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Author

Sandra Hagan

Date of Award

7-2002

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Supervisor

Doctor J. Ferns

Abstract

Graham Bretton's comment to Lucy Snowe, single heroine of Villette (1853), that she is "'a being inoffensive as a shadow'" serves a fitting epigraph to Bronte's last novel (403). Having explored the experience of a single life to varying degrees in her previous works, The Professor (pub. 1857), Jane Eyre (1847), and Shirley (1849), Bronte announces with the death of M. Paul that Villette tells the story of the spinster. Indeed, the first-person narrative of Bronte's heroine expounds the single woman's experience to an extent unknown in the literature of the time. In keeping with Bronte's representation of her own spinsterhood, Villette depicts a woman facing a hostile environment which leaves her feeling unsure of her own substantiality. For, as discussed in chapter one of this study, the marginal position of the middle-class spinster in the mid-nineteenth century meant that she was reduced to a shadow. At the same time, she was vilifed for the insubstantial body by which she was set aside, the very terms of her marginalization used to diminish her. Through theories of vision outlined in Michael Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1979) and Luce Irigaray's This Sex Which is Not One (1985), I explore the untenable position of the single woman in the mid-nineteenth century as represented in Villette. Although many studies acknowledge Lucy's difficulties with spinsterhood, none regards her spinsterhood as the determining factor in a narrative which explores such themes as identity and sexuality. Chapter two examines the social mechanism which produces Lucy's difference, while chapter three investigates Lucy's relationship to the treacherous world of flesh. In the end, the spinster in Villette emerges above all else human, a sign that Bronte, as spokesperson for the shadow-band, has gone on the offensive.

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