Tag Archives: Charlotte Bronte

New publication: Brontë Countries – the literary landscapes of Haworth and Brussels

Having posted already about a new Charlotte Brontë publication at the start of July, the month finished with a second: a chapter in this new book, Charlotte Brontë: Legacies and Afterlives, edited by Amber K. Regis and Deborah Wynne and published by Manchester University Press. The book traces Charlotte Brontë’s legacies from the time she was writing to the present day and I’m delighted to have my work included among a fantastic set of contributors.

My chapter, titled “Brontë countries: nation, gender and place in the literary landscapes of Haworth and Brussels”, looks at how these two locations developed distinctly different Brontë afterlives in the 19th century and beyond. Haworth is familiar to many as a key Brontë location, and the Yorkshire landscape of “Brontë country” is central to the enduring cultural myth of the Brontës. Even before Charlotte Brontë’s death in 1855, intrigued readers had begun to visit the Parsonage, and the publication of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë in 1857 instigated a steady stream of visitors that has continued to the present day, generating a significant tourist industry at Haworth.

Brussels also holds an important place in Brontë’s work (as my last article explores, it afforded Brontë new opportunities for urban wandering that shape her novel Villette) and while on a much smaller scale, generations of readers have gone in search of another “Brontë country” to be traced in the city’s streets (as I have too – I blogged a photo-essay of Brontë’s Brussels here, and reflected on “Finding Brontë in Brussels” here).

An unofficial commemorative plaque in the Rue Terarken, Brussels
An unofficial commemorative plaque in the Rue Terarken, Brussels

In this essay for Charlotte Brontë: Legacies and Afterlives I explore the history of literary tourism in Brussels, focusing particularly on late-nineteenth century accounts. I look at how the unofficial and less scripted nature of Brussels literary tourism – tourists typically make their own way through the streets, a copy of Villette in hand serving as guidebook – allows instead for alternative narratives of Charlotte Brontë to plotted into the cityscape, narratives which especially emphasise connections between gender, identity and place. I suggest that at the moment of her bicentenary, these narratives offer an important complement and counterpart to the dominant cultural image of Brontë as she is associated with Haworth and the Yorkshire landscape, and offer new perspectives from which to consider her works and their afterlives.

 

 

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New publication: Walking the City in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, Journal of Victorian Culture

My article “‘A still ecstasy of freedom and enjoyment’: Walking the city in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette” has been published online  in the Journal of Victorian Culture. In this piece, I suggest that Brontë’s writing of women’s city walking makes a significant contribution to the idea of the flâneuse. Through a reading of Brontë’s letters from Belgium and her 1853 novel Villette, I argue that Brontë writes herself and Lucy Snowe into a growing canon of strolling city women, and that she brings a new perspective to the construct of the flâneuse through an embodied articulation of urban city wandering.

I start by looking at the prevalence of travel in Brontë’s letters, locating her within a new wave of women on the move in the mid-nineteenth century. There is a competing tension between the desire for mobility – “such a strong wish for wings” – and the reality of containment within the home, that runs through her letters, and this goes on to shape her fictional writing.* I then turn to her letters from Belgium: the city afforded Brontë new opportunities for “threading the streets”, and she starts to develop an attentiveness to the relationship between body, mobility and space that is developed more substantially in Lucy Snowe’s city encounter in Villette. Here, the thrill of city walking – “a still ecstasy of freedom and enjoyment” – emerges as an acutely embodied experience, and I argue that through this Brontë carves out a new discursive space for her woman walker, shifting from the spectatorship of the flâneur to a more fully sensory experience of the urban environment. This becomes crucial to the strong sense of autonomy and agency that walking affords women; at the same time, Brontë recognises the difficulties of mobility for women, and in the final section I look at how she negotiates this tension through highly embodied accounts of Lucy’s wandering in later sections of Villette.

* I explore this trait in Jane Eyre in my book.

 

Literary Yorkshires workshop, 21 May 2016

 

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I will be speaking next weekend at the Literary Yorkshires workshop, taking place at the University of York on Saturday 21st May 2016. My talk ‘Brontë Countries: The Literary Landscapes of Haworth and Brussels in Charlotte Brontë’s Legacy’ will explore the different ideas that have collected around Haworth and Brussels in Brontë’s legacy, and how Brussels might offer a useful space for re-thinking some of the ideas about Brontë at Haworth.

