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Pratt, B.B. (1982). Charlotte Brontë's “There was once a little girl”: The Creative Process. Am. Imago, 39(1):31-39.

(1982). American Imago, 39(1):31-39

Charlotte Brontë's “There was once a little girl”: The Creative Process

Branwen Bailey Pratt, Ph.D.

Studies of creativity must begin, paradoxically, not at the beginning, with the initial creative impulse, but at the end, with the completed work of art. The psychoanalytic critic, in search of a full understanding of the literary text and the creative act that produced it, seldom has access to the artist's psychic history or to the first efforts of the child who becomes that artist. Although a few writers—the Rossettis, Jane Austen and A.E. Housman among them—have left fugitive childhood poems and stories, a body of juvenile work substantial enough to illuminate the early workings of the creative process is rare.

Unique among major novelists, Charlotte Brontë preserved thousands of pages of fiction written between her eighth and twenty-third years, stories that record the elaborate fantasy life that dominated her childhood and her prolonged adolescence. Most scholars ignore these tales as mere child's play; some consult them as sources of characters for the mature writing; many consider them near-incomprehensible chaos, “the dark hinterland of the novels.” In a letter of her middle age, the author herself both acknowledges and disclaims the unconscious content of the poems that were her first publication: “[They] are chiefly juvenile productions; the restless effervescence of a mind that would not be still. In those days, the sea too often ‘wrought and was tempestuous,’ and weed, sand, shingle— all turned up in the tumult.”


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