(NeMLA 2020) Charlotte Brontë and the Space of the Self
Jane Eyre calls herself “a wander on the face of this earth.” Excluded from the family in which she is raised and the normative models of female development that should guide her, her state is one of radical orphan-hood. An unwanted, unearthly thing, she must nonetheless find or make a space for herself in this world. Indeed, to be a wanderer on the face of this earth is the shared predicament of all of Brontë’s protagonists, who strive to discover a place in which they can articulate their own identities: William Crimsworth and Lucy Snowe leave England to make their livings; Jane Eyre journeys from Gateshead to Lowood, Thornfield and Moor House; Caroline Helstone longs to get out from under her uncle’s control; even Shirley Keeldar, the wealthy and fearless heiress, is constrained by the misperceptions, and perhaps narrative norms, of others. What each protagonist struggles for is a self in a space of his or her own, and a space in which that identity could crystallize and instantiate itself.
This panel invites papers that examine the dialectic of space and self in the works of Charlotte Brontë. How do spaces mediate a protagonist’s Bildung? What spaces, be they national, familial, formal, or psychological, are necessary for the articulation of a coherent self? In turn, what spaces must be rejected? Are spaces rooted in gender, nationality, or class? What elements constitute a space: material goods, relations of desire, systems of surveillance, acts of exclusion? How do Brontë’s rhetorical strategies – her strange metaphors and frustrating lacunae - conceive the self’s navigation of space?