Charlotte Brontë and Defensive Conduct: The Author and the Body at Risk

Charlotte Brontë and Defensive Conduct: The Author and the Body at Risk

Charlotte Brontë and Defensive Conduct: The Author and the Body at Risk

Charlotte Brontë and Defensive Conduct: The Author and the Body at Risk

Synopsis

"In both her life and her art, Charlotte Bronte was alive to the difficulty of responding to attacks that are denied or under-acknowledged, so that any defense risks seeming defensive in our modern sense of the word: too quick to take offense or covertly aggressive. For some, Bronte's novels are deformed by hunger, rebellion, and rage; for others, they are deformed by the repression of these feelings. Both views ignore hunger, rebellion, and rage as powerful resources for Bronte's art rather than as personal difficulties to be surmounted or even deplored. Janet Gezari reassesses Charlotte Bronte's achievement by showing the ways in which an embodied defensiveness is central to both the novels and their author's life. She argues that Bronte's novels explore the complex relations between accommodation and resistance in the lives of those who find themselves - largely for reasons of class and gender - on the defensive. Gezari rehabilitates the concept of defensiveness by suggesting that there are circumstances in which defensive conduct is both appropriate and creditable. The emphasis on a different kind of bodily experience in each novel identifies Bronte's specific social concerns in the text, and the kinds of self-defenses at issue in it. This book arrives in the wake of renewed critical interest in Charlotte Bronte, especially on the part of feminist critics. They have substantially revised our understanding of Jane Eyre and Villette, but there have been few studies of The Professor and Shirley, and few book-length studies of Charlotte Bronte's work as a whole. Although Gezari's book is not a biography, she also seeks to revise our sense of Bronte's life by turning attention from its familiar romantic circumstances - the bleakness of the Yorkshire moors and unrequited love - to its less familiar practical circumstances - her struggles as a woman of a certain class and a publishing author. They reveal a woman more embattled, contentious, and resilient, though no less passionate, than the more familiar trembling soul." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The date is 1824, and the six motherless Brontë children, ranging in age from four to ten, have already learned to people their lonely world by studying the magazines and newspapers that come to the Parsonage. Their father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë, thinking his children know more than he has yet discovered they know, suggests a game "to make them speak with less timidity." Each is given a mask and told to "stand and speak boldly" from under its cover. First, he asks Anne, age four, what a child like her most wants. "Age and experience," she intones. It is impossible to say whether she has apprehended the ambiguity of her father's word "wants," which can mean both "desires" and "lacks." Next he asks Emily, nearly six, what to do with her brother, who is sometimes naughty. "Reason with him, and when he won't listen to reason, whip him." Seven- year-old Branwell has an equally ready response to the question of how to know the difference between the intellects of men and women: "By considering the difference between them as to their bodies." "What is the best book in the world?" "The Bible," answers eight-year-old Charlotte. "And the next best?" "The Book of Nature." "What is the best mode of education for a woman?" "That which would make her rule her house well," says nine-year-old Elizabeth. Maria, age ten, has the last word. "What is the best mode of spending time?" "By laying it out in preparation for a happy eternity."

These are brilliantly dull answers, especially because the novels of Charlotte and Emily Brontë, the two most talented of the four who survived into adulthood, challenge the assumptions on which they are based. What is remarkable about the episode, apart from Patrick Brontë's pride in reporting it to E. C. Gaskell, Charlotte Brontë's first biographer, is its evidence of how well his children had already learned to arm themselves for and against adulthood. The mask, a device intended to release the originality of their fledgling spirits, reveals instead the very conditions of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.