Charlotte Brontë’s Domestic Refusal
Cienki, Thomas Joseph
What we talk about when we talk about refusal is decidedly masculine in focus and perspective. Standard accounts of refusal locate it in Herbert Marcuse’s avowal that refusal represents the “protest against that which is” or Bartleby’s pronouncement that he “would prefer not to.” This thesis runs counter to refusal’s commonplace concerns with masculine-centric ideas of bureaucracy, labor, and social protest, as it explores how refusal was borne of the domestic sphere. Taking Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre" as its example par excellence, this thesis argues that domestic refusal is written on and expressed through the female body. Thus interwoven with corporeality, refusal of the Brontëan strand establishes itself as an essential component of a woman’s bildung, or growth and maturation into the world. Unlike masculine refusal—where refusal is weaponized for a specific, proximal end—this thesis maintains that domestic refusal is integral for a woman to make her way through the social landscape of the nineteenth century and beyond.