Jane Eyre and Masculinity

What if Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre had been born a man? Alison McManus explains how Branwell Brontë might provide the inspiration for a new novel that reimagines Jane Eyre from a different perspective. This podcast was recorded as part of the Late Summer Lecture Series 2013.

The story of Jane Eyre (1847) is so well known it has become iconic: a young woman, desperate for independence, finds employment in the only respectable profession available to her at the time, as a governess in a large manor house. She meets and falls in love with the Byronic owner of the estate, who has a dark secret kept hidden in an attic bedroom. Charlotte Brontë’s most famous character has inspired a wealth of criticism, interpretation, and re-interpretation, most famously by Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which provides a prequel to the story so that the most marginalised character is given a voice. But what if Jane Eyre had been born a man?

In this lecture, Alison gives an insight into the process of creating a novel (one that she is writing as part of her PhD thesis in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle) that explores nineteenth-century gender issues from a twenty-first century perspective.

Charlotte’s brother Branwell was employed as a tutor in a moderately-sized estate for a short time. Alison has stolen details from his life in order to invert the narrative conventions of Jane Eyre in her novel. As the female characters in the story gain greater independence, the patriarchal edifice of the manor house begins to crumble and the male narrator (loosely based on Branwell Brontë) becomes increasingly unhinged. Meanwhile, Alison critically explores the link between fact and fiction, arguing for the emergence of a certain genre, which she calls “playful parallelism,” in which the relationship between texts is so closely linked, both to each other as well as to the lives of their authors, that it transcends mere intertextuality.

This podcast, recorded from a Late Summer Lecture, discusses the progress of the novel in connection to Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, as well as other novels which exhibit an inter-relationship, such as Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (2002) and Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925). Looking at the symbolism of the English country house, the lecture also discusses contemporary novels such as The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (2009), incorporating literary parallelism, class, gender and masculinity.

Late Summer Lectures is a series of lectures given by PhD students, bringing new research to a public audience. This lecture was one of a pair on the theme of Hauntings, House and Home in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The companion lecture on Ghosting, Place and Wuthering Heights is also available to download.

Other lectures in this series featured Dickensian steampunk, the Newcastle poetry scene, and writing about Irish airmen. See here to listen to them all.

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