Pseudonymity, authorship, selfhood : the names and lives of Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot
Nikkila, Sonja Renee
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"Why did George Eliot live and Currer Bell die?" Victorian pseudonymity is seldom treated to any critical scrutiny - the only sustained interest has been in reading masculine pseudonyms as masks for "disreputable femininity," signs of the woman writer's "anxiety of authorship." This thesis proposes that pseudonymity is not a capitulation to gender ideology, but that a nom de plume is an exaggerated version of any authorial signature - the abstraction (or Othering) of a self into text which occurs in the production of "real" authors as well as fictional characters. After an introductory chapter presenting the theoretical issues of selfhood and authorship, I go on to discuss milieu - the contexts which produced Bronte and Eliot - including a brief history of pseudonymous novelists and the Victorian publishing and reviewing culture. The third and fourth chapters deal with pseudonymity as heccéité, offering "biographies" of the authorial personas "Currer Bell" and "George Eliot" rather than the women who created them, thus demonstrating the problems of biography and the relative, multiple status of identity. The three following chapters explore the concerns of pseudonymity through a reading of the novels: I treat Jane Eyre, Villette, and even Shirley as "autobiographical" in order to address the construction of self and narrative; I examine how Eliot's realist fictions (notably Scenes of Clerical Life, Romola, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda) trouble the "reality"/"fiction" binary; and finally I read Bronte specifically for her engagement with "dress," using queer theories of performativity with Victorian theories of clothing and conduct to question "readability" itself. My final chapter is concerned with agencement (adjustment) and "mythmaking": the posthumous biographical and critical practices surrounding these two writers reveal that an author's "name," secured through literary reputation, is not static or inevitable, but the result of constant process and revision.