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Bronte and the Bookmakers: Jane Eyre in the Nineteenth-Century Marketplace

Heritage, Barbara
Format
Thesis/Dissertation; Online
Author
Heritage, Barbara
Advisor
Chase Levenson, Karen
McGann, Jerome
Abstract
Interactions with books—as historical objects, manuscripts, merchandise, and sacred scripture—were central both to Charlotte Brontë’s development as an author and to the formal structures of her novels. Yet, perhaps owing to her frequent characterization as a visionary or “trance” writer, Brontë and her writings have often been studied in ways removed from bibliography and the materiality of texts. The following study shows how Brontë came to define literary art in opposition to “bookmaking,” or unscrupulous, profit-driven publishing and trade practices, which are satirically emulated in her early Glass Town and Angria writings. These extant artifacts—small manuscripts imitating printed books—provide new, important evidence about Brontë’s own attempts to “manufacture” literature that parodied (and perpetuated) the avaricious exploits of publishers, writers, and advertisers. Brontë’s turn from popular romance, often dated to her “Farewell to Angria,” originates in this prior engagement with the commercialization of literature, and consequently informs her reception of works by bestselling authors Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron, as well as by her contemporary William Makepeace Thackeray. Brontë’s first novel, The Professor, was never published during her lifetime, in part owing to the ways in which it resisted mainstream publishing conventions. Her subsequent work, Jane Eyre, pursued an alternative form of “profitable reading.” Crafted as a three-decker novel fit for sale to circulating libraries, Jane Eyre incorporates strands from two seemingly antithetical genres: popular romance and the moral tale of the evangelical tract. The inclusion of such discourse appealed to contemporary, mainstream readers, even while the dialogic nature of their critique designates Brontë’s literature as one that stands apart from the mass market. Finally, the religious and philosophical concept of the Book of Nature and the analogy of painting “from life” provide important alternatives for Brontë to Mammon and the marketplace for fiction, allowing her to distinguish “original” art from derivative copies, or authentic literature from those books consumed as commodities.
Language
English
Published
University of Virginia, Department of English, PHD (Doctor of Philosophy), 2014
Published Date
2014-11-25
Degree
PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Collection
Libra ETD Repository
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