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The Power of Madness in the Victorian Gothic: Exploring Reader Empathy in Jane Eyre and Villette

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posted on 2023-04-04, 04:06 authored by Rachel Baldacchino

The Victorian Gothic is renowned for its representations of madness and mental instability. Yet despite the centrality of these Gothic motifs, scholars have yet paid little attention to how reading about disordered minds in Victorian Gothic fiction impacts readers. This thesis aims to redress this scholarly gap by combining the field of Gothic Studies with Narrative Empathy Studies to posit the Victorian Gothic as a literary genre poised to induce empathetic and reflective reactions in readers. This thesis argues that, by employing techniques that align with theories of Narrative Empathy, such as foregrounding and defamiliarisation, the Victorian Gothic induces ‘self-modifying feelings’ in readers, prompting readers to reconsider their own identities and lives in response to the psychological suffering of Gothic characters. Using historicised literary analysis, this thesis considers Charlotte Brontë’s novels Jane Eyre (1847) and Villette (1853) as case studies of how Victorian Gothic themes such as the doppelgänger, excess and the abject intersect with and extend the theories of Narrative Empathy. In this way, this thesis charts new ground; while Brontë is considered one of the foremost nineteenth-century writers of Gothic psychological realism, her novels have not yet been analysed through the lens of Narrative Empathy Studies in the context of their Gothic representations of psychology and mental instability. This thesis, therefore, makes an original contribution to the fields of Brontë Studies, Narrative Empathy Studies and the field of Victorian Gothic.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. The Victorian Psychological Context -- Chapter 2. The Victorian Gothic -- Chapter 3. Doubling Reflections in Jane Eyre -- Chapter 4. The Alterity of Subjectivity in Villette -- Conclusion -- Works Cited

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Language, and Literature

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Kirstin Mills


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103 pages

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