Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Paul Schmidt - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. LeeAnne Richardson

Third Advisor

Dr. Murray Brown


If you knew my thoughts; the dreams that absorb me; and the fiery imagination that at times eats me up and makes me feel Society as it is, wretchedly insipid you would pity and I dare say despise me. (C. Brontë, 10 May 1836) Before Charlotte Brontë wrote her first novel for publication, she admitted her mixed feelings about imagination. Brontë’s letter shows that she feared both pity and condemnation. She struggled to attend to the imaginative world that brought her pleasure and to fulfill her duties in the real world so as to avoid its contempt. Brontë’s early correspondence attests to her engrossment with the Angrian world she created in childhood. She referred to this world as the “infernal world” and to imagination as “fiery,” showing the intensity and potential destructiveness of creativity. Society did not draw Brontë the way that the imagined world did, and in each of Brontë’s four mature novels, she recreated the tricky navigation between the desirable imagined world and the necessary real world. Each protagonist resolves the struggle differently, with some protagonists achieving more success in society than others. The introduction of this dissertation provides critical and biographical background on Brontë’s juxtaposition of imagination/desire and reason/duty. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic supplies the basis for understanding the ways that the protagonists express imagination, and John Kucich’s Repression in Victorian Fiction defines the purposefulness of repression. The four middle chapters examine imagination’s manifestations and purposes for the protagonists. The final chapter discusses how the tension caused by the competing desires to express and repress imagination distinguishes Brontë’s style.