English 348a A. Bennett
TTH 2:30-4 HU III




Topics in 19th Century Literature: The Brontës

In 1847 three novels—Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey—were published under the pseudonyms Currer Bell, Ellis Bell and Acton Bell, respectively. Unknown to the reading public at the time, these were the works of three sisters: Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. The sisters' publications were a rather remarkable family feat, especially considering that the Brontës are now placed among the most significant Victorian writers.  In this course, we will explore the formal and thematic aspects that made the Brontës’ novels both strikingly original in their time and disturbing to many for their passion, rebellion, and even blasphemy.  We will also consider those aspects of the family biography that characterize the Brontës and still capture the public imagination (the rich childhood fantasy worlds and fictions, the tragic illnesses and early deaths), as well as well-known features of the works themselves that contribute to what has been called "the Brontë myth" (the windswept moors, the haunted mansions, the rebellious children, the doomed yet fated lovers).  Asking what is at stake in this myth, we will place the Brontës in a broader Victorian context marked by concerns that play out in their writing, including class tensions, shifting gender roles and conceptions of sexuality, and the expanding British Empire. The work and legacy of the Brontës also play a central role in more recent critical conversations on class, gender, desire and race into which we will enter to consider how the Brontës speak to our contemporary moment.
 
Readings:
 The Brontës, Tales of Glass Town, Angria and Gondal
Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë, Villette
Charlotte Brontë, Shirley
Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë
 

Supplementary material will include biographical material on the Brontës and critical work on the Brontës from a variety of theoretical perspectives, by writers such as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gilman, J. Hillis Miller, Sally Shuttleworth, Gayatri Spivak, and Raymond Williams.
 
Course Requirements: Weekly discussion board posts, a midterm paper (5-7 pages), and a final paper (10-15 pages).

*Enrollment is limited to 15 students.