“I Am Equally Weary of Confinement”: Women Writers and Rasselas from Dinarbas to Jane Eyre

Jessica RichardWake Forest University
Vol. 22, No. 2 (Fall 2003), 335-356

This essay examines the dialectic of imprisonment and escape evolving from Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas (1759) through women’s redactions, beginning just one year after Johnson’s publication and culminating in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847). Rasselas is the book Helen Burns is reading when Jane Eyre first encountered her, yet while numerous other textual influences have been exhaustively studied for this novel, Rasselas surprisingly has not. This essay shows that the potential for emancipation—through Rasselas’s thematics of liberty—is evident in the writings of not only women authors who were exhilarated by the work, but also of women who worried about the threat that such a desire, particularly in the wake of the French revolutionary movements, posed to social order. The essay looks in particular to the anxiety produced in women writers, including Brontë, by this text’s dangerously inconclusive ending. The article pursues a complex answer to the question of how a culture appropriates and refashions its canonical texts through history.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]