Literary Psychoanalytic And Feminist Criticism English Literature Essay
Psychoanalytic criticism is highly regarded by literary critics even after a century of literary interpretations achieved by means of methods belonging to this critical perspective. This type of literary criticism has influenced many other critical approaches including the feminist one. Since the early 1970’s, feminist analysts have employed “tools” belonging to psychoanalytic criticism in order to study the portrayal of women in literary creations. However, feminists never apply psychoanalytic theory in the traditional manner. Instead, they prefer to adapt these concepts and methods to their own purpose. Feminist literary critics disapprove of (what they call) Freudian chauvinistic views on woman’s psyche (which they choose to “psychoanalyse” in their own terms, in their own manner). Therefore, feminist analysts agree to the typical psychoanalytic pattern of literary interpretation only to a certain extent (by challenging it and adding new possibilities and new perspectives to it).
The purpose of this paper is to discuss literary analyses that are based on a combination of psychoanalytic and feminist criticism. I have chosen analyses of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Shirley and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights because they allow for (and even render as necessary) this type of combination. These three literary works were written by authoresses who lived in a society marked by discrepancy (a “split”) between appearances and reality. Victorian society is best described by the Freudian terms of “repression” (of the instinctual side of the personality) and “pathological symptoms” to which sublimation usually leads. This social background is reflected in the novels mentioned, which is why I consider them the perfect choice for the literary application of psychoanalytic theory.
Moreover, the feminist analyst Elaine Showalter includes these writings in the “feminine phase” in the evolution of the female literary tradition, which turns them into the ideal literary texts to be analysed from a feminist perspective. During this stage (dating from 1840 to 1880), women used male pseudonyms and wrote in an effort to equal the intellectual achievements of the male culture, which affected the tone, diction, structure and characterisation of their literary creations.  The main characteristics of this phase are perfectly illustrated by the works and lives of the Brontës as I showed in the subchapter entitled “The Social Status of Charlotte and Emily Brontë as Victorian Women Writers” (in the chapter “Charlotte and Emily Brontë in Social Context and Feminine Tradition”). The Brontës felt compelled to use male pseudonyms in order to benefit from a “fair” (undiscriminating) reading of their texts. When they did reveal their true identities, Charlotte and Emily Brontë’s literary creations (as well as their integrity as writers) were fiercely attacked by male critics and writers.
Because of the challenges that female writers of this stage dealt with, the novelty they brought to the literary field and the huge step they took in order to break with the tradition that had silenced women and prevented them from writing, I believe that this is the most important phase of the three identified by Showalter. In addition, the understanding of the essence of this stage is necessary for the comprehension of the entire female literary tradition, since it represents the very “roots” (beginnings) of women’s culture. As a result, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Shirley are not only the perfect types of texts to be analysed from a psychoanalytic perspective, but also a great choice in terms of literary material that allows for feminist approaches.
I have chosen these two critical literary perspectives due to my personal interest in psychoanalysis and feminist issues. I believe that I have a bent for psychology and the social circumstances in which I grew up led to my taking to feminist beliefs. Therefore, this topic offers me the opportunity to explore “domains” which I find appealing, allowing me, at the same time, to combine passion with intellectual research – a mixture which is known to provide the best results possible.
My diploma paper is structured on five chapters which I shall briefly present. The first two chapters (entitled “Introductory Considerations on Feminist Literary Criticism” and “Introductory Considerations on Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism”) are (as the titles themselves suggest) introductory chapters which present the theory applied to the chosen literary creations throughout my paper. Both chapters include a general presentation of feminist/ psychoanalytic criticism based on Linda H. Peterson’s Wuthering Heights casebook. The one on feminist approaches also includes an analysis of some of the most important critical essays of ten highly regarded feminist analysts, as well as comments on their work and influence on literary criticism (provided by Hazard Adams in his Literary Theory Since Plato and Literary Theory Since 1965). Similarly, the chapter on psychoanalytic perspective consists of a presentation of the theory of Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan and Carl Gustav Jung (based on Hazard Adams’ two books and Richard Harland’s Literary Theory from Plato to Barthes: An Introductory History). Moreover, I also achieved a (quite personal) discussion of the essays I considered relevant to the topic of my paper.
The third chapter (entitled “Charlotte and Emily Brontë in Social Context and Feminine Tradition”) consists of three subchapters: “Victorian Social Background”, “The Social Status of Charlotte and Emily Brontë as Victorian Women Writers”, and “Jane Eyre, Shirley and Wuthering Heights – within and Set apart from Feminine Tradition”. The second subchapter focuses on Brontë sisters’ social status which reflected the attitude that Victorian society had towards women writers and even women in general. The third subchapter is meant show the extent to which Emily and Charlotte Brontë were inspired by their ancestors and, consequently, preserved important elements belonging to the tradition that was “born” in the 18th century. This entire chapter is mainly about placing the Brontës within a social context and their work within the evolution of female literary tradition in order to set the premises necessary for the feminist approach to the three novels.
The fourth chapter (Wuthering Heights) consists of literary applications of psychoanalytic theory to Wuthering Heights, a presentation of various feminist perspectives on the novel and a subchapter dedicated to approaches that combine both types of critical perspectives. The last chapter (“Jane Eyre and Shirley”) has a similar structure to the third one, the only notable difference being the last subchapter in which I relate psychological discourse in the Victorian era to Charlotte Brontë’s fiction by using Sally Shuttleworth’s Charlotte Brontë and Victorian Psychology.
Although this paper may seem a bit lengthy, the complex topic requires more research than other (typical) diploma paper topics. Having chosen not one, but two literary critical perspectives and three novels to analyse, I have had to double the necessary (intellectual) effort and space dedicated to the theoretical and practical parts of the paper. However, it is this choice that has turned the writing of my diploma paper into both a challenge and an enjoyable experience (since the critical approaches that I have employed in my study are [as already mentioned] connected with “domains” I am very passionate about). Despite the length of the paper, I have not been able to achieve everything that I set out to (or that the title suggests). On account of space limit, I have had to focus on two of the mentioned novels and on one of the two perspectives I have chosen. Therefore, the analysis of Shirley is only meant to underline and provide a term of comparison for certain aspects in the analysis of Jane Eyre and the emphasis is on feminist perspective and its connection with psychoanalytic perspective.
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