On Seeing with Distinction: Observation and Description in Charlotte Brontë and Natural History

NOV 13, 2020 | 4:00 PM





November 13, 2020: 4:00 PM




In this talk, Supritha Rajan (U Rochester), examines the relationship between two well-known, yet seemingly unrelated, features of Charlotte Brontë’s novels: their use of vivid, descriptive language and their preoccupation with pedagogical self-training. Focusing on Jane Eyre and Villette, Rajan argues that we can best understand this relationship if we situate Brontë’s novels within eighteenth- and nineteenth-century debates on observation and description within natural history. Brontë presents methods of attentive observation and description as integral to how characters like Jane Eyre or Lucy Snowe train their melancholic excesses and hone an aesthetic temperament that nevertheless achieves the inward equanimity and self-control typically associated with the (natural) philosopher, counteracting our usual understanding of the eighteenth and nineteenth century as an era of increasing disciplinary segregation. 

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