AWEJ Special Issue on Literature No.1, 2013 Pp.102-114
Charlotte Bronte’s Alternative Enlightenment: The Muslim Other in Villette
Kuwait University, Kuwait
In her novel Villette (1853), Charlotte Bronte, unlike many of her contemporary British novelists deploys the Muslim Other as an effective rhetorical and figurative device. The main character in this late eighteenth-century novel, Lucy Snoweutilizes Arab, Muslim and in particular Turkish cultural allusions, symbols and imagesfor the sake of verifying her day-to-day experiences. Lucy seems to achieveemotional security whileusing imagery from the One Thousand and One Nights. The Other, according to Joseph Childers and Gary Hentzi (1995), “is the ultimate signifier of everything I am not[…] has often been defined as ‘women’ or African or Asian- and hence the Other is what is feared, what exists to be conquered” (p. 216). Bronte in Villette seems to use the Muslim other as a signifier of almost everything Lucy Snowe goes through in her daily life. Bronte in Villette represents a unique case of a British novelist who seemed to have truly believed in egalitarian Enlightenment ideas. Involving ideas of progress, tolerance and the removal of censorship, Immanuel Kant (1784) defines the Enlightenment in his famous essay “What is Enlightenment?” Kant explains that“it is the freedom to make public use of one’s reason at every point” (p. 2). Bronte reveals her freedom of reason while transcending in the novel national and entrenched cultural biases against Muslims.In many ways,Bronte in Villettecreates an Enlightenment cosmopolitan space.
Keywords: Villette, Cosmopolitan, Egalitarian, Turks, Muslim Other