Masaryk university brno faculty of education

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Department of English Language and Literature

Incest and Adultery in Bronte Sisters´ Novels
Bachelor Thesis

Brno 2015

Supervisor: Author:

Mgr. Jaroslav Izavčuk Rostislav Hubač

I proclaim that this bachelor thesis is a piece of individual writing and that I used only the sources cited in the works cited list.
I agree with this bachelor thesis being deposited in the Masaryk University Brno in the library

of the Department of English Language and Literature and with the access for studying



Rostislav Hubač

I would like to thank to my supervisor, Mgr. Jaroslav Izavčuk for his patience.

Tato bakalářská práce zkoumá jakými způsoby sestry Brontëovy o incestu a cizoložství psaly a zda se dají vypozorovat nějaké podobné názory či tendence. Jedna kapitola byla také věnována zkoumání zákonů o rodině, což mělo pomoci ujasnit, proč je právě manželství a rodina jedním z hlavních témat sester Brontëových. Pomocí pečlivého čtení jednoho románu od každé ze sester byly identifikovány pasáže v dílech, kde se píše o fenoménech incestu a cizoložství a tyto pasáže pak byly porovnány v závěru. Závěr pak konstatuje, že incest a zvláště pak cizoložství bylo v románech použito k reálnému vylíčení rodinné reality Viktoriánské doby.

Klíčová slova:

Incest, cizoložství, gender, manželství, sourozenci


This bachelor thesis is concerned with the way the Brontë sisters wrote about incest and adultery and whether any similar opinions or tendencies may be observed in their writings. One of the chapters deals with an investigation of family law which should help us understand why marriage and family present the main issues Brontë Sisters deal with. Careful reading has been employed to identify those passages in the novel where incest and adultery are mentioned and these passages have been compared in the conclusion. The conclusion argues that both incest and adultery have been employed to depict a real family situation of the Victorian Period.


Incest, adultery, gender, marriage, siblings

Table of Contents

Table of Contents 5

1. Introduction 6

2. Marriage, Divorce and Incest in Victorian England 8

3. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre 12

4. Emily’s Wuthering Heights 18

5. Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall 24

6. Conclusion 33

7. Works Cited 35

1. Introduction

There are many books, journal articles and scientific papers analyzing, comparing and contrasting two of the Brontë sisters´ novels or a Brontë sister novel and another novel written either before or after the Brontë sisters wrote their masterpieces. However, there are few papers concerned with a single issue in the works of all three sisters1. Considering the plethora of studies devoted to the Brontës, this constitutes an unexpected surprise which this thesis would like to exploit. The three novels which this thesis examines – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall2 were published within ten months of each other which, emphasized by the fact that that these novels were written by three sisters who shared a common household for most of their lives, suggests there might be issues worth exploring.

The childhood spent at Haworth Pastorage played a seminal role in shaping the literary careers of the sisters as they experienced the loss of their mother and other sisters (Maria and Elizabeth), they grew up with their brother Branwell and attempted their first literary excursions under the male-sounding pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The sibling relationships have since been labeled as very intense which Charlotte herself acknowledged, when writing to a friend of hers, by revealing the "profound and intense affection which brothers and sisters feel for each other" (Smith 255). The contribution of the family circle to the development of the literary masterpieces was also recognized by Juliet Barker: "Without this intense family relationship, some of the greatest novels in the English language would never have been written" (830). The sisters, and their brother Branwell, maintained and improved their relationship by devising fantastic stories of imaginary countries of Angria and Gondal.

This thesis would like to argue that due to the sisters’ common familial background they employed similar devices to illustrate the injustice which was being done to women. This common link might be found and examined between the literary works the sisters wrote, especially within such a short period of time. All the novels concerned deal with family and gender issues which are the topics which have spurred so much debate since the publication of the novels. This thesis would like to argue that this common link might be found in the issues of adultery and incest. Furthermore, this thesis would like to argue that all three sisters utilized the issues to achieve similar point as the novels contain a range of similarities in the handling of the issues. However, before more detailed analyses of the novels are carried out, I will examine the broader cultural background, with an emphasis on family law, as it will provide a better understanding of what the sisters may have been trying to point out – the fact that their society had problems which no one was willing to address. This chapter will be followed by a closer analysis of incest and adultery in each of the novels, in the same order as they were published.

In the analysis of each novel, the emphasis will be placed on the main male and female characters with short digressions to the minor characters. The major characters’ lives will be analyzed and the significance of adultery and incest for their decision making will be explored.

The analysis of the novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall will follow chronological order of events rather than the order of events as presented in the text due to the epistolary character of the novel.

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