Sarah Pearce is a final year doctoral candidate at Flinders University in the English department. Her research focuses on the suffering female body in the literature of Emily and Charlotte Brontë, and lies at the intersection of Gothic studies, Victorian studies, and feminist and gender studies.
Volume 36, May 2017
This paper offers a contemporary feminist reading of the cluster of themes surrounding consumption and food in Jane Eyre (1847) and Villette (1853) by Charlotte Brontë, and Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Brontë. I explore key textual episodes of (not-)eating in light of contemporary feminist theory on women, food, the body, eating disorders and food refusal throughout history. In order to explore issues surrounding female food refusal, I look to those periods of history in which female fasting (or anorexia) was particularly prevalent, such as the early medieval period and the nineteenth-, twentieth- and twenty-first-centuries. In so doing, I highlight an array of significant issues relating to women and food: the pervasive and to some extent a-historical cultural perception of female appetite as ‘bad’ and dangerous; adherence to nineteenth century codes of femininity; the attempt to gain control through food refusal; the physical expression of psychic states in the absence of a heard voice; and the potentially subversive or rebellious nature of female starvation and wasting. In much the same way that nineteenth century conceptions of femininity were partly defined by the paradox of the angel and the monster or whore, the act of food refusal is also defined by paradoxical gestures toward both acquiescence and rebellion. Therefore, I propose a need to counter traditional readings and thus de-story, or re-story, these texts by allowing these textual female bodies, as they refuse food and waste away, to make multiple, simultaneous, metaphorical and literal, paradoxical gestures.