Repressive personae: authorial positions and fictional poses in the writing of Christina Rossetti and Charlotte Brontë

Rennert, Laura Joy, Department of English, University of Virginia
Chase, Karen, Department of English, University of Virginia
Booth, Alison, Department of English, University of Virginia
Schutte, Anne, Department of History, University of Virginia

The tendency to group authors by genre has caused critics to overlook the surprising similarities in Christina Rossetti's and Charlotte Brontë's authorial self-image, in their narrative strategies, and in their representation and gendering of religious impulse. Though they write predominantly in different genres, Rossetti and Brontë cultivate a public persona and authorial image that is strikingly similar to the repressive personae in their works; Rossetti's contemporaries hailed her as the "Mariana of Albany Street" and Brontë's peers thought of her as the plain, little governess. Through this persona of repression, each woman creates a cover for the subversive elements of her work and a blind for her literary ambitions.

Modern critics have reflexively assumed that the repressive pose each woman adopts in her writing and public life is artistically diminishing or limiting, and this discomfort with the ideologies of Rossetti's and Brontë's art has prevented us from properly assessing the aesthetic and historical significance of both writers. I argue that Rossetti and Brontë are important figures of the nineteenth-century because they renegotiate the place of the feminine in sage discourse. In their writing, both women engage with or situate themselves within the Augustinian, the Romantic, and the Judeo-Christian tradition of prophetic writing, while Rossetti also situates her work within the Dantean tradition of literary prophecy. At the same time that they use these male religious and literary models for their writing, however, Rossetti and Brontë attempt to counteract the gender hierarchy embedded in such traditions.

I examine the different strategies Rossetti and Brontë evolve for dealing with the conflict between literary/prophetic authority and the confining Victorian idea of the "feminine" and for dealing with the incompatibility, for the female writer, of the available sacred and literary models for such discourse. By devising ways in which reserve, passivity, immobility, and withdrawal can be employed aggressively, Abstract iii Rossetti and Brontë expose and dismantle the limiting roles women occupy in traditional poetic or novelistic discourse, and establish new possibilities not only of voice but also of relationship within female communities, as well as between a female writer and reader.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:35:08.

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