The Business of Coquetting

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The eighteenth century deplored the coquette. Mary Wollstonecraft, a stern critic of flirting, argued that getting a husband should not be the business of a woman’s life. In their evening meetings, it is likely that the Brontë sisters read and discussed Wollstonecraft. Certainly, her ideas can be found in their novels. Sometimes they agreed with their forerunner, sometimes they challenged her. In my essay I look at a few moments in Charlotte Brontë’s writings where she considers the guilty pleasures of coquetting. I begin with Jane and Rochester and end with a glimpse at Charlotte’s fascination with William Weightman. Did the flirting of this otherwise admirable cleric serve as the contradiction that enabled her to value coquetting? In her letters and presumably also in her life and certainly in her novels, Charlotte coquettes. A process of revealing and concealing, of opening and closing off possibilities, of piquing interest and toying with expectations, writing a novel is, after all, not unlike coquetting. It could be argued that for Charlotte Brontë not only was literature a woman’s (and a man’s) business but so was coquetting.


Original version available online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14748932.2018.1389005



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