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Free Content Mrs Rochester and Mr Cooper: Alternative Visions of Class, History and Rebellion in the ‘Hungry Forties’

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The author contends that in contrast to ‘gender’ and ‘race’ the category of ‘class’ has been neglected in the study of literature. To demonstrate its usefulness he compares and contrasts a canonical text with a forgotten one from the ‘little tradition’ of working-class writing. Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847) has been very much at the centre of revisionist feminist literary historiography for the last thirty years, but the class and history issues involved in the novel have been interrogated only in passing, except for one or two critical interventions. Yet from the opening chapter it is clear that these issues are of equal importance. Generically and thematically a world apart, Thomas Cooper's ‘“Merry England” No More!’ (1845) offers an instructively different vision of some of Brontë's concerns. Intriguingly, this tale refuses closure along the lines of Mrs Rochester's achieved domestic bliss. As a final comparison between two sketches of Chartists standing trial illustrates, class visions infiltrated not only the literary but also the visual representations of rebellion in the 1840s.

Keywords: Chartist writing; English fiction of the 1840s; Jane Eyre; Thomas Cooper

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Universität Rostock

Publication date: March 1, 2005

More about this publication?
  • Literature & History is a biannual international refereed journal concerned to investigate the relations between writing, history and ideology. It provides an open forum for practitioners coming from the distinctive vantage points of either discipline (or from other adjacent subject areas) to explore issues of common concern: period, content, gender, class, nationality, changing sensibilities, discourse and language. Unique in its essentially plural identity, Literature & History began publication in 1975 and since 1992 has appeared under the imprint of Manchester University Press. Special issues devoted to a particular period or theme (produced under guest editorship) are published from time to time. Literature & History is a well known, theoretically self-conscious, and much referred to landmark in interdisciplinary studies and has consistently attracted contributions of high calibre.

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