What Do the Women Do UCM

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34 Volume IV Victorian and Twentieth Century Literature 1837 2000. the second edition of Wuthering Heights and Gaskell s biography of her friend and. fellow novelist Both were written in a defensive mode and are best seen as postmortem. attempts to salvage damaged reputations When the Bront s published Wuthering. Heights Agnes Grey and Jane Eyre in 1847 they used the pseudonyms of Ellis Acton. and Currer Bell because as Charlotte later confessed we had the vague impression. that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice C Bront 1995 xxvii. But while the pseudonyms may have saved them from experiencing the full force of. the critical double standard whereby men s and women s books were judged differ. ently it failed to shield them from controversy For its portrayal of strong emotions. Wuthering Heights was charged with coarseness while Anne s The Tenant of Wildfell. Hall which appeared in 1848 and offers an unblinking portrait of upper class debauch. ery offended many and prompted the Athenaeum s reviewer to characterize the subject. matter of the Bell brothers novels as disagreeable Allot 1974 251 The most. lacerating review of all came at the hands of Elizabeth Rigby in the conservative. Quarterly Review She not only proclaimed that the author of Jane Eyre if a woman. must have long forfeited the society of her own sex Allot 1974 111 but she also. accused the Tory leaning Charlotte of writing a seditious novel that fostered Chart. ism and rebellion at home 109 It is no wonder that in the year after Anne and. Emily s deaths a grieving Charlotte now the sole surviving Bront sibling tried in. her Bibliographic Notice to recast the public s impression of the unknown authors. of Wuthering Heights Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by transforming the. disagreeable Bell brothers into the tragic Bront sisters two unobtrusive women. who lived and died in perfect seclusion C Bront 1995 xxxii. After Charlotte s death in 1855 her father asked Gaskell to write a biography that. would in the manner of Charlotte s remembrance of her sisters wipe the dust off. her gravestone and leave her name free from soil C Bront 1995 xxxii Gaskell s. biography succeeded beyond the Rev Bront s wildest hopes As Lucasta Miller. notes it continues the mythologization process of the Bront s begun in the Bio. graphical Notice but it goes farther by converting Charlotte from a celebrity into. a legend Miller 2003 3 The Life of Charlotte Bront remakes its subject into a. moral exemplum of Victorian domesticity a dutiful daughter and loving sister who. suffers the deaths of three beloved siblings before finding brief marital happiness in. the arms of the Rev Arthur Bell Nichols That portrait of Charlotte s private life. however left unresolved the problem of her unladylike literary ambition and her. unconventional heroines which Gaskell addresses by dividing her into an author and. a woman two roles that are difficult to be reconciled Gaskell 1975 334 except. through the strategic deployment of the ideology of domesticity By contending that. Charlotte could not hide her gift in a napkin it was meant for the use and service. of others Gaskell 1975 334 Gaskell depicts female authorship as an extension of. a woman s domestic duties This move is a disingenuous one in that Charlotte saw. herself as a suffering Romantic genius not a selfless and self effacing practitioner of. womanly service 1 Nevertheless Gaskell s biography laid to rest the controversy sur. The Work of Women in the Fiction of the Bront s 35. rounding the sisters and immortalized them as a doomed trio and a suffering sister. hood whose story would be retold in countless biographies over the next hundred. and fifty years, The modern era of Bront criticism began in the 1950s when New Criticism. encouraged a return to the novels not to seek out biographical details but to evaluate. them as literary texts Articles appeared exploring among other things the Bront s. literary sources their debt to the eighteenth century Gothic novel their investment. in the Byronic hero and their contributions to the development of the Bildungsro. man Two essays from this period both by Robert Heilman stand out Charlotte. Bront Reason and the Moon 1960 and Charlotte Bront s New Gothic 1958. articulate what have become points of departure for any reading of Charlotte s novels. that they script a conflict between reason judgment common sense and feeling. imagination intuition Heilman 1960 288 and that they use Gothic tropes to. bring new and intense forms of feeling into the English novel It was not until the. 1970s however with the emergence of feminist literary criticism that there was a. resurrection of the transgressive vision of the Bront s the Bront s as Power Dolls. that had largely disappeared after the publication of Gaskell s biography Perhaps. more than any other text Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert s Madwoman in the Attic. 1978 transformed the Bront s into feminist icons In a daring move Gilbert and. Gubar shifted the reader s attention away from the novels romantic plots and rede. fined the works of Charlotte and Emily as narratives of female self making or in the. case of Wuthering Heights unmaking So for example in Madwoman s reading of Jane. Eyre the heroine s central confrontation is no longer with the glowering Rochester. but with her own imprisoned hunger rebellion and rage Gilbert and Gubar. 1979 339 embodied in the figure of Bertha Mason Jane s dark double Gilbert. and Gubar 1979 360 Similarly Gilbert and Gubar s discussion of Wuthering Heights. transforms Emily s text from a story of star crossed lovers into a tale of feminist. metaphysics by taking to heart Cathy s famous cry I am Heathcliff E Bront 1995. 82 Madwoman presents Cathy and Heathcliff as doubles who together form an. authentic androgynous self which is violently fractured as Cathy enters adulthood. a moment signaled in the text by Skulker s disabling bite at Thrushcross Grange In. the wake of Gilbert and Gubar many feminist readings elaborated upon in different. registers the imprisoning patriarchal structures that constitute the Bront universe. The paradigmatic feminist moments became those of escape real and imagined Jane. gazing from the rooftop of Thornfield longing for the busy world towns regions. full of life E Bront 1995 125 the dying Cathy wishing she was on the moors. again half savage and hardy and free E Bront 1995 124 Helen Huntington. declaring I am free and safe at last A Bront 1979 394 when she flees an abusive. The celebration of the Bront s as unproblematic feminist figures began to be ques. tioned by the 1980s when postcolonial critics brought their insights to bear on the. Bront texts Most notably in Three Women s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism. 36 Volume IV Victorian and Twentieth Century Literature 1837 2000. Gayatri Spivak asserted that Jane s heroic individualism hinges upon the death