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Rebecca Styler examines the Brontës’ conversation, through poetry, about the relationship between subjective dreaming and social responsibility. Styler explores the Brontës’ distinct perspectives on the idea of the human as both moral and creative being, and on the purpose of the imagination in light of their conception of the human as standing in relation to a divine reality that exists both within and outside the self. Writing within an inherited female prophetic literary tradition that eschewed escapist visionary flight, the Brontës rework Romantic ideals and the Gothic symbol of the avenging ghost in combination with biblical and dissenting models of the prophet. Styler closely examines a selection of poems in which the spiritual authority of a female outsider is imposed upon the cultural values of a patriarchal establishment, including Charlotte’s ‘Pilate’s Wife’s Dream’ and ‘Gilbert’, Emily’s ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘The night was dark yet winter breathed’, and Anne’s ‘A Word to the Calvinists’. For Styler, while Charlotte’s poetry denounces sinful male privilege and domination (a form of feminist critique), Emily and Anne evoke the female prophetic voice – even, in Emily’s case, to the point of the ecofeminine – to propound a model of fellowship, rather than hierarchy.
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