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

Chapter 3 - Charlotte Brontë and the Science of the Imagination


Janis McLarren Caldwell compares Charlotte Brontë’s writing about experiences of imaginative transport (in the Roe Head Journal, which sustained engagement with the Angria of her earlier juvenilia, and in Jane Eyre) with Victorian scientific writing about the imagination. The work of early psychologists increasingly described creative imagination not as Romantic transcendence, but as a function of the automatic mind. For Caldwell, the discontinuity experienced by Brontë between creative unconscious and conscious states may be related to her frequent mature pattern of presenting Romantic interludes only to ironise or deflate them. Caldwell shows how Brontë’s early writings reserved her most exalted language for the experiences of imagining. Drawing upon Elaine Scarry’s notion of vivacity, Caldwell explores how Brontë’s work is placed in relation to pictorialist accounts of mental imaging. Charlotte Brontë, while influenced by materialist thought, rejected the wholesale erasure of the soul. While Brontë was attuned to ideas about embodiment and scientific accounts of the mind, she also employed a Scriptural language of body and soul. As Caldwell’s chapter shows, Charlotte Brontë’s introspective accounts of creativity are valuable for our contemporary neurological understandings of verbal and visual cognition, and continued Western philosophical investigations of the mind/body problem.