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Kavaler-Adler, S. (1990). Charlotte Bronte and the Feminine Self. Am. J. Psychoanal., 50:37-43.

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(1990). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 50(1):37-43

Charlotte Bronte and the Feminine Self

Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler, Ph.D.

This paper is a snapshot view of how narrative truth can capture the inner realization of a sense of self. Yet, it also refers to the specific evolution and unveiling of a feminine self, with dimensions that are notably beyond a stereotypic tradition of defining femininity in terms of nurturance. I have chosen to focus on one particular female writer and one particular novel to define the area of conflict that emerges on intrapsychic, interpersonal, and sociopsychological levels. It is a conflict between the natural developmental thrust of the feminine self and the impingement of patriarchal views of femininity that have opposed and distorted a natural evolution, an evolution that is always filled with the ambivalence consequent to struggling with guilt, loss, and rage, on the avenue of emergence.

Charlotte Bronte's last novel, Villette, reflects an actual historical period in her life, when the author studied with a particular French professor in a school in Brussels, where she came to learn foreign languages and composition related to her early-life pragmatic plan to become a teacher. Yet the novel's transformation of historical truth into narrative truth, as seen through the workings of the creative process, shows us how narrative truth can capture the essence of the inner evolution of the self despite “real” history.

Also, the novel in itself is about transformation. A woman and a man meet and are transformed, and they experience aspects of their own selves that have been repressed or undeveloped. Bronte captured the emotional essence of her experience in Brussels, and discarded the “realistic” leftovers that had so depleted her before she found writing novels as her means of survival. For in actual life, the paternal professor had severely rejected her following the man and woman's exciting mutual transformation. Only she was true to that transformation and dealt with her ultimate sense of unrequited love through creating the man again through her imagination, giving birth to herself


This paper was presented at the summer of 1987 meetings of the Division of Psychoanalysis (Div. 39) of the American Psychological Association, and again at the meetings for Section III, Women and Psychoanalysis, of Division 39.

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