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Now You See It: Concealing and Revealing Pregnant Bodies in Wuthering Heights and The Clever Woman of the Family

Livia Arndal Woods (CUNY Graduate Center)


This essay reads the concealment and revelation of pregnancy in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) and Charlotte Mary Yonge’s The Clever Woman of the Family (1865) in order to demonstrate Victorian textual convention for the treatment of pregnancy. These readings establish the period tendency to conceal the pregnancies of modest/moral women and to reveal (as punishment, example, and narrative necessity) the pregnancies of immodest/immoral women. I also explore the ways in which a vocabulary of illness cooperates with the concealment and revelation of pregnant bodies. Reading illness and pregnancy in Wuthering Heights makes particularly legible our participation in the punishing narrative treatment of reproductive bodies that transgress normative behaviours: this heightened legibility prompts my unconventional pairing of Brontë with Yonge, a novelist invested in the novel as means of moral instruction and correction. This essay is about the gender, narration, (un)ethical modes of reading, and the specificities of bodies, about what pregnancy can tell us about these things and about what these things can tell us about pregnancy. The message in both directions is simple and important: when we see a character’s pregnant body in a Victorian novel, chances are it is because she has done something wrong.

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