Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women's Fiction

By Susan Meyer | Go to book overview

1
"Black" Rage and White Women: Charlotte Brontë's African Tales

Despite a spate of recent criticism considering Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre in the context of British imperialism, to some readers this history perhaps seems remote from the concerns of the novel. Yet it is not difficult to demonstrate that Brontë was actively engaged, both intellectually and imaginatively, with issues of racial conflict and imperialist history. Both preoccupations are very evident in Brontë's massive, and almost entirely neglected, body of juvenile writings.1 Charlotte Brontë's earliest writings indeed reveal that this young author found her first immense narrative energy precisely through British imperialism. The same is true as well of the other three young Brontës -- Emily, Anne, and Branwell -- with whom Charlotte collaborated in the imaginary games on which these juvenile writings were based. Some of Charlotte Brontë's juvenile tales also use race relations metaphorically to represent gender conflicts, and these texts demonstrate, to a certain extent, an ideological shift. In her middle and later juvenile writings Brontë moves from an unambiguous celebration of imperialist conquest to a growing affirmation of various forms of rebellion against authoritarian control. Her juvenile writings are thus unusual and valuable, both in showing a young female writer becoming conscious of her gender position and its limitations, and in revealing how the metaphorical use of race modifies the initial alignment of her political sympathies.

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1
For other treatments of the subject of imperialism in Charlotte Brontë's juvenilia see my "'Black' Rage and White Women: Ideological Self-Formation in Charlotte Brontë's African Tales", South Central Review 8:4 ( Winter 1991), 28-40 (an earlier version of this chapter), and Firdous Azim, The Colonial Rise of the Novel ( New York: Routledge, 1993), 109-46.

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