By the age of eight, Charlotte Brontë had lost first her mother and then her two older sisters. Later, in a second wave of deaths, her brother and two younger sisters died, leaving her a sole survivor.
With subtlety and imagination, Robert Keefe examines Brontë’s works as the creative response to these losses, particularly the loss of her mother. Terrified and yet fascinated by death, struggling with guilt, remorse, and a deep sense of rejection, Charlotte Brontë found in art a way to come to terms with death through its symbolic reenactment. In her earlier writings she created a fictional world marked by devices that allow her to control or deny death. In her later works these mechanisms evolved into mature expressions of a profound psychological reality.
Brontë’s preoccupation with death is seen in her fiction in the recurring patterns of separation and exile. Keefe traces the development of these motifs in the juvenilia and the four novels: The Professor, Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Villette.
Unique in its emphasis on the maternal relationships in Brontë’s life and art, this study also explores certain aspects of her life that have often puzzled biographers.