Victorian perspectives on the supernatural: The imaginary versus the real in two Brontë novels

Victorian perspectives on the supernatural: The imaginary versus the real in two Brontë novels

Sidell, Crystal

Master of Arts, Department of English, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida, June (2008)


The Victorians obsessed over the supernatural and this fascination with the otherworldly emerges in the literature of the day. With this thesis, I look at two nineteenth century novels that exhibit supernatural phenomena: Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853) and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847). Both novels, I propose, utilize this aspect of the gothic tradition to enhance their characters’ psychological realism. With Villette, I examine the supernatural as a fabricated experience. First, I study the protagonist’s psyche and show how her emotional state directly contributes to the appearance of fantastic material. Specifically, I examine Lucy Snowe’s childhood experiences in Bretton and then look at her continuing emotional isolation at the boarding school in Villette. I then illustrate how Lucy compensates for this loneliness by transforming the identities of her acquaintances and by often embellishing her own experiences. Following this, I examine her response to an external phenomenon, the ghostly nun.

I argue that as Lucy discovers emotional fulfillment via her relationship with Paul Emanuel, she grows increasingly skeptical of the nun. This skepticism climaxes in a scene of violence, after which Lucy successfully denies the existence of the otherworldly. With Wuthering Heights, I examine the supernatural as a genuine phenomenon. To begin, I analyze two significant scenes which frame the main narrative: Lockwood’s dream and Heathcliff’s death. Both events, I subsequently demonstrate, are instances of supernatural interaction with the real world. Finally, I examine the spiritual and occult beliefs of the lovers, Catherine and Heathcliff. I then show how their ideology influences their decisions and, ultimately, brings about their reunion in the afterlife.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of South Florida

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