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Feminism and the Public Sphere in Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Rachel K. Carnell
Nineteenth-Century Literature
Vol. 53, No. 1 (Jun., 1998), pp. 1-24
DOI: 10.2307/2902968
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2902968
Page Count: 24
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Feminism and the Public Sphere in Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
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Abstract

The bipartite narrative structure of Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) has been interpreted recently as an attempt to subvert the traditional Victorian rubric of separate spheres. Reconsidering this novel in terms of Jürgen Habermas's concept of the eighteenth-century public sphere broadens the historical context for the way we understand the separate spheres. Within Brontë's critique of Victorian gender roles, we may identify a reluctance to address the Chartist-influenced class challenges to an older version of the public good. In hearkening back to an eighteenth-century model of the public sphere, Brontë espouses not so much a twentieth-century-style challenge to the Victorian model of separate spheres as a nineteenth-century-style nostalgia for the classical liberal model of bourgeois public debate. At the same time, the awkward rupture in Brontë's narrative represents the inherent contradictions between the different levels of discourse-literary, political, and scientific-within the public sphere itself and the complex ways in which these contradictions are both accorded and denied cultural power.

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