Envy and jealousy in the novels of the Brontes: A synoptic discernment

Margaret Ann McCann, Marquette University


This dissertation examines ways in which Charlotte, Anne, and Emily Brontë use the emotions of envy and jealousy in their novels in order to drive their plots forward and to coordinate the distribution of power between the envious and the envied. Invariably, the characters in these novels reveal who they are in accordance with what makes them envious, and how they respond to jealousy. In terms of procedure, I analyzed incidents of envy and jealousy in each novel and assessed their influence on human behavior within the narrative. I also considered what Victorian critics had to say on the subject of envy and jealousy in these works, and then proceeded to more contemporary scholarship. In addition, I implemented the research of clinical psychologists with respect to their patients. (For instance, I demonstrated that what psychoanalysts have empirically proven in regards to envy and jealousy was already illustrated more than one hundred fifty years earlier by Anne Brontë with the publication of Agnes Grey in 1847). Included in my discussion are Ideological Charts of Envy and Jealousy that will enable us to appreciate how the Brontës utilized these emotions in their novels. For example, by referring to these charts we can see at a glance that although sexual jealousy can lead to violence, once a Brontëan heroine articulates her jealousy, she is (ironically) rewarded, as when Rochester proposes marriage to Jane Eyre after she reveals her jealousy of Blanche Ingram. The emotions of envy and jealousy influence the outcome of politics, families, careers, marriages, property ownership, and income in each of these narratives. As far as the Brontës are concerned, envy and jealousy are more than fleeting emotions--they are channels of transformation that determine marital status and economic power. When we assess the impact of envy and jealousy in the seven novels of the Brontës, we acquire a greater understanding of ourselves and of human nature, especially when under the influence of these emotions.

Recommended Citation

McCann, Margaret Ann, "Envy and jealousy in the novels of the Brontes: A synoptic discernment" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3263806.