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By Beth Torgerson

Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë's literary representations of affliction and illness replicate the foremost function disorder performed within the lives of the Victorians and its common reoccurrence in the Brontës' own lives. An in-depth research of the historical past of nineteenth-century medication offers the cultural context for those representations, giving sleek readers a feeling of the way healthiness, disorder, and the physique have been understood in Victorian England. jointly, clinical anthropology and the historical past of medication provide an invaluable lens with which to appreciate Victorian texts. Reading the Brontë Body is the 1st scholarly try and supply either the theoretical framework and old history to make the sort of literary research of the Brontë novels attainable, whereas exploring how those representations of disorder and affliction paintings inside of a bigger cultural framework.

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Additional resources for Reading the Bronte Body: Disease, Desire, and the Constraints of Culture

Example text

Asiatic cholera first arrived in Western Europe in 1831, coming from India via Russia. Cholera’s second visitation to Europe was in 1848. 4 By choosing to place Shirley in the historical past, Charlotte Brontë cannot explicitly use the metaphor of cholera in her novel. Nonetheless, indirect references to the 1848–1849 cholera epidemic occur. Although cholera historically attacked the lower classes in much greater numbers (now known to be due to the larger concentration of people using a contaminated source of water supply), again following the thematic displacement of class issues onto gender issues, the disguised cholera references in Shirley are to two middle-class female characters, Caroline Helstone and Mrs.

However, the idea of female vanity does not receive the same degree of primary focus as it did in the first novel. Instead, Brontë shifts focus to an exploration of how female gender roles and the ideals of femininity contribute toward actively encouraging male drunkenness. This shift extends Brontë’s social critique since female vanity is basically another gendered version of self-centeredness on par with male alcoholism, whereas by developing the idea that Victorian ideals of femininity are based on one gender sacrificing their own needs for the other gender, Brontë highlights a cultural situation which by its very nature perpetuates hierarchies of power based on gender.

Abuse based on hierarchies of gender is highlighted primarily through Arthur’s alcoholism leading to his abuse of his wife. As his wife Helen herself expresses it, “When he is under the exciting influence of these excesses, he sometimes fires up and attempts to play the brute” (309). However, in the early stages of the disease, Arthur’s wife abuse existed only in the form of neglect. Yet, in time even Arthur’s neglect of Helen places her in danger. Once Arthur’s drinking friends began to perceive Helen as a “neglected wife,” she is open to insult in the form of Mr.

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