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Honey-Mad Women: Charlotte Brontë's Bilingual Heroines

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Extract

In Mythologiques Lévi-Strauss describes an exotically defiant figure – the Honey-Mad Woman – who eats honey in bizarre amounts, who feeds on it wildly and to excess. She consumes honey rather than plantains or meat because honey, as Lévi-Strauss explains, delineates the ambiguous border between culture and nature, the border where – in primitive societies – woman herself is asked to reside. As a prearticulated, predigested substance, honey is at once raw and cooked, processed and unprocessed; in consuming it in great quantities, the honey-mad woman becomes an archetype of sexual as well as gustatory defiance. Breaking the rules of politic eating, she covertly defies the system in which women are exchanged by men, for the ostensible purpose of containing women's “natural” disorder and fecundity. An inhabitant, then, of the agonistic border between nature and culture that societies erect to protect themselves from ideological collapse, woman is the unwitting dupe, the strange symbol, the wild card in a primitive metaphysic. But in consuming honey so avidly, the honey-mad woman preempts this symbolization, for by consuming a substance like herself, she usurps her society's right to consume her.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1986

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