Patriarchal structures of control and female homosocial relationships in the novels of Charlotte Brontë

Ellis, Jeanne (2001-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2001.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In Charlotte Bronte's novels, the importance accorded to female homosocial relationships - such as friendship and the mother-daughter relationship - challenges the conventional structure of the Victorian realist novel, in which the focus of the female protagonist's development is almost exclusively on the eventual achievement of heterosexual marriage Structurally. heterosexual marriage at closure re-establishes the status quo that has been threatened or destabilised during the unfolding of the plot. Yet what Bronte's novels reveal, is that the status quo thus re-established also confirms patriarchy as a system in which the bonds between men are consolidated to maintain social, political and economic power as a male prerogative By contrast, the ideology that promotes marriage as the sine qua non of women's existence positions women as rivals and the representation of female homosocial relationships in the nineteenth-century novel is either relegated to the margins of the text or erased entirely. In Bronte's novels, the structural relationship between this conventional displacement of female homosocial relationships and the silencing and containment of female desire in heterosexual marriage at closure is consistently explored and subverted. In an increasingly complex process of rewriting the Victorian novel from a female perspective, Bronte's novels construct alternative plots that privilege the representation of female homosocial relationships even as they imitate conventional plot structure In so doing. the gendering of narrative voice as female lays claim to a female discourse of desire. which is rooted in female homosociality and inclusive of lesbian desire. Compulsory (female) heterosexuality which is exclusively domestic and maternal. IS therefore challenged by an alternative representation of female desire as defiant of the ngid categories Imposed by heterosexuality. because it is fiurd and multiple in Its expression This thesis explores the process of recuperation through which Bronte both places the representation of female hornosocial relationships at the centre of her novels and reveals patriarchal structures of control at work

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In die romans van Charlotte Bronte konfronteer the sentraliteit van vroulike homososiale verhoudings - soos vriendskap en die moeder-dogter verhouding - die konvensionele struktuur van die Victoriaanse realistiese roman. Volgens hierdie konvensionele struktuur is die fokus van die vroulike protagonis se ontwikkeling bykans uitsluitlik gerig op haar uiteindelike toetrede tot 'n heteroseksuele huwelik. Struktureel gesproke herstel die heteroseksuele huwelik by die sluiting van die roman die status quo wat bedreig of gedestabiliseer is gedurende die ontplooing van die roman. Wat Bronte se romans egter aan die lig bring, is dat die status quo wat so herstel word, ook die patriargale sisteem bevestig - waarbinne die bande tussen mans gekonsolideer word ten einde sosiale politieke en ekonomiese mag as 'n manlike prerogatief te waarborg Die ideologie wat die huwelik voorhou as die sine qua non van die vrou se bestaan posisioneer vroue as mededingers, en hierdeur word die uitbeelding van vroulike homososiale verhoudings in die negentiende-eeuse roman verskuif na die buitewyke van die teks, of word dit algeheel uitgewis. In Bronte se romans word die strukturele verwantskap tussen hierdie konvensionele verplasing van vroulike homososiale verhoudings en die demping of beheer van vroulike begeerte in die heteroseksuele huwelik voortdurend in die roman se sluiting ondersoek en ondermyn In 'n proses wat 'n toenemend ingewikkelde herskrywing van die Victonaanse roman vanuit 'n vroulike qesiqspunt inhou. stel Bronte se romans alternatiewc verwikkelinqsplanne saam wat voorrang gee aan die uitbeelding van vroulike hornososiale verhoudings terwyl hierdie storieplanne konvensionele struktuurplanne naboots. Ole manier waarop die verteller se stem so vervroulik word gee uiting aan 'n vroulike diskoers van begeerte wat gewortel IS In vroulike hornososialiteit en wat lesbiese begeerte insluit Verpliqte (vroullke) heteroseksualiteit. wat uitsluitlik huislik en moederlik IS, word dus gekonfronteer deur 'n alternatiewe uitbeeldinq van vroulike begeerte wat die rigiede kateqoriee opqele deur heteroseksualiteit verwerp en meer vloeibare en veelsoortiqe vorme van ultdrukklng daarstel Hierdie tests ondersoek die herstellinqsprcses waardeur Bronte die uitbeeldinq van vroulike hornososiale verhoudinqs sentraal plaas In haar romans, terwyl sy terselfdertyd die werkswyses van patriargale beheerstrukture aan die lig bring.

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