Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(7) Crossroads of Romanticism and Realism as Pictured in Novels by Nineteenth Century Women Writers.

(The Brontës, G. Eliot, and E. Gaskell).


T h e  V i c t o r i a n  P e r i o d  (1830 - 1901)

[See "Background for Topics 6-11..."]

C h a r l o t t e  B r o n t ë  ( 1 8 1 6 – 5 5 )

L i f e :

- daughter of a clergyman; also a younger sister of Branwell B. (1817 – 48), and an elder sister of Emily B. and Anne B.

- attended a school for the daughters of poor clergy, her 2 elder sisters died here of harsh and unhealthful conditions [see her Jane Eyre (1847)] > educated at home by discussing poetry, history, and politics

- all the 3 sister writers Charlotte, Emily, and Anne led a solitary life in a relative seclusion x but: possessed an informed view of the wider world

W o r k :

< admired William Makepeace Thackeray = the ‘social regenerator’, and his novels = social statements: dedicated him the 2nd ed. of her Jane Eyre

The Professor (1846):

< worked as a pupil-teacher in the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels

- filters her own alien experience of Brussels through the reminiscence of a M narrator

- turns away from the ‘ornamented and redundant’ of the early sagas in collaboration with her brother Branwell x to the ‘plain and homely’

Jane Eyre: An Autobiography (1847):

- argues for independence and passionate commitment, apologises explosions of wrath, misery, and despair

x but: praises the virtues of sexual and marital interdependence, self-discipline, submission, and Christian resolution

- the eponymous character and protagonist = an unloved and unjustly persecuted child suffering with her sense of sexual, relig., and familial injustice: ‘Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel…’ = women suffer from restraint and stagnation the same as men would

- J. seeks a worthy partner to respect her, follows her conscience, and rejects both the adulterous and bigamous Rochester and the missionary St John Rivers

- concl.: reunited with the widowed and maimed Rochester

=> the co-existence of alternative duties and vocations: J. follows her free will and the due exercise of a God-given conscience, and finds a secular happiness to be her means of salvation

Shirley (1849):

= a ‘Condition of England’ novel

- conc.: the machine-breaking in the industrial North

Villette (1853):

< reshapes some of the material of her The Professor

- conc.: restrictions on women’s choice and women’s employment

- the protagonist = Lucy Snowe, an E Protestant isolated in the unlovely urban Belgian setting

- asserts her separateness and the superiority of her own personal, moral, and professional sensibility

- encounters a growing love and the hope for emotional happiness and professional achievement

x but: concl. = an Atlantic storm and an uncertainty of the fulfilment of her love

E m i l y  B r o n t ë  ( 1 8 1 8 – 4 8 )

L i f e :

[see also: Charlotte B.]

- spent most of her life in a parsonage on the wild Yorkshire moors: reclusive and reserved

W o r k :

- Branwell and Charlotte’s childhood series of book-length manuscripts about the fantasy kingdom Angria < the elaborate stories, orig. acted out as plays, inspired by Branwell’s box of wooden soldiers

- Emily and Anne’s later separate series about the imaginary island Gondal

< oriental and Gothic extravaganzas together with contemp. political realities and personalities

P o e t r y :

(a) the Gondal saga poems:

- conc.: political intrigue, passionate love, rebellion, war, imprisonment, and exile

> “Remembrance”, “The Prisoner”, & oth.

(b) personal lyrics:

- conc.: freedom, death, and landscape

sought to break through the constrictions of ordinary life by the power of imagination or by death to transcendent the mortal life, and discover a fuller, freer world of spirit (<=> Catherine and Heathcliff’s love and self-identification with each oth. in Wuthering Heights [1847])

- a visionary world <=> the Romantic poets, esp. G. G. Byron and P. B. Shelley x but: her hymn-like stanzas of a distinctive haunting quality

- an acute, passionate attachment to place (<=> Catherine’s self-identification with the rocks and the moorland)

> “Shall earth no more inspire thee”, insists on the inspiring beauty of wild landscape

> “No coward soul is mine”, the pantheistic landscape both physical and visionary

Poems, by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846):

- Currer, Ellis, and Acton = genderless pseudonyms for Charlotte, Emily, and Anne B.

