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

Chapter 5 - Charlotte Brontë and the Listening Reader


Helen Groth traces sounds, voices and acoustic stresses in Charlotte Brontë’s writing. Groth’s chapter shows how scenes from Jane Eyre and Villette, as well as selected verse, exemplify Charlotte Brontë’s use of literary soundscapes to train her readers to listen to and empathise with the unfamiliar or previously unheard. Groth shows how the listening reader of both poetry and prose is required to eavesdrop on conversations that require a particular kind of attentiveness. From distracting noise to more authentic silences, Brontë privileges what Jane Eyre famously calls the ‘inward ear’ and the alignment of narrative with the involuntary flow of consciousness by relying on first person narration in both Jane Eyre and Villette. Groth demonstrates how this interest in the dynamics (and acoustics) of an interior life aligns with ethological theories of character formulated in the 1840s, and traces the link between mind and sound throughout the Victorian reception of Jane Eyre. Groth also considers Brontë’s narrative poems, looking at complex mindscapes and states of reverie attuned to environmental stimuli in ‘The Teacher’s Monologue’ and ‘Pilate’s Wife’s Dream’. Groth makes a strong case for attention to the sonic dimensions of Brontë’s writing.