Nature and gender in Victorian women's writing : Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti.
This thesis explores the ways in which four Victorian
women writers - Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth
Barrett Browning, and Christina Rossetti - work with the
gender associations implicit in the nature imagery of the
male literary tradition.
In the Introduction I explore the possible approaches
available to the feminist literary critic. I then review
the gender associations of nature symbolism in the male
literary tradition, and the ways in which some Victorian
critics used these to define the characteristics of
In Part One, I find that these writers re-affirm the
idea of the fertile earth as 'mother na ture'. I argue,
however, that in each case this projection functions to
create a female space outside of patriarchal culture, in
a symbolic relationship with a strong mother figure.
Looking at Emily Bronte's construction of a 'male
nature', I question how far this constitutes a reversal
of the traditional pattern. I then examine some ways in
which 'womanliness' is located in valley or mountain
In Part Two, I consider the moon as a symbol of
femininity. Although, as in some of Christina Rossetti's
poetry, it may become a metaphor for woman's dependence
on the solar male God, it can also suggest female
autonomy. In Emily Bronte's poetry, the moon of female
vision is adhered to in preference to the 'sun' of male
power. Charlotte Bronte exploits the moon's ambivalent
associations to represent virginal autonomy and vengeful
rage as different aspects of female psychic power.
In Part Three, I turn to the image of woman as
flower. Whereas Christina Rossetti uses this in
conventional ways to expose women's sexual vulnerability,
Elizabeth Barrett Browning subverts it to create images
of strong female identity.
My Conclusion emphasises the ideological, rather than
archetypal, origins of literary symbolism, and the ways
in which women writers negotiate successfully with the