> sold only 2 copies x but: inspired each of them to write a novel

F i c t i o n :

Wuthering Heights (1847):

= a conventional Gothic novel x but: in an unconventional, diverse, and multi-layered narrative shape

- an extraordinary narrative complexity: shifts times and perceptions, incl. the POV of 2 major and 5 minor characters

- the prime narrator = Lockwood, the alternative narrator = Nelly Dean

- Nelly shifts her loyalties and emotional alliances: Catherine: ‘My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath… Nelly, I am Heathcliff…’ x Nelly: ‘I was out of patience with her folly.’

- juxtaposes the Trushcross Grange x the Wuthering Heights, the passive gentility of the Lintons x the restless energy of Heathcliff, the complacency of insiders x the intrusions of outsiders, and: freedom x restraint, and love x pain

- the seeming randomness of events and associations and the arbitrariness of what and how the reader learns fall into their proper places only during the reading

- the nature and phenomena within and beyond nature remain ‘wuthering’ and turbulent till the last: concl. = ‘phantoms’ of Heathcliff and a woman reported to have been seen

A n n e  B r o n t ë  ( 1 8 2 0 – 4 9 )

[see also: Charlotte B.]

> in the shadow of the work of her sisters Emily B. and Charlotte B.

Agnes Grey (1847):

- conc.: restrictions of middle-class women on the only respectable form of paid employment

- the governess narrator endures a loss of status, humiliation, snobbery, and insult x but: retains a calm sense of her own moral justification

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848):

- conc.: a drastically unhappy marriage and the woman’s escape

< the graphic and ‘coarse and disgusting’ description of the alcoholic brutality based on the language and behaviour of her brother Branwell B.

G e o r g e  E l i o t  ( 1 8 1 9 – 8 0 )

L i f e :

- b. Mary Ann Evans; adopted a masculine pseudonym to publicly distinguish btw the highly moral narrator x the relig. sceptic, adulteress [lover of the married George Henry Lewes (1817 – 78), a philos. and lit. critic], and outcast

- largely self-educated: studied relig. history (esp. the Ger. ‘Higher Criticism’ [= a scientific attitude applied twd a study of the Bible]), ancient classics, philos., modern science, sociology and politics

< her chapter epigraphs, narratorial reflections, and: arguments of her novels

W o r k :

- avoided outspokenness on faith, feminism, and sexual morality

- employed the patient and generally tolerant narrative voice of gradual evolution

- demanded an intellectual, emotional, and: moral response from the reader

Adam Bede (1859):

- set in a rural working community in the recent past = free of the confusions and contradictions of the industrial and urban present

- advocates the values of an old-fashioned and stratified En. for the society potentially divided by war and industrialisation x but: held together by relig. and class-interdependence

- introd. a new kind of heroism = a heroic uprightness emerging from the condition of ordinary country life x but: does not escape into a rural idyll

> enjoyed by Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901, reign 1837 – 1901)

The Mill on the Floss (1860):

- conc.: the provincial E society = reinforces family values x but: stifles bids for personal liberation

- the protagonist = Maggie Tulliver, becomes disoriented when the stable world around her begins to shatter

- concl.: a catastrophe literally overwhelms her

Silas Marner (1861):

= a more schematised and optimistic moral fable

x but: explores a series of ethical, social, and spiritual dilemmas

Romola (1863):

= a historical novel, set in the Renaissance Florence

- the eponymous character and protagonist: the only feminist protagonist, rejects the narrow obligations of the Church and State = the framework of lost Renaissance values

Felix Holt, the Radical (1866):

= a political novel, set in the period of the 1st Reform Bill [1832, franchise for all M owning property ₤10 or more in annual rent, i.e. middle class]