Finding Brontë in Brussels – reflections on literary tourism

In honour of Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary later this month (21st April), the Brussels Brontë group are running a series of blog posts throughout April. I have contributed a piece on “Finding Brontë in Brussels – reflections on literary tourism” in which I reflect on the trip I made two years ago as I started to research “Brontë’s Brussels” (full photo-essay here). This research will be published later this year in a collection Charlotte Brontė: Legacies and Afterlives (ed. by Amber Regis and Deborah Wynne, Manchester University Press 2016) and in the blog post I look at how the trip helped me to conceptualise some of the ideas in that piece.

I’m also presenting this work twice next month, first at Charlotte Brontë: A Bicentennial Celebration of her Life and Works (13-14 May 2016, Chawton House) and then at a symposium on Literary Yorkshires (more details to follow).

Forthcoming publication: Mobility in the Victorian Novel: Placing the Nation

I’m very pleased to say that my monograph Mobility in the Victorian Novel: Placing the Nation is scheduled for publication with Palgrave Macmillan in September 2015, and a short blurb and contents can now be found on the publishers’ website.

And here’s a quick preview of the various novels discussed in chapter:

Chapter 1: ‘Wandering out into the World’: Walking the Connected Nation

Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop

George Eliot, Adam Bede

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Chapter 2: ‘Flying from the grasp’: Embodying the Railway Journey

Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton

Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret

Chapter 3: ‘It’s all one’? Continental Connections

Charlotte Brontë, The Professor and Villette

Charles Dickens,  Little Dorrit

Chapter 4: ‘The distance is quite imaginary’: Travelling beyond Europe

Charles Dickens,  David Copperfield

Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford

Conclusion: The Mobile Nation of The Moonstone

The Moonstone

“Shirley in context”: Nicholas Shrimpton at the Brussels Brontë group, 29th March 2014

As part of my visit to Brussels I attended the events organised by the Brussels Brontë group, who hold an annual Brontë weekend in March/April. This year the speaker was Dr Nicholas Shrimpton from the University of Oxford, and his subject was Charlotte Brontë’s novel Shirley (1849).

It’s fair to say that this is the least favourite of Charlotte Brontë’s novels, among readers and critics alike, and from the time of its publication to the present day has attracted far less interest than Jane Eyre and Villette. I’m in the minority who find the novel both enjoyable and of academic interest, and having taught Shirley a couple of times on The English Nineteenth-Century Novel I’ve definitely gained a much greater appreciation of it – it’s a pleasure to teach as there is simply so much to say, and the novel is rich with interesting scenes to analyse in light of gender and political debates (it’s also one of the few novels where I find myself wanting to really persuade students of how much they should love it, something I usually try to resist!).

But it has to be said that much of this interest, and indeed the novel’s scope for analysis, comes from its problematic nature in terms of thematic and structural integrity. It this that formed the basis of Nicholas Shrimpton’s talk, in which he assessed the case for and against Shirley, exploring in detail both the novel’s problems and its possibilities. Most interesting was that Shrimpton made the case for Shirley as a ‘panoramic’ novel on a par with Thackeray’s Vanity Fair: we know that Charlotte Brontë greatly admired Thackeray’s work, and Shirley, he argued, is her attempt at undertaking a novel of such scale and scope. Ultimately, it is hugely flawed, but it is also hugely ambitious. Shrimpton really captured that what makes the novel so exciting is the many fractures and disjunctures that occur throughout the text. The text’s handling of the “woman question”, and its eventual ‘failure’ at sustaining proto-feminist arguments, is an apt case in point: while on the one hand, the final marriages of Caroline and Shirley come as a disappointment after the novel’s earlier promise in questioning and challenging gender conventions, at the same time it is here that Brontë most usefully illustrates the strength of such conventions and the need for change – for both the women in the story, and for the woman writer, there simply is no other realistic option but to end with a marriage.

Shrimpton also highlighted other contextual issues that are illuminating on how we read it – he focused particularly on the Luddite/Chartist conflation (or not), and also spoke of Brontë’s worry that the text would be read as too similar to Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, published the year before. It was also interesting, in light of my literary geography excursion that weekend, to hear Shrimpton discuss the idea of ‘Shirley country’ (as distinct from ‘Brontë’ country’) as well as talking about the novel’s continental connections. The talk was an excellent reminder that Shirley deserves more attention as perhaps the most interesting, and certainly illuminating, of Charlotte Brontë’s works.