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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



This thesis discusses the contrasting publication and reception histories of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847) and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847) and the complex role of Victorian gender norms in shaping those histories. In addition, the thesis examines the interplay between the Brontes’ works and their dialogues with Victorian gender norms and expectations of women on the creation of modern intertextual interpretations such as the Twilight (2005) and Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) novel series. The publication histories of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights can be best understood in relation to the social context provided by the gender norms and pressures that governed (or sought to govern) women’s behavior during the nineteenth century. Emily and Charlotte’s novels both opposed these gendered social norms to varying degrees but received widely different receptions during their lifetimes. Emily’s text was relatively negatively received and Charlotte attained literary success. An analysis and discussion of the interplay between their publication histories, the social norms and pressures that shaped those histories, and contemporary responses to the main female and male characters in their novels, Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff, Edgar Linton, Jane Eyre, and Mr. Rochester, can shed light on their opposing receptions.

In addition, this thesis explores how a gendered analysis of the effect of Victorian social norms and pressures on these texts and their receptions illuminates how modern appropriations by popular series novels Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey interpret anew the gender tropes the Brontes explored in their narratives. The characters in these novels, this thesis argues, follow a comparably gendered pattern of behavior in comparison to their literary predecessors. This thesis reads the female and male characters created by E.L. James and Stephenie Meyer for the ways they echo both the characterizations in the Bronte novels and the social and gendered pressures to which they conform. The connected characterization highlights female self-consciousness, morality and sexual innocence, and a desire for wealthy dominant male partners with sexual and emotional dysfunction. Finally, it is important to place this discussion within the wider cultural narrative that includes contemporary cultural engagement with these ‘popular’ interpretations of the Brontes’ work as a piece that fits into the larger archive of women’s culture.


First Advisor

Joseph Black

Second Advisor

Suzanne Daly

Third Advisor

Jennifer Adams