Date of Award

5-1-2016

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Collins, Ken

Abstract

John Bowlby’s work on attachment theory in the 1960s altered the cultural understanding of parent-child relationships. Bowlby argued that the ability for an individual to form attachments later in life, be that familial, romantic, or friendship is affected by whether or not that individual formed a strong attachment to a primary caregiver in early childhood. My thesis uses Bowlby’s theory as a critical lens to examine three novels by the Brontës: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. I use this theory in order to demonstrate that these novels are what I have termed proto-attachment narratives, which is to say narratives about attachment before formal attachment theory existed, and, further, that they work to bridge the gap between the contemporary nineteenth-century debate on child rearing and Bowlby’s theory. In addition, I discuss how each of these novels exemplifies, complicates, and expands upon Bowlby’s theory in its own way. Wuthering Heights demonstrates the cyclical nature of damaged attachments and works to find a way to break from that cycle. Jane Eyre gives a clear understanding of an individual’s lifelong struggle with failed attachments and the importance of a balanced power dynamic to forming healthy attachments, and, finally, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall examines how even properly formed, healthy parent-child attachments can lead to development problems, if the power granted to those parental attachment figure is not used responsibly. I further theorize that we can use these novels as a starting point to discuss how we might define attachment narratives as a genre, as they hold many similarities with more clearly defined modern attachment narratives.

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