What I Hope to Learn this Semester

My fondness for Victorian Literature began when I was tasked with reading Jane Eyre in my senior year of high school English. It was the end of the year and I had already completed my formal final exam for the class. Thus, when my teacher gave us one last project, to read and give a presentation on the novel many consider to be Charlotte Brontë’s masterwork, my motivation to complete the task was perhaps understandably low. Despite my exhaustion, there was a preternatural power within Brontë’s writing, and particularly within the characterization of her unlikely heroine, that caused me to devour the novel. It was this same preternatural power that led me to read Jane Eyre for a second time, this time more carefully and more critically. As a result of this second read, I was inspired to read more by Charlotte Brontë and her sisters, Anne and Emily. This summer, I was able to dive deeper into the world of the Brontë sisters by reading Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Charlotte’s Villette, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Being that these novels are narrated by or feature a prominent, independent, and arguably controversial female character, I cannot help but wonder what the predominant gender roles were at the time when the Brontë sisters were writing their novels. I also would like to know how much the Brontë’s, through the characterization of their heroines, truly subverted said gender roles? Moreover, can their works be considered examples of proto-feminism? It is my hope that one, some, or all of these questions might be answered by the end of the semester.

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