Amy Coté, “‘A Handful of Loose Beads’: Catholicism and the Fictional Autobiography in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette” (pp. 473–494)

This essay considers the influence of confession as a Catholic liturgical sacrament and as a literary genre informing the fictional autobiography in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853). In her earlier novel Jane Eyre (1847), Brontë used the tradition of Protestant spiritual autobiography as a literary genre focused on the individual’s spiritual development. Villette, written as it was at the height of a wave of anti-Catholic sentiment in England in the 1840s and 1850s, has understandably been read as a nationalistic rebuke of Catholicism. This essay complicates this narrative, and shows how Brontë looks to Catholic liturgical traditions, most notably the sacrament of confession, to trouble the generic conventions of the Protestant spiritual autobiography and, by extension, of fictional autobiography.

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