Solitude, spinsterhood, and single blessedness : the Brontës and redundant women in nineteenth-century Protestant England.

Date of Award


Document Type



College of Liberal Arts

Degree Name

Bachelor in Arts


This thesis examines how the works of Victorian novelists Charlotte and Anne Brontë respond to the growing population of unmarried women, dubbed "redundant" by nineteenth-century England. It engages a feminist reading of four primary texts, Charlotte Brontë's Shirley (1849) and Villette (1853), and Anne Brontë's Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), with scholarship that illuminates the historical moment and culture in which they were written, paying particular attention to the role of the Brontës' religious ideology in their work. This thesis tracks the thematic threads that run through the four primary texts, while still acknowledging that each of the Brontës had her own distinct approach to analyzing the condition of women. Chapter 1 examines how Charlotte Brontë's Shirley speaks to the underlying questions of womans purpose, autonomy, and selfhood, in the redundant women debate. Chapter 2 deals with the portrayal of female solitude as independence in Charlotte Brontë's Villette. Chapter 3 contrasts female independence with the image of marriage as bondage, which we find in Anne Brontë's Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). These three chapters draw connections between each of the four primary texts, showing how they challenge Victorian society's elevation of marriage by suggesting that single life is, more often than not, the better option for women. This conclusion is reached by recognizing the influence of the Brontës' Protestant ideals in their work. In interpreting gender relations through the lens of Protestant-Catholic doctrinal difference, the Brontës conclude that a single woman is not only a complete individual, but also a paradigm of Protestant individualism.