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Vestiges 3: Patrick Brontë
by Adam Crothers
PN Review 212, Volume 39 Number 6, July - August 2013.
While his title threatens quaintness, Patrick Brontë expresses at the opening of The Cottage in the Wood (1815) his determination not to patronise the rural poor. He scorns the 'sensual novelist' who portrays palaces as 'the certain abodes of misery' and cottages as 'the never-failing sources of happiness'; such notions are rooted in material wealth, ultimately immaterial to the question of one's soul.
But well-worn fictions are apparently useful: having railed against the clichés of the noble poor and the corrupt rich, Brontë writes of William Bower - the drunken, licentious and rich atheist pictured here in the 1818 edition's frontispiece - ultimately finding God and happiness via Mary, the strong-willed and 'interesting' daughter of the Cottage's Christian household. (This, sweetly, from an author whose daughters could not be called uninteresting.) Bower's religious awakening - his conversion from an opportunist of the boudoir (bower) to a humbled (bowed) addition to the Cottage (bower) family - comes when he loses his money, and while he and Mary are financially secure when married, the suggestion remains that one must find happiness in poverty in order to possess it when rich.
Networked Manufacture in Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley
Peter J. Capuano
Volume 55, Number 2, Winter 2013
This paper confronts many years of displacement-based readings of Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley (1849) with a historicized “surface reading” that connects the manual labor of two very distinct constituencies in the novel: hardened Luddite machine breakers and dispossessed middle-class women. A surface-level line of inquiry into manufactured objects reveals an inverted network from the mill to the parlor; the redundancy of human hands caused by mechanization in the mill is concurrent with a surplus of female handiwork in the novel’s middle-class homes. I argue that this inversion makes sense if we situate the novel in its 1811–12 setting—the unique historical moment when the term “manufacture” began to accrue paradoxically opposed meanings. Brontë’s oscillation between mechanized and manual forms of manufacture in Shirley marks the early boundaries of what would eventually become the rigidly defined separate spheres of mid-century Victorian life.