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The Afflicted Imagination’: Nostalgia and Homesickness in the Writing of Emily Brontë
by James Thomas Quinnell
Doctoral thesis, Durham University, 2016
This thesis discusses homesickness and nostalgia as conditions that ‘afflict’ to productive ends the writing of Emily Brontë. Homesickness and nostalgia are situated as impelling both Brontë’s poetry and Wuthering Heights. To elucidate these states, close attention is paid to Emily Brontë’s poetry as well as Wuthering Heights, in the belief that the poetry repays detailed examination of a kind it rarely receives (even fine work by critics such as Janet Gezari tend not to scrutinise the poetry as attentively as it deserves) and that the novel benefits from being related to the poetry. Building on the work of Irene Tayler and others, this thesis views Brontë as a post-Romantic, and particularly post-Wordsworthian, poet. Much of her writing is presented as engaging in dialogue with the concerns in Wordsworth’s poetry, especially his ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’; her poetry and prose eschew Wordsworth’s ‘simple creed’ and explore ‘obstinate questionings’. In so doing, they follow his own lead; Brontë brings out how complex the Romantics are.
Chapter one focuses on the idea of restlessness as stirring a search for home. Chapters two and three, on Catholicism and Irishness respectively reflect on ways in which Emily Brontë used contemporary national debates in exploring imaginatively states of homesickness and nostalgia. The conceiving of another time and place to find a home in these chapters is developed in chapter four. This chapter considers Brontë’s internalisation of a home in her imaginative world of Gondal and argues for Gondal’s relevance. An imaginative home formed in childhood leads into chapter five which discusses Emily Brontë’s presentation of childhood; the chapter contends that Brontë imagines the child as lost and homesick, and rejects any ‘simple creed’ of childhood. Chapter six, which starts with the abandoned child in Wuthering Heights, focuses on the the novel as stirring a longing for home. The inability to find home, and particularly the rejection of heaven as a home, leads into a discussion of the ghostly as an expression of homesickness in the final chapter.