Power and Starvation in the Novels and Lives of Emily and Charlotte Bronte

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Power and Starvation in the Novels and Lives of Emily and Charlotte Bronte In the fictional worlds of Charlotte and Emily Brontë, one of the few ways that women who otherwise have very little say in their lives are able to express dissatisfaction is through self-starvation and illness. It is noteworthy that in their own lives the Bronte sisters exhibited many eccentric habits in regards to eating, and both Charlotte and (especially) Emily engaged in self-starvation similar to the strategies used by the characters in their novels. Anorexia is a general term that describes the decline of appetite or aversion to food, though it is most commonly used to refer to self-starvation. Anorexia was not new during the time of the Brontës. Although eating disorders are often thought of as being a modern day phenomenon, it is in fact only widespread diagnosis that is a recent occurrence. Those who had no other means to wield power, other than in terms of individual self-control, have long used starvation and fasting as a means of exerting control over an environment in which they felt powerless. In his book, Holy Anorexia, Rudolph Bell sites a case of anorexia in a 20 year old girl from as early as 1686 (3). In fact, eating disorders were fairly common in the time leading up to the Brontë's era, although the motivations behind them were often quite dissimilar. Today, young women are often driven to starve themselves because, "they must conform to an impossible, media-driven standard of beauty which holds that 'you can never be too thin.'" (Orenstein 94) In the 18th and 19th century, however, thinness was not an ideal to strive towards, and the psychology behind fasting and starvation was oftentimes more complica... ... middle of paper ... ... Bemporad, Jules R. The Psychoanalytic Approach to Psychosomatics and Eating Disorders: The Prehistory of Anorexia Nervosa. New York: The Newsletter of the Psychosomatic Discussion Group of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Sept., 1997. Bell, Rudolph M., and William N. Davis. Holy Anorexia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Frank, Katherine. A Chainless Soul: A Life of Emily Brontë. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990. Gordan, Lyndall. Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1994. Orenstein, Peggy. Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap. New York: Anchor Books, 1995. Terris, Susan. Nell's Quilt. New York: Sunburst, 1996. Vine, Steven. Bronte, Emily Jane. Date unknown. University of Swansea. 30 March 2002. http://www.litencyc.com/

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