- conc.: a pop. agitation in an E country town

- explores the conservative fears for the Constitution x limited changes brought by the Reform Bill

Middlemarch (1871 – 72):

= a carefully wrought novel, set in the period of the 1st Reform Bill

- interweaves a web of individual destinies, contrasts public x private history, and juxtaposes the historic burden of Rome x the modern history of an E town

- aspires an epic resonance: the Prelude conc. with the 16th c. St Theresa (= Teresa of Ávila, 1515 – 82, a major figure of the Cath. Reformation in Spain) x the fictional protagonist Dorothea Brooke

- both aspire to serve and to reform x but: D. lacks ‘coherent social faith and order’ = women silenced by social conditioning

=> D.’s historical impact = nameless and not-remembered ‘unhistoric acts’ x but: contrib. to ‘the growing good of the world’

Daniel Deronda (1876):

= an Anglo-Jewish novel, her most cosmopolitan

- set in a cultivated Eur. world of artists

- contrasts the sensibilities of limited E aristocracy x intense Jewish outsiders

- concl.: the F protagonist realises the inevitable progress into an uncertain future to destabilise the destinies of human beings

E l i z a b e t h  G a s k e l l  ( 1 8 1 0 – 6 5 )

- best known for her industrial Manchester novels

- M. = the urban phenomenon of the age:

(+) commercial success of manufacture, pioneering of the factory system, use of huge amounts of human and physical energy

(−) human problems of rapid industrialisation, divisions of class, hard labour, low quality of life

<=> Friedrich Engels (1820 – 95, [co-author of The Communist Manifesto (1848), author of The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 and Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884)]), the expatriate Ger. industrialist and M.’s most celebrated critic

Mary Barton (1848):

= a ‘Tale of Manchester Life’

- conc.: the industrial conflict, strikes and lock-outs, low wages, enforced unemployment, and the consequentially growing class-consciousness, incl. the Chartists agitation [Chartism = a movement for social and political reform in the UK, the name from the People’s Charter (1838), setting out the main aims]

- detailed observation of contrasting ways of living, working, and perceiving x the ignorance of both the readers and characters of conditions in M.’s slums

< the title-page quotes T. Carlyle and the opening half-echoes his Past and Present

North and South (1854 – 55):

= her 2nd M. novel, politically optimistic

- the protagonist = Margaret Hale, her only F protagonist to achieve active mastery over her situation

- shocked by the market economy: ‘as if commerce were everything and humanity nothing’ x but: impressed by a dinner debate of M. men

- contrasts the snobberies, chivalries, and artificiality of the country gentry of the South x the anti-gentlemanly self-made manufacturers of the North

=> the independence and pride of industrial workers despite the appalling working and living conditions x the subservience, acquiescence, and superstition of the rural poor

Cranford (1851 – 53): the protagonist: a woman of social status x but: her moral standing based on respect within the limited community of a country town

Ruth (1853): the protagonist: an unmarried mother, required to a redemptive self-sacrifice to win back respect from society

Sylvia’s Lovers (1863), (2) Wives and Daughters (1864 – 66):

= her finest novels

- conc.: the growth of contrasted F protagonists

(1) Sylvia Robson = a farmer’s daughter, barely educated, self-willed, passionate, and divided btw resolution x equally heady irresolution: her marriage proves a disaster

- set in the Napoleonic Wars

- motif of the disappearance of a lover kidnapped by a gang enforcing recruitment into the Navy: violence of war x romantically dangerous draw of the sea

- a sympathetic treatment of humble people, employment of northern speech and local detailing < indebted to W. Scott’s ‘Waverley novels’

(2) Molly Gibson = a respected widowed doctor’s daughter, experiences a series of domestic crises and grows to maturity: her marriage proves a meeting of equals

= a series of interwoven stories, a psychological study of a household and its social connections


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Other Sources

Jelínková, Ema. Semináře: Britská literatura 1. ZS 2004/05.


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