Study of Noses, pencil drawing. - Charlotte Brontë (1816–1855), Study of Noses, pencil drawing, ca. February 1831. Brontë Parsonage Museum.
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The Turban as Metonymy: Reading Orientalism in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette
Volume 77, Number 2, July 2015
Students frequently cannot interpret texts because they cannot see the stultifying cultural preconceptions they bring with them, nor can they easily perceive how their own biases, mutatis mutandis, match up with those of the writers they must confront in the reading process. This problem is particularly true for students grappling with British Victorian novels, whose at-times windy rhetoric must be endured, sifted, digested, and recontextualized, without which they can never hope to appreciate the critical incisiveness of Charles Dickens, the witty dialogue of Elizabeth Gaskell, the astuteness of Benjamin Disraeli, the self-indulgent Gothic humor of Wilkie Collins, or the overpowering technical mastery of George Eliot. Add to this problem our world of instant communication, and we teachers have a real challenge on our hands.
Stripping away preconceptions about cultural others is an apt exercise for students because Victorian writers incorporate many of the same stereotypes that students will not only recognize, but that the students themselves actually “know” and embrace in their own beliefs. Sometimes intentionally, often not, Victorians make us of figural tropes that, if properly read and explained, become not only the gateways for productively interpreting the longish works of the period students are asked to read, but they become as well the mirrors through which they perceive their own cultural biases. This essay centers on one type of cultural prejudice, namely, that circumscribed by Orientalism, and I focus the discussion on the many Orientalist signatures that Charlotte Brontë embeds in her novel Villette, her last published work and the one where an understanding of Orientalism becomes essential in interpreting what is an astonishingly well-written novel, but not one frequently used in classrooms because of its dense prose, pervasive use of French, trenchant critique of Catholicism, and Gothicized strangeness that hovers over the narrative. (...)
The World Within: A Novel of Emily Brontë by Jane Eagland (review)Karen Coats
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Volume 68, Number 9, May 2015