosing as the subject of her fiction the victims of objectification, inviting her readers to experience with her the interiority of the Other” (440).

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CONFLICT AND REVELATION: LITERALIZATION IN THE NOVELS OF CHARLOTTE BRONTË

  • Janis McLarren Caldwell (a1)

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