Constraints of Capital: Forms of Capital and Their Effect on Female Mobility in the Lives and Works of the Brontë Sisters (Thesis)

Julia DeiTos, Spring 2019

Director: Jean Fernandez

Committee Members: Orianne Smith and Jessica Berman

This thesis seeks to understand the ways in which Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Brontë experienced and depicted constraints of capital as they were experienced by women in Victorian England. Constraints on women’s capital during this period were primarily legal, stemming from coverture’s ability to disenfranchise the married woman. Influenced by Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of capital, DeiTos’s approach focuses on the role of cultural, social, land-based, and financial capital in Brontë heroines’ ability to acquire capital and achieve mobility. When considered through this lens, Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jane Eyre, and Villette, in that order, form a pattern of progression that sees the female protagonists of each novel become steadily more adept at acquiring and manipulating capital, resulting in increased mobility. This pattern is presented alongside and contextualized within the experiences of each Brontë sister and, thus, accounts for the ways in which their art imitated their lives.