Our next stop, in our virtual study abroad tour of England, is Yorkshire.
...One of the questions we consider in class is why there have been so few female philosophers until fairly recent times. We first read Plato’s arguments in The Republicas to why there cannot be a truly just society until all citizens, both male and female, are given equal opportunity to excel; then we study Aristotle’s rejoinder that such a policy would be folly, since women are by nature inferior to men, intellectually and physically. This point is reiterated later in the course by selections from the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, a vociferous misogynist, who argued that women were really just big children, unable to understand abstract thought. (Ironically, his mother was one of the first female novelists to publish under her own name. Understandably, she did not get along very well with her son.) To balance these arguments for women’s inherent inferiority, I then have the class read several poems by Emily Brontë, including ‘The Old Stoic’ (below), ‘I See Around Me Tombstones Grey’, and the above-quoted ‘The Philosopher’...
Enough of Thought, Philosopher;
Too long hast thou been dreaming
Unlightened, in this chamber drear –
While summer’s sun is beaming –
Space-sweeping soul, what sad refrain
Concludes thy musings once again?
– Emily Brontë (1818-1848), ‘The Philosopher’
The American philosopher John Dewey once remarked that when women philosophers became prominent, the very notion of what constitutes philosophical inquiry would be greatly expanded. By insisting on their right to be heard, and by demonstrating their keen powers of observation, the Brontë sisters have had a powerful and enduring impact on the history of thought..
Emily Brontë – Philosopher, by Tim Madigan... To Walk Invisible... Walking the Bronte Trail
The Old Stoic, by Emily Brontë (1818-1848)
Riches I hold in light esteem,
And Love I laugh to scorn;
And lust of fame was but a dream
That vanish’d with the morn:
And, if I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me
Is, “Leave the heart that now I bear,
And give me liberty!”
Yea, as my swift days near their goal,
‘Tis all that I implore:
In life and death a chainless soul,
With courage to endure.
"...To Henry James, trying to make sense of the continuing popularity of the Brontës 50 years after Charlotte's death, this "beguiled infatuation" with their lives was an unfortunate distraction. The story of their "dreary" existence ("their tragic history, their loneliness and poverty of life") had, he said, supplanted the achievement of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The flames of Brontëphilia, set alight by Gaskell and fanned by adoring admirers, had destroyed critical appreciation of the books themselves. FR Leavis seemed to prove James's point, when he excluded the Brontës from his Great Tradition, on the grounds that Charlotte's was only "a permanent interest of a minor kind" and that Wuthering Heights, though "astonishing", was "a kind of sport". To a certain kind of male critic, the Brontës' fiction was little more than upmarket Mills & Boon.
James might be surprised to find that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are both widely read and critically esteemed today... Guardian