of. Bertha who in Spivak s reading is no mere Gothic dark double but a figure from. Great Britain s violent colonial history who is forced to self immolate for the glori. fication of the social mission of the colonizer Spivak 1985 251 Following Spivak s. seminal intervention a host of postcolonial readings appeared all of which identified. and adjudged the Bront s use of imperial discourses The postcolonial readings of the. novel forcefully situate the Bront s in the context of early Victorian England with. its garden variety racism and its unquestioned assumptions about the civilizing. mission of the British empire and the superiority of the colonizers 2. My reading too locates the Bront s firmly within the cultural and social terrain of. Victorian England While it calls upon the insights of both feminist and postcolonial. critics it focuses squarely upon the issue of women s work It does so because middle. class women in the 1830s and 1840s the decades in which the Bront sisters reached. maturity found themselves negotiating a set of historical circumstances that nar. rowed women s occupational choices In the early decades of the nineteenth century. middle class women who had been active in their families enterprises as well as. working class women who had engaged in craft and agricultural production were. gradually excluded from paid labor as it was increasingly conceptualized as male 3. Women were shuffled off to the sphere of home and family with the expectation that. they would live as dependents on their male relations This new dispensation was. especially troubling for the Bront s who could not rely on their unstable brother or. their aging father to provide for them Necessity drove all three Bront sisters into. governessing one of the few occupations open to the well educated daughters of a. The governess is a resonant Victorian figure one who troubled her contemporaries. and continues to be an object of study and fascination For the Victorians she posed. ideological problems as a lady who worked for a living her status was marked by. incongruity Peterson 1970 9 the nature of her work threatened to collapse the. difference between the public and private spheres Poovey 1988 126 127 and she. embodied widespread anxieties over a working woman s social respectability sexual. morality and financial self reliance Hughes 1993 xiii As a result of the challenges. she created the governess received outsized attention although her situation within. her employer s home differed very little from that of a domestic servant Peterson. 1970 13 In other words the Bront sisters who cycled in and out of governess posi. tions resembled the vast majority of England s working women who were also. relegated to domestic service positions Factory girls seamstresses and prostitutes as. well as governesses may hold center stage in the Victorian novel but the majority of. women in nineteenth century Britain worked as domestic servants 4 Service was the. paradigmatic occupation for Victorian women and the Bront novels are populated. with women who are servants the governesses and housekeepers and those who are. treated like servants the unhappy wives Indeed the insight that all women regard. less of class are servants lies at the heart of the Bront s feminist understanding of. Victorian society About three quarters of the way through Jane Eyre when Jane is. The Work of Women in the Fiction of the Bront s 37. wandering homeless and starving before being rescued by the Rivers siblings she has. the following conversation with a working woman she meets. What was the chief trade in this place What did most of the people do. Some were farm labourers a good deal worked at Mr Oliver s needle factory and at. the foundry,Did Mr Oliver employ women,Nay it was men s work. And what do the women do, I knawn t was the answer Some does one thing and some another Poor folk mun. get on as they can C Bront 1996 366, Jane s informant may not know what do the women do but the Bront sisters had. an answer to Jane s question they serve The Bront s use service and the figure of. the servant to draw attention to the soul destroying narrowness of Victorian women s. lives and to voice their own desire for greater opportunity independence and. self determination,Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey.
Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights were published together in one three volume edition. but even the Victorian reviewers who took note of it found the two tales made for. odd bedfellows While Agnes Grey offers a straightforward subdued account of the. hardships of governessing Wuthering Heights a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic is an. altogether stormier affair Its doublings of plot and characters its unreliable narrators. and indeterminacies and its ghostly apparitions challenge the rationalist assumptions. embedded in Victorian realism It is a text that simultaneously invites and resists. interpretation and has a critical history marked by a certain explanatory incoherence 5. However for all their generic differences Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey are both. tales told by servants whose intimate knowledge of the domestic and affective lives. of the families who employ them leads to a dramatic revelation that the privileged. daughters and wives they serve are less foils than doubles What Nelly Dean the. housekeeper and Agnes Grey the governess disclose in these two novels is not that. the rich are different but that rich girls are not that different from the women who. serve them, It is not surprising that Emily would choose a nursemaid turned housekeeper to. be her primary narrator Just as her sisters drew on their experiences as governesses. in their first novels Emily found inspiration in her role as the parsonage s house. keeper 6 Critics too have connected Emily to Nelly U C Knoepfelmacher usefully. argues that Nelly and the Catherine Heathcliff pairing represent a divided authorial. presence Emily is Nelly the competent woman who manages the household but. also Catherine Heathcliff the Bront least willing to relinquish the childhood fantasy. 38 Volume IV Victorian and Twentieth Century Literature 1837 2000. world Knoepfelmacher 1989 81 Emily divides herself between Nelly and the. lovers in order to balance her faith in a glorious world that is incomparably beyond. and above E Bront 1995 160 with her apprehension that it does not exist after. all Nelly is the novel s ballast its reality principle what keeps Emily s ghost story. grounded in the actual world of turn of the nineteenth century Yorkshire. all male literary club with their barrier breaking feminist vision Both clips get a laugh but they also serve a larger purpose They offer a rudimentary introduction to the interpretative challenges presented by the Bront s are they in Terry Eagleton s memorable phrasing three weird sisters deposited on the Yorkshire moors from some metaphysical outer space Eagleton 1975

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