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‘Is Childhood Then so All-Divine?’: Representations of Childhood in the Poetry of Anne Brontë

Despite the increasing criticism of her traditional critical and cultural reputation as the “third Brontë” in recent years, the underestimation of Anne Brontë’s philosophical and political engagement remains tenacious. This is especially relevant when it comes to scholarly work on her poetry, where biographical and/or religious critical frameworks dominate. By contrast, this article is interested in Brontë’s poetic intervention in Victorian debates surrounding political and aesthetic conceptions of the child and childhood. Brontë simultaneously deploys and subverts traditionally Romantic imagery, interrogating this mode most explicitly in later poems such as ‘Memory’, ‘Dreams’ and ‘Z-’s Dream’. In these mature pieces, Brontë undercuts the more conventional presentation of such topics in her earlier poems with a self-reflexive meditation on the authenticity of nostalgic visions. Therefore, Brontë’s engagement with childhood becomes more vexed over time, mirroring the more realist representation of childhood in her novels. However, Brontë’s poetic work also reveals a deeper and more conflicted identification with the Romantic aesthetic of childhood than one might imagine the writer of Agnes Grey (1847) could possess, providing access to a more complete picture of Brontë’s position on these essential questions of innocence, nostalgia and childhood.

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