Power And Starvation In The Novels And Lives Of Emily And Charlotte Bronte

1917 words - 8 pages

Power and Starvation in the Novels and Lives of Emily and Charlotte Bronte

    In the fictional worlds of Charlotte and Emily Brontë, one of the few ways that women who otherwise have very little say in their lives are able to express dissatisfaction is through self-starvation and illness. It is noteworthy that in their own lives the Bronte sisters exhibited many eccentric habits in regards to eating, and both Charlotte and (especially) Emily engaged in self-starvation similar to the strategies used by the characters in their novels.


Anorexia is a general term that describes the decline of appetite or aversion to food, though it is most commonly used to refer to self-starvation. Anorexia was not new during the time of the Brontës. Although eating disorders are often thought of as being a modern day phenomenon, it is in fact only widespread diagnosis that is a recent occurrence. Those who had no other means to wield power, other than in terms of individual self-control, have long used starvation and fasting as a means of exerting control over an environment in which they felt powerless.


In his book, Holy Anorexia, Rudolph Bell sites a case of anorexia in a 20 year old girl from as early as 1686 (3). In fact, eating disorders were fairly common in the time leading up to the Brontë's era, although the motivations behind them were often quite dissimilar. Today, young women are often driven to starve themselves because, "they must conform to an impossible, media-driven standard of beauty which holds that 'you can never be too thin.'" (Orenstein 94) In the 18th and 19th century, however, thinness was not an ideal to strive towards, and the psychology behind fasting and starvation was oftentimes more complicated.


During the Brontë's era, it was considered uncouth for women to allow themselves to be seen eating, but the ideal body type for a woman was plump. Therefore, fasting had little to do with cultural expectations for physical appearance. Instead, fasting was a means towards spiritual or religious enlightenment. Between 1206 and 1934 there were 261 documented cases of women starving themselves for religious reasons. Along with starvation, it was common to inflict severe punishment upon their bodies, and refuse all offers of marriage. It was not rare for women who died of anorexia to be canonized as saints (Bemporad 2).


Purely religious reasons were not always behind a woman's fasting--it was often used as a means to exert control by women who were essentially powerless in their societies. Bemporad sites one of these cases which took place in the Dark Ages; a young woman who was betrothed by her father against her wishes, starves herself until she becomes so unattractive that her suitor refuses to marry her (3). This theme occurs in literature about the 19th century as well; in a popular young adult novel set in 1899, the heroine starves herself to the brink of death after being forced into an...

Find Another Essay On Power and Starvation in the Novels and Lives of Emily and Charlotte Bronte

The Life and Writings of Charlotte Bronte

2242 words - 9 pages As one of the most recognized British authors in history, Charlotte Bronte is widely known for her romantic novels displaying the struggle between a person’s morality and their desire to achieve possession of love without the consequences of losing themselves in the process. In her novels, The Professor, Jane Eyre, and Villette, Charlotte Bronte connects love and struggle through theme, characterization, and point of view. Born on April 21

The Life and Works of Emily Bronte

1516 words - 7 pages shows her realism and very peculiar interest in detail. Emily Bronte wrote and published only one book in her lifetime. This novel was titled Wuthering Heights. It was published in December of 1847. Anne Bronte wrote the novel Agnes Grey and Charlotte Bronte wrote the novel Jane Eyre and they were both highly successful novels. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is distinct from other novels in this time period because the novel has a very

The Contributions of Mary Shelley, George Eliot and Emily Bronte

2613 words - 10 pages sister novelists, had an impact that was solely her own. Emily's remarkable Wuthering Heights influenced the manner in which English novels, especially love stories, were written following it.Emily was born in the Yorkshire village of Haworth July 30,1818 to Reverend Patrick Bronte and Maria Branwell Bronte, and lived with her four sisters Anne, Maria, Elizabeth and Charlotte, and her brother Branwell. Emily's mother died of cancer shortly after

How Charlotte Bronte Uses Language Detail and Setting In The First Two Chapters Of Jane Eyre

2476 words - 10 pages How Charlotte Bronte Uses Language Detail and Setting In The First Two Chapters Of Jane Eyre "Jane Eyre" is a novel written by Charlotte Brontë in the 19th century. Throughout the novel Brontë incorporates elements of her own personal life. A prime example of this is the inequalities between men and women. When she wrote this novel she had to use a male nom de plume so she could sell the book it was only after the novel

Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre

2293 words - 9 pages Charlotte Bronte was born at Thornton, in Yorkshire, on 21st April 1816. Her mother was called Maria and her father was the Reverend Patrick Bronte. Charlotte was the third child born into the family. At this time she had two older sisters Maria and Elizabeth and then a year later her only brother Patrick Branwell Bronte was born. She then had two younger sisters, Emily born in 1818 and the youngest Anne born in 1820. Just a year after they

Emily Bronte and Wuthering Heights

2461 words - 10 pages withdrawn later in May and died in June. Charlotte and Emily were taken home on June 1st in good health ("Bronte" 604).                  As the children grew older they developed very strong relationships with one another. Branwell and Charlotte became best friends and Emily and Anne were each -others only companions throughout both of their lives. Branwell and Charlotte grew apart, however. In the summer of 1845, Branwell was dismissed in

Similar Themes in Novels by The Bronte Sisters and Jane Austen

909 words - 4 pages One of the biggest rivalries in the nineteenth century was between the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. These women wrote some of the most popular novels in their time that often had very common themes. Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights and Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice both deal with the common theme of social standing, especially in relation to marriages. In Wuthering Heights, Catherine's higher class standing than Heathcliff’s

Society and Status in Charlotte Bronte´s Jane Eyre

670 words - 3 pages Marxism in Jane Eyre In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte portrays the strict, hierarchical class system in the early 1800s in England. Bronte develops a complex character, Jane, to put a crack into the strict hierarchical class system. Bronte does this to challenge the class system in England which required everyone to stay put in his or her class position. Bronte does this by questioning the role of the governess and whether she should be

Pain, Misery and Dissapointment in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

1149 words - 5 pages Pain, misery and disappointment are all a significant part of this world’s concepts of both life and love. A prime example of this is displayed in Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre, where the protagonist, Jane, suffers through a particularly difficult life; her love is constantly stripped from her the moment she is relishing it most. With Bronte’s introduction of Bertha Rochester, Jane’s never-ending cycle of disappointment and loss of love

Adverstity and Shattered Dreams in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

772 words - 4 pages In the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Jane has lived a miserable life since childhood, until she met Edward Rochester. Living a miserable childhood after her parents passed away Jane had to live with her aunt and cousins. Ms. Reed detested her and resented because she was aware of the love that the late Mr. Reed had for Jane. On his deathbed he asked Ms. Reed to take care of Jane like if she was her own child. This angered Ms. Reed because

Jane and Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

875 words - 4 pages Nobody lives a perfect life. People will experience certain things that may have a great impact on them. For some, being let down or disappointed might be more normal than being happy. In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the life lived by the protagonist, Jane, is full of disappointments. She was seldom happy, and when she did find her happiness in the man she loved, even he seemed to cross her. If her life wasn’t such as sad one, the events that

Similar Essays

Jane Eyre And Wuthering Heights Emily And Charlotte Bronte

957 words - 4 pages began to weaken and their health would become unstable which caused many to die, including Heathcliff. In Heathcliff's will he said he wanted to be buried next to Catherine, because she was his true love.In both of the novels, each of the characters lives were rough and through all the pain they overcame all the struggles and finally found true happiness. In Jane Eyre, Jane overcame the life of torment and agony she had gone through as a child and

Similar Themes In The Novels Wuthering Heights By Emily Bronte And Pride And Prejudice By Jane Austen

1045 words - 5 pages In the novels “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte and “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen although very different, have similar ideas when it comes to their desire of social class. Many characters do their best to marry into a higher social class no matter the cost of the ones they love. The moral of both narratives is that having money and land does not bring one happiness, instead being with the one they love does. First, in each relationship

Wuthering Heights By Emily Bronte And Oroonoko By Aphra Behn How Tragic Lives Of Main Characters Are Perfect Examples Of The Theme Of Alienation And Its Effects On Man's Search For Identity

1708 words - 7 pages Heights and Oroonoko were written 50 and 212 years prior to the 20th century by British women, the novels exemplify a mood of alienation, while their characters search for identity, just as contemporary characters in literature carry on this theme. The main characters of Wuthering Heights and Oroonoko and their tragic lives are perfect examples of the theme of alienation and its effects on man's search for identity.Wuthering Heights is set in the

The Over All Power Of Revenage Based On Wuthering Heights By Emily Bronte

1635 words - 7 pages Heathcliff. In the end Heathcliff is left with nothing. His long period of time for vengeance only make things worse to everyone he went after; Catherine, Isabella and Edgar. His love for revenge is greater that the love he had for Catherine. Heathcliff love for Catherine was not that strong as the way he felt for revenge for the reason that he spends most of the time and years getting back at the people who never care of his feelings. Emily Bronte