What if Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre had been born a man?

Alison McManus is a Teaching Fellow at Durham University’s Foundation Centre and is currently finishing off a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle. In this lecture, titled ‘Reinventing Rochester: Subversion and Masculinity in the Neo-Victorian novel’, she explains how Branwell Brontë’s life and Charlotte’s novel together provide the inspiration for her own work-in-progress. This podcast was recorded as part of a series on ‘Hauntings, House & Home’ in 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?

alison

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, and Alison has stolen details from his life in order to invert the narrative conventions of Jane Eyre in her work. As the female characters in the story gain greater independence, the patriarchal edifice of the manor house begins to crumble and the male narrator 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 this 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.

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