Our thanks to Routledge for providing us with a review copy of this book
Time, Space, and Place in Charlotte BrontëTime, Space, and Place in Charlotte Brontë is a compilation of twelve essays organised more or less thematically under some umbrella-like themes which cover a lot of possible topics loosely connected with the topics of the aforementioned title. The editors, the late Diane Long Hoeveler and Deborah Denenholz Morse, do a great job not only in the suggestive and succinct introduction but in creating a much-needed sense of cohesion to the book. Without their work, the compilation was very much at risk of not being more than a juxtaposition of different and critically-disparaged articles published together under the dubious criteria of taking advantage of the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë, celebrated in 2016.
Diane Long Hoeveler, Deborah Denenholz Morse (editors)
The editors' main aim is 'to explore the sources of the longevity and power of [Charlotte Brontë's] oeuvre'. This, of course, can be done in many different ways and the book chooses three possible vectors of exploration. The first one is Time through her own historical context and later critical reception. The next one is Space, literally and metaphorically in her literary output. Finally, Place is discussed both as a psychic and geographical phenomenon in novels and adaptations. Each of the sections contains four different essays.
In the Time initial section, our favourite essay was Alexis Easley's article on the 1916 centenary of Charlotte Brontë and its relation to first-wave feminism. It covers a particularly fascinating period for Brontëites and fills some gaps in the still-unwritten history of Brontëana in the 20th and 21th centuries. Julia Donovan's article on the Victorian renderings of time is perhaps too literal and conventional and the articles by Herbert Rosengarten on the contemporary critical reception of Shirley and Sarah E. Maier on new neo-Victorian re-visionings of Charlotte's life and works (like Jude Morgan's The Taste of Shadow or Sheila Kohler's Becoming Jane Eyre among others) being interesting (particularly the Shirley one) feel like a bit arbitrary (why Shirley and not Villette? Why these particular sequels and not others also from the same period?).
Space is probably the section where the essays feel more isolated from each other. Each one explores some kind of 'literary space' where cultural interactions with the Brontë opus can occur. Diane Long Hoeveler discusses the anxious imagination in Brontë's works using unexplored avenues connecting Brontë's manifestations of 'anxious historical imagination' with current theatrical innovations like the magic lantern shows. Beth Lau's reminds us of the influence of Samuel Richardson's Pamela on Jane Eyre. Well beyond the usual mention with no real exploration, Lau's essay provides convincing reasons to illuminate Pamela's long shadow over Jane Eyre. Finally, Chloe Le Gall-Scoville and Kari Lokke find echoes of George Sand's Indiana in Jane Eyre and Carol Senf looks into the personal politics of space in Jane Eyre arguing against one of the most consistently-repeated critical arguments against Jane Eyre's ethical evolution: her social class prejudices even when teaching in Morton. Hers is a truly bildungsromanly (internal and external) version of Jane Eyre's evolution (psychological and physical) in the novel.
The last part is devoted to Places. Existing physical places like the animal places in Jane Eyre (forest dells, the attic, the moorland) explored in the article of Deborah Denenholz Morse. National places like the dichotomy French/English of the Lucy Snowe character in Villette as discussed by Judith Pike in an enlightening article. Emerging spaces as the walks in Villette discussed by Lucy Morrison in the best Rousseauian tradition of 'walking as thinking'. Finally, and fittingly, the last chapter deals with the final place: death. The article by Carol Davison talks about mourning and the 'Death Question' in the life and times of Charlotte Brontë.
If something clearly emerges after reading Time, Space, and Place in Charlotte Brontë it is how Charlotte Brontë's novels though clearly a sign of her times are able to provide interior worlds where other social and literary histories (past, present and future) are able to breathe and permeate the Brontë opus. The result is a vastly significant and complex literary output which in the words of the editors:
in an age in which everyone is pressed for time, readers still find time to read and love.