Wasted Space: The Suffering Female Body in the Works of Emily and Charlotte Brontë

Author: Sarah Pearce

Pearce, Sarah, 2018 Wasted Space: The Suffering Female Body in the Works of Emily and Charlotte Brontë, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis presents an analysis of the suffering female body in Jane Eyre (1847) and Villette (1853) by Charlotte Brontë and Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Brontë. In so doing, I uncover those aspects of female subjectivity, both in the Victorian era, and more broadly throughout history, that are written on the suffering bodies of the protagonists. Both authors use the Gothic, particularly Gothic space, to explore experiences of imprisonment, oppression and intrusion, demonstrating the myriad ways in which the Victorian world affects and imposes upon the female literary body, causing it to suffer. The suffering female body is shown to be an acquiescent body, which manifests as the result of normative Victorian social and literary gender formations. Conversely, the pathological behaviours and suffering bodies exhibited by the protagonists may also be viewed as forms of nonconformity or rebellion: the female body is shown to be a disruptive and eruptive force, capable of deviant communication and outright rebellion. Finally, I look to genre in order to understand the possibilities imagined for female corporeality by Emily and Charlotte Brontë. Though each author gestures simultaneously toward both conformity to and subversion of Victorian discourse and ideology, I suggest that it is in their relationship with the Gothic and realist modes that Emily and Charlotte Brontë are most subversive and innovative. Through illustrating the omnipresence of the Gothic and the constant pushing back of the Gothic mode against the realist text, they demonstrate the way in which realism is not spacious enough for female Victorian writers, or for female bodies.

Keywords: Brontë, embodiment, illness, eating suffering, Gothic, realism, femininity

Subject: Humanities thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Associate Professor Giselle Bastin