The subjection of men : the domestication and embourgeoisement of the Gothic villain-hero in three Brontë novels
In this thesis, I examine the domestication of the Gothic hero-villain in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Each of these novels features a powerful Gothic figure who finds himself physically and emotionally subject to the heroine. This subjection is closely linked to the passing away of that hero-villain’s Gothic masculinity and his conversion to or replacement by domestic, middle-class masculinity. I argue that the larger social shift from gentry and aristocratic authority in eighteenth-century British society to the entrenchment of domestic, middle-class ideology in the Victorian period and the accompanying shift from an elite to a bourgeois model of masculinity are largely responsible for the subjection, and conversion or supplanting, of these Gothic hero-villains. This social-historical framework also allows me to examine these male characters from a masculinist perspective. Much recent Brontë criticism has been feminist in nature, and these analyses fail to do justice to the novels’ male characters, usually examining them only in relation to the heroine or indeed casting them as feminized figures, especially when their masculinity is perceived to be unconventional. By looking at effects of the shift from elite to domestic masculinity, I offer a more nuanced analysis of these male characters and how they navigate changing expectations of masculinity. I conclude that though these novels follow a similar pattern, which seems to reify domestic ideology, each Brontë supports this ideology to a different degree. This problematization of ideology has a long tradition in the Gothic novel, which is frequently ambivalent and can be used for either revolutionary or reactionary ends. Charlotte and Anne Brontë defeat the Gothic and gentry masculinity of their hero-villains, making way for the domestic man. Along the way, Charlotte Brontë creates a marriage that is both domestic and radically equal; Anne Brontë critiques the dictates of domestic ideology before finally reifying it. Most interestingly, Emily Brontë allows Heathcliff to die unrepentant and haunt the closing pages of Wuthering Heights. Of the three sisters, Emily Brontë most strongly resists domestic ideology and masculinity in her treatment of the Gothic hero-villain.
Gothic, Victorian literature, masculinity, domestic ideology
Master of Arts (M.A.)