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The Point of Agony: Sex and Power in Charlotte Brontë

Kvistad, Erika (2012) The Point of Agony: Sex and Power in Charlotte Brontë. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

This thesis reads sexual power dynamics – taking pleasure in being hurt by or hurting someone, wanting to control someone sexually or to be controlled, and enjoying power struggles and negotiations of roles – as central elements of Charlotte Brontë’s four mature novels. The argument explores the intersections of sex, play, power and agency in Brontë’s work, drawing out the intricate, shifting, and often unexpected dynamics that underlie what can seem like stark, gender-based power differentials between her characters. While there is a long critical history of examining how erotic relationships in Brontë’s novels develop through power struggles, such readings often cast these patterns of desire as either pathological, or (particularly in the case of submissive or masochistic female characters) as responses created wholly by societal strictures on female power and sexuality. Taking a reparative, sex-radical approach, this thesis rethinks literary intersections of sex and power as productive, not just problematic, and as ways of undermining and playing with, rather than just reinforcing, societal and gendered power structures. The introduction examines the critical history of reading sex and power in Brontë’s work, situates non-normative sexual desire in Brontë’s mid- nineteenth-century context, and shows how reading reparatively can create new insights into sexual power dynamics in literature. The argument examines embodied power and the erotics of mutual infliction of pain in Jane Eyre, shows how material things used as sexual mediators widen the erotic scope of Villette, reads the negotiation of sexual roles in Shirley as a way of managing and transcending the pain of its novel-world, and explores the idea of fantasy as an uncontrollable, unsettling form of intimacy in Jane Eyre, The Professor and the Roe Head journal.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.568092
Depositing User: Dr Erika Kvistad
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2013 11:07
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2018 15:20
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/3679

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