Charlotte Brontë and the power of faerie
This thesis explores the relationship between faerie and power in the work of Charlotte Brontë. Focusing on Brontë’s juvenilia, novels, journals, and fragments, I examine the function of faerie while considering the influence of the print and visual culture of the period (1780-1840). Challenging previous scholars, I argue that faerie operates as a healing force which empowers more marginalised characters and provides an imaginative, therapeutic escape. Starting with Brontë’s juvenilia, I identify key themes and tropes throughout her early work, including miniaturisation, the creation of the faerie landscape, and healing by faerie intervention, mapping their re-emergence in her later work. This thesis investigates a variety of themes across Brontë’s novels, including the power to create safe spaces in Jane Eyre, the power to preserve the past and redefine the present in Shirley, and the power to create alternative identities to process grief and loss in Villette. By setting Brontë’s writing in the context of the broader, nineteenth-century culture of faerie, this thesis enters what is largely uncharted territory, as it examines potential influences and Brontë’s acceptance or rejection of ideas about religion, gender, class, and imagination. While I argue that faerie is a healing force, I also pay careful attention to instances where faerie is malevolent in nature, appreciating that, though it mostly provides safety, it can, at times, cause harm. Brontë’s own relationship to faerie is also considered, bearing in mind the author’s conflicting feelings towards imagination and duty, a reoccurring tension woven throughout her works. Rather than dismissing Brontë’s work as ‘escapist’, this thesis looks more seriously at what the power to escape meant for Brontë and her characters and contributes towards a deeper understanding of the link between faerie, gender, class and power, in her work.
Date of award2023-03-14
Author affiliationSchool of Arts
Awarding institutionUniversity of Leicester