Charlotte Brontë May Have Started the Fire, But Jean Rhys Burned Down the House

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2016-05-16 18:49Z by Steven

Charlotte Brontë May Have Started the Fire, But Jean Rhys Burned Down the House

Literary Hub

Bridget Read
Brooklyn, New York

Wide Sargasso Sea and The Limits of Bronte Feminism

In November of last year, Tin House published the text of a speech given by the author Claire Vaye Watkins, in which she spoke frankly of the various intersecting systems of privilege that affect the publishing world. Her main focus was the industry’s domination by men, their tastes and their interests, which even writers who are not men keep in mind when working toward literary success. The rousing essay ended with this call to arms: “Let us burn this motherfucking system to the ground and build something better.”

I thought of this speech this week, on the 200th anniversary of a famous literary house fire otherwise known as Jane EyreCharlotte Brontë’s novel about the eponymous “poor, obscure, plain and little” governess who quietly triumphs over several archetypal gothic adversaries: poverty, cruelty, a castle, a ghost, a brooding Byronic lover. Jane Eyre endures because it’s the story of an underdog, surely, as is the story of the author herself. Diminutive Charlotte and her sisters published their novels from their home in the Yorkshire moors, first under male pen names before being welcomed into important literary circles as women writers. Of Brontë, whose heroine notoriously requires the gruff, hot Mr. Rochester to regard her as a true partner before she will wed him, “equal—as we are,” Matthew Arnold complained in 1853: “The writer’s mind contains nothing but hunger, rebellion and rage, and therefore that is all she can, in fact, put in her book.” This, of course, is an excellent blurb for a novel in 2016, and cause to study Jane Eyre as a proto-feminist text….

There are other reasons that cultural objects get to hang around for multiple centennials, however, and rarely can a book’s radicalism alone account for its longevity in popular imagination. You might consider how Jane Eyre, not unlike the work of another famous but non-fictional Jane, in addition to being groundbreaking, is very safe. Jane E. might at first deny the hands of Rochester and her cousin St. John Rivers because they want to control her, but she does get married, eventually, all while maintaining her quiet dignity, her resilience, and her piety—meaning that her self-actualization is still in the service of morality, a Christian, patriarchal one. It is important to remember who exactly burns down the house in Jane Eyre, because it isn’t Jane. The arsonist of the novel is Bertha, Rochester’s shut-in wife, the infamous woman in the attic, and if a radical core can be found in Brontë’s work, it’s with her. Which is to say that the novel’s real potential for systemic annihilation is not the novel itself, and brings me to another anniversary, a 50th birthday, of Jean Rhys’s prequel to Jane Eyre: Wide Sargasso Sea, published in 1966…

Read the entire article here.

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Creole Crossings: Domestic Fiction and the Reform of Colonial Slavery

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2009-11-13 04:47Z by Steven

Creole Crossings: Domestic Fiction and the Reform of Colonial Slavery

Cornell University Press
254 pages, 6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-8014-4384-8 

Carolyn Vellenga Berman
Department of Humanities
The New School, New York

The character of the Creole woman—the descendant of settlers or slaves brought up on the colonial frontier—is a familiar one in nineteenth-century French, British, and American literature. In Creole Crossings, Carolyn Vellenga Berman examines the use of this recurring figure in such canonical novels as Jane Eyre, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Indiana, as well as in the antislavery discourse of the period. “Creole” in its etymological sense means “brought up domestically,” and Berman shows how the campaign to reform slavery in the colonies converged with literary depictions of family life.

Illuminating a literary genealogy that crosses political, familial, and linguistic lines, Creole Crossings reveals how racial, sexual, and moral boundaries continually shifted as the century’s writers reflected on the realities of slavery, empire, and the home front. Berman offers compelling readings of the “domestic fiction” of Honoré de Balzac, Charlotte Brontë, Maria Edgeworth, Harriet Jacobs, George Sand, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others, alongside travel narratives, parliamentary reports, medical texts, journalism, and encyclopedias. Focusing on a neglected social classification in both fiction and nonfiction, Creole Crossings establishes the crucial importance of the Creole character as a marker of sexual norms and national belonging.

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