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Realism and ritual in the rhetoric of fiction: anti-theatricality and anti-catholicism in Brontë, Newman and Dickens
Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfilment of the requirements of Doctor of Philosophy, Johannesburg, 2016.
This thesis is concerned with the meeting point between theatre and religion in the mid-Victorian consciousness, and the paradoxial responses that this engendered particularly in the novels and thought of Dickens, Newman and Charlotte Brontë. It contributes to the still growing body of critical literature that attempts to tease out the complex religious influences on Dickens and Brontë and how this manifests in their fiction. Newman is a religious writer whose fictional treatment of spiritual questions in Callista (1859) is used as a foil to the two novelists. There are two dimensions to this study: on the one hand it is concerned with the broader cultural anti-Catholic mood of the period under consideration and the various ways in which this connects with anti-theatricality. I argue that in the search for a legitimate means of expressing religious sentiments, writers react paradoxically to the latent possibilities of the conventions of religious ceremony, which is felt to be artificial, mystical, transcendent and threatening, inspiring the same contradictory responses as the theatre itself. The second dimension of this study is concerned with the way in which these sentiments manifest themselves stylistically in the novels under consideration: through a close reading of Barnaby Rudge (1841), Pictures From Italy (1846), and Villette (1852), I argue that in the interstices of a wariness of Catholicism and theatricality there is a heightening of language, which takes on a ritual dimension evoking the paradoxical suggestions of transcendent meaning and artificiality associated with performance. Newman’s Callista (1859) acts as a counterpoint to these novels, enacting a more direct and persuasive argument for the spiritual value of ritual. This throws some light on the realist impulse in the fiction of Brontë and Dickens, which can be thought of as a struggle between a language that seeks to distance and explain, and a language that seeks to perform, involve, and inspire. In my discussion of Barnaby Rudge (1841) I argue that the ritual patterns in the narrative, still hauntingly reminiscent of a religious past, never become fully embodied. This is because the novel is written in a style that could be dubbed “melodramatic” because it both gestures towards transcendent presences and patterns and threatens to make nonsense of the spiritual echoes that it invokes. This sense of a gesture deferred is also present in the travelogue, Pictures from Italy (1846). Here I argue that Dickens struggles to maintain an objective journalistic voice in relation to a sacramental culture that is defined by an intrusive theatricality: he experiences Catholic practices and symbolism as simultaneously vital, chaotic and elusive, impossible to define or to dismiss. In Villette (1852) I suggest that Charlotte Brontë presents a disjuncture between Lucy’s ardour and the commonplace bourgeoisie world that she inhabits. This has the paradoxical effect of revitalising the images of the Catholic religion, which, despite Lucy’s antipathy, achieves a ghostly presence in the novel. In Callista (1859), I suggest that Newman concerns himself with the ritual possibilities and limitations of fiction, poetry and theatre. These dramatic and literary categories invoke and are ultimately subsumed in Christian ritual, which Newman considers the most refined form of language – the point at which detached description gives way to communion and participation.
Breaking with Victorian Tradition: A Compare and Contrast Between Jane Eyre and Aurora Floyd
Radboud University, Netherlands, 2015
Despite many changes in the Victorian period, not much changed for women and their positions in society. “The Angel in the House” by Coventry Patmore was seen as the Victorian feminine ideal that women should embody. This thesis aims to show how women writers such as Charlotte Brontë and Mary Elizabeth Braddon placed criticism on the patriarchal society and gender roles of men and women. It will explore the novels Jane Eyre and Aurora Floyd and show how the authors used their protagonists and their relationships to invert the patriarchal society in their novels. This thesis concludes that Charlotte Brontë and Mary Elizabeth Braddon showed society that a woman could be independent and strong and did not have to embody the Victorian feminine idea in order to have a happy marriage and succeed in life.
Cordial treatments : the medical plot in novels by Jane Austen and the Brontës
Turner, Joanna Leigh
The University of Texas at Austin, 2016
The word “cordial” in this dissertation’s title represents its concerns with both emotional and biomedical matters in nineteenth-century England. The dissertation focuses on what it calls the “medical plot”: whereas critics such as Tony Tanner and Nancy Armstrong have argued that marriage and its literary representation structure the English novel of manners, this dissertation argues that medicine and medical discourse likewise shaped the ways authors represented social, personal, and literary “conditions.” It thus evaluates the complementary influence of marriage and medical plots in novels by Jane Austen and by Anne, Charlotte, and Emily Brontë, historicizing medical treatment to show that concerns about health and illness permeated social, legal, and literary discourse and that these concerns were manifested by Austen and the Brontës when they fashioned novels as a figurative mode of “treatment.” Chapter One surveys the apothecary figures in Austen’s works, showing that her novels are as much novels of medicine as they are novels of manners. Chapter Two examines Austen’s “cordial” treatment of disability in her fiction in relation to an account of her family’s disabled members and a historical survey of disabled veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. Chapter Three shows how marriage and medicine work in tandem to influence narrative at mid-century, by tracing socio-medical attitudes toward cordials as they inform the prescient treatment of alcohol addiction in Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). An Epilogue then gestures toward future critical work on the Brontës and cordial treatments by considering “influence” in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), and sickness more broadly in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847). Illuminated by the study of the medical plot, these novels of cordiality and courtship prove to also be novels of cordials and cures. Early nineteenth-century experimental cordials reflect scientific and personal uncertainty about medical treatment, and the medical plot’s emotional and medical cordials offer alternatives to critical demands that novels prescribe “cures” for the social ills they portray. Austen and the Brontës’ show that while novelistic “cures” are elusive, literary cordials offer palliative comfort to treat medical and social illness.