MA Sara Nyffenegger

PhD Project: Charlotte Brontë and the Negotiation of Gendered Capital

Aware of the fact that the marriage market was in transition, nineteenth-century authors were re-negotiating feminine ideals and female protagonists started developing different forms of gendered capital. This re-negotiation opened new possibilities for women and signified a move towards independence. I emulate the use of economic terminology as demonstrated by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in connection with gendered capital used within the marriage market. Bourdieu not only analyses different forms of cultural and social capital, but also illustrates how the distribution thereof creates power structures and consequently hierarchies, in which women lack the power of self-determination. Women amassed more social capital than men, forming vast networks of reciprocity and trust. Unfortunately they were unsuccessful in using this social capital for their own benefit. I analyze the negotiation of gendered capital in Brontë’s work, illustrating how her characters mark a point of ideological changes at the brink between the Romantic and Victorian Era. They choose to enter a more independent life, disconnected from potential husbands, pushing for access to higher education and even entering a public or professional life, thus expanding women’s sphere, amassing different forms of capital, which consequently allows them to move more independently in an ever-changing world.

Research Interests

Feminism(s), Marxist theory, cultural capital, social capital, 19th-century novel, the Brontës, Victorian literature