Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation (Honours)


School of Liberal Arts


This thesis will take seriously the Victorian fascination with papery objects, bringing together contemporary models of materiality that centralise the ontological existence of the book as a physical thing, and studies on the domestic Gothic novel that emphasise the doubleness of female existence. While the incarceration of the Gothic heroine has been substantially addressed in scholarship, there remains a gap in the exploration of the material objects that furnish the Brontëan novel and the characters’ haptic engagement with these objects. With a focus on two novelists of the period, Anne Brontë and Charlotte Brontë, I will discuss two novels that are fascinated by the texture, form, and tactility of material objects—objects that function as embodiments of the creative self. By investigating the papery objects that circulate the Brontëan novel, I argue that the Gothic heroine imagines a life outside of the constraints of the domestic space through acts of creative production.

In the first section, I take Helen Graham’s diary-manuscript, and the surrounding criticism, as the starting point for an investigation of papery materials in Anne Brontë’s novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). Through a series of close readings, I will argue that Brontë’s novel formulates a spatial model that mimics female subjectivity, as the frame-tale narrative structure, ruinous architecture of Wildfell Hall, and circulation of textual materials, each manifest Helen’s selfhood, fragmented by the opposing forces of confinement / creation, and possessed / possessing. Through the dual acts of writing and artmaking, Helen establishes her status as a creative agent who both mediates her existence and imagines new life through creative activity.

In the second section, I will turn to Charlotte Brontë’s final novel, Villette (1853), to argue that the heroine navigates a life of suffering through actively performing her position as a writer. Lucy Snowe’s oblique mode of storytelling and appreciation of papery objects manifest her imagined self—as she insists on the doubled nature of her existence to avoid the closure of categorisation and claim control of her narrative trajectory.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.