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The roar the other side of silence : Charlotte Bronte, George Elliot, and the literary consequences of women's passivity.

Lintott, Susan (1983) The roar the other side of silence : Charlotte Bronte, George Elliot, and the literary consequences of women's passivity. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94486) (KAR id:94486)


Inductive readings of Jane Eyre, Shirley, Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda demonstrate how the non-realistic elements of Charlotte Bronte’s and George Eliot's novels complete rather than mar their work. Through heightened language» symbols and motifs, and the mixing of genres, Bronte not only expressed her dissatisfaction with the world; she was also able to remedy it. Eliot's unlikely characters and her visibility in her plots—the improbable coincidences, convenient deaths, and sleights of hand— were Eliot's response to her dissatisfaction with society. In her novels, Bronte expresses rebellion through violating the conventions of realism; she seeks the gratification of her heroines' desires by subverting those conventions. Eliot's devices, on the other hand, generally promote the submission of her heroines to intolerable circumstances. This apparent difference masks a common result: by breaking the realistic surface of their novels, Bronte and Eliot were able to express the whole of their vision.

The introductory chapter places this argument in the critical debate: the readings of these novels dispute the current contention that Eliot should be censured for her advocacy of self-sacrifice and Bronte extolled for undertaking to avenge her female characters. Their difference in vision might partly reflect the fact that Eliot did not begin publishing fiction until after Charlotte Bronte had stopped— Eliot saw the chaos that the angry claim to rights might cause. A brief discussion of Bronte's early published work identifies that aspect of passion which wishes to control and dominate. Not forswearing that passion, Bronte's later work tries to accommodate the violence of human relations, to turn the pain Into a sado-masochistic pleasure. In Eliot's work, by contrast, the plots are more violent than the characters. Eliot will increasingly make her female characters assume responsibility for their angry Impulses. At the same time she works through plot and presentation to exclude those Impulses. The chapter on Jane Eyre focusses on the points at which the realistic novel mutates Into fantasy. If one thinks of Jane Eyre as an unreliable narrator, the inventor of her own story, then these points can be seen to describe much that Is the matter with reality and all that must be done to rectify it. Through books, drawings, charades, dreams, fairy tale, allegory, romance, and a Gothic plot, Jane and Charlotte Bronte gain for Jane all that cannot be acquired through realistic means, and thus take the measure of reality. Celebrations of Jane's achievement in some current criticism not only ignore the destructive implications of Jane's dominance; they also overlook Bronte's achievement, the literary sophistication of her clever weaving of romance and reality.

In Shirley, Bronte endeavours to confine her vision to the life of domestic reality. She renders convincingly women who are denied control of their lives yet nevertheless achieve power in subterranean ways. Bronte again uses non-realistic techniques and improbable events to overcome the problems that cannot be resolved realistically. Yet, more significantly, Bronte demonstrates how women use the opportunities of everyday life to exert control. Her female characters use food and Illness metaphorically; they also speak words that at the same time preserve decorum and assert their wills. Through covert (but understood) means, women are able to counteract the power that men exercise openly. In this way, a balance is effected.

The Issues that Charlotte Bronte has expressed in metaphor George Eliot brings in Middlemarch to the level of plot. Eliot uses her own system of metaphor —that of acting— to seek a distinction between self-display and beneficent activity. Eliot's aim in Middlemarch is the impartiality of the dramatist; by continuously shifting points of view, Eliot practises the countering of egoism that Middlemarch advocates. Its advocacy of self-sacrifice, however, conflicts with its aim of impartiality. Improbable coincidence and sleights of hand ensure that the sacrifice of self has favourable consequences. Middlemarch renders simultaneously both points of view. Even techniques that do not observe the conventions of realism enhance the reality of the book by allowing both argument and counterargument to be read.

Like the structure of Middlemarch, the structure of Daniel Deronda is mimetic: its two halves represent different points of view. One half is a story of psychological realism; the other half is a romance. But just as they are experienced together, the two halves must be understood together. The romantic half of the novel, the Jewish half, obviates the need to press a resolution on the realistic half, and so allows it to avoid violating realistic expectations. The Jewish half allows Eliot to break through the conventions of realism, those happy endings and easy resolutions of difficult problems. It permits Eliot to confront the murderous, anarchic, force of the will.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94486
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Uncontrolled keywords: Literature
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 10 Jul 2023 09:58 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2023 09:59 UTC
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