Silent no more: Servant voices in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights
Permanent link to Research Commons versionhttps://hdl.handle.net/10289/16032
The names Catherine Earnshaw and Jane Eyre are synonymous with the narratives of which they are the heroine. Yet, under the presence of these well-known characters sit others who are less immediately recognisable, but nevertheless vital, the invisible and silent servants. The names Bessie, Hannah, and Zillah are relatively unknown, even to avid readers of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Yet these servants are given a name and a voice by their creators, and they play small, but significant roles in the novels. Other servant figures, particularly Grace Poole and Nelly Dean, are even more prominent, shaping events, keeping secrets, and speaking truths. In spite of this, these servants are rarely seen and heard in critical commentary, pushed aside by the characters that take centre stage of the novels. The intention of this thesis is to find and highlight the voices of this seemingly neglected group of servants. Focusing on two novels published in 1847, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, I argue that the Brontë novels are radical in the depiction of servant voice and representation when compared to most nineteenth century fiction. In the Brontë novels that lie at the heart of this thesis, servants escape from the boundaries of the typical Victorian novel and become characters with opinions, voices, and influence. This is part of the wider rhetoric of each novel, with Jane Eyre focusing on questions of servitude and independence through the title character’s battles with a series of tyrants and Wuthering Heights featuring a cycle of rises and falls from master to servant. Drawing on the reality of servant life during this period and using archive material and critical scholarship, this thesis endeavours to foreground both the servant characters in these novels and the wider debates about freedom and slavery, autonomy and obedience, interior life and public role. The silent servants deserve a focused examination of their voice and this work will bring that voice into the spotlight.
The University of Waikato
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- Masters Degree Theses