Studies in 19C Lit (Brontes)

“The Brontes:
Enmeshment and Escape”

This course
focuses on the literature of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, in terms of domestic
enmeshment and imaginative escape. Students will read the major novels, as well
as selections from Emily Bronte’s poetry. 
Excerpts from family correspondence,  journal writing and the Brontes’ juvenalia (childhood writings), which
includes  contributions by their brother Branwell,
will provide a biographical context for our readings of the sisters’ literature,
which—aside from Charlotte’s Jane Eyre—was
not as well-received as their current literary value may suggest.  The context and quality of this discouraging
reception of their work will be considered as possible deterrents to escape
family enmeshment, especially supplemented by their father’s indifference to his
daughters’ adult work, in a household where he held subtle but pervasive
patriarchal sway.

will be encouraged to consider the Brontes’ literary works and assorted autobiographical
documentation in attempting to appropriately historicize the competing
psychological constraints and culturally-condoned (for women) comforts of domestic
enmeshment.  We will look at the early
loss of their mother and the unexpected death of their eldest sister who served
as a mother surrogate as possible prompts to comply with the early 19th
socio-cultural limitations on women’s options in self-determination .

Finally, we
will consider the varieties of “escape” sought by these writers: from Anne’s
efforts to negotiate individuation as a governess (the default “career” of
educated women in her day) and its narrative traces in her novel, Agnes Grey.As for Charlotte and Emily,
whose respective signature works, Jane
and Wuthering Heights, illustrate
what seem to be polarized avenues of liberation, we will consider Charlotte’s efforts
to claim acknowledgment as a woman writer in the public venue, while Emily
pursued  semi-mystical, hermetic retreats
to Nature, which resulted in astounding but relatively ignored poetry in this
Romantic era, and her novel, which is fiercely poetic and still read today as
almost a genre unto itself.

Texts (Available
from Revolution Books)

  • Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (OxfordClassics 2008),

                                          Villette(Oxford Classics 2008)

  • Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights (Oxford Classics
  • Anne Bronte, Agnes Grey (Oxford Classics 2010)

Course Packet/PDF postings on Laulima

  • Emily Bronte, Poetry from
    Janet Gezan’s edition,  Last Things (Oxford 2008)
  • Bronte correspondence and
    journal excerpts
  • Bronte juvenilia excerpts, from Glass Town, Angriaand Gondal
  • Contemporary and present
    criticism (selected)

Evaluation (with
assignment percentages toward Semester Grade)

  • Two 5-page essays on the novels
    and/or poetry and course topic (35% avg.)
  • Group Oral Reports on selected
    course packet materials (15%)
  • One 10-12 page Research
    Paper on theme related to course topic (20% )
  • Take-home Final Exam (short-essay
    format directed analyses) (20%)
  • Participation (10%) and
    Attendance (absence penalties announced in syllabus)