Landscape and Gender in the Novels of Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy: The Body of Nature, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Landscape and Gender in the Novels of Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy

The Body of Nature, 1st Edition

By Eithne Henson


260 pages

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Examining a wide range of representations of physical, metaphorical, and dream landscapes in Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy, Eithne Henson explores the way in which gender attitudes are expressed, both in descriptions of landscape as the human body and in ideas of nature. Henson discusses the influence of eighteenth-century aesthetic theory, particularly on Brontë and Eliot, and argues that Ruskinian aesthetics, Darwinism, and other scientific preoccupations of an industrializing economy, changed constructions of landscape in the later nineteenth century. Henson examines the conventions of reading landscape, including the implied expectations of the reader, the question of the gendered narrator, how place defines the kind of action and characters in the novels, the importance of landscape in creating mood, the pastoral as a moral marker for readers, and the influence of changing aesthetic theory on the implied painterly models that the three authors reproduce in their work. She also considers how each writer defines the concept of Englishness against an internal or colonial Other. Alongside these concerns, Henson interrogates the ancient trope that equates woman with nature, and the effect of comparing women to natural objects or offering them as objects of the male gaze, typically to diminish or control them. Informed by close readings, Henson's study offers an original approach to the significances of landscape in the 'realist' nineteenth-century novel.


'This study undertakes a subtly crafted and elegantly argued study of the role and significance of landscape in a number of major fictional Victorian texts. These and other considerations help to inform an excellent chapter on Charlotte Bronte which cleverly demonstrates the gendered nature of landscape representation in Jane Eyre and Shirley in a reading of great subtlety and inwardness. In turning to the very different world of George Eliot, Henson explores with real verve and intelligence the role of men and women in a working Midlands landscape, and the influence of Dutch realism, and is most perceptive in addressing the problematic role of the 'male' narrator in her fiction. When Henson turns to Hardy, the study is once again replete with superfine distinctions in its response to textual detail, and the reader is offered rewardingly fresh readings of novels from Far From the Madding Crowd up to Tess.' Roger Ebbatson, Lancaster University '… represents the most complete work to date exploring the use of landscape (with all its implications only previously hinted at) in Charlotte Brontë demonstrating beyond any doubt the great importance of landscape description (in all its forms) in Charlotte Brontë's way of narrating and clearly implicating that any serious critical approach to her work has to take it into account.' Brontë Blog '… a well-constructed and stimulating book.' Landscapes

Table of Contents

Contents: Fields of enquiry; Charlotte Brontë; George Eliot; Thomas Hardy; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Eithne Henson taught for Fairleigh Dickinson University (1984-1995), until retirement. She has published on Samuel Johnson, Jane Austen, and Katherine Mansfield, and contributed to The Feminist Companion to Literature in English.

About the Series

The Nineteenth Century Series

The Nineteenth Century Series

The Nineteenth Century Series aims to develop and promote new approaches and fresh directions in scholarship and criticism on nineteenth-century literature and culture. The series encourages work which erodes the traditional boundary between Romantic and Victorian studies and welcomes interdisciplinary approaches to the literary, religious, scientific and visual cultures of the period. While British literature and culture are the core subject matter of monographs and collections in the series,  the editors encourage proposals which explore the wider, international contexts of nineteenth-century literature – transatlantic, European and global.  Print culture, including studies in the newspaper and periodical press, book history, life writing and gender studies are particular strengths of this established series as are high quality single author studies.  The series also embraces research in the field of digital humanities. The editors invite proposals from both younger and established scholars in all areas of nineteenth-century literary studies. 

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Comparative Literature