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In The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857), the first and the most celebrated biography of novelist Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell promoted the long-persisting romantic view of Bronte as having no connection with the rest of English society at a time when industrialization was causing much turbulence, but as having sprung naturally, like so much purple heather, out of the English countryside. Gaskell also portrayed Bronte as irreproachably proper, incapable of "unladylike” feelings or dangerous views; this was at variance with the subversive spirit Matthew Arnold accurately discerned, albeit with distance, deep within Bronte's fiction. While correcting many of Gaskell's errors and omissions at last, even Winifred Gerin's Charlotte Bronte: The Evolution of Genius (1967) failed to discard Gaskell's viewpoint. Feminist have introduced new interpretations of Bronte's life, but it is primarily Juliet Barker who takes into account the larger world that impinged on that life-- the changing England in which old divisions of class and gender were under pressure.

The primary purpose of the passage is to

A consider similarities in several studies of Charlotte Bronte’s life

B defend a particular view of Charlotte Bronte’s life

C discuss a change in perspective on Charlotte Bronte’s life

D depict the social environment in which Charlotte Bronte lived

E portray Charlotte Bronte as an early feminist writer

There are two popular solutions to this question: B and C, which I can't decide between.

I choose B because it seems to me that the author is inclined to believe Gaskell's theory is true. A big trunk of the passage is about Gaskell's theory.

An unofficial answer to the question is C. Honestly I don't understand the meaning of "change in perspective" very well. It's hard to say it is wrong, since the author writes in the last sentence that "takes into account the larger world that impinged on that life-- the changing England..." But it seems to me that Charlotte Bronte didn't change much at that time, as explained in the first sentence of this passage: ...having no connection with the rest of English society at a time when industrialization was causing much turbulence...

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The answer is definitely C.

The author of this passage describes Gaskell's writing using language that implies it is erroneous. "Romantic", "portrayed", the implication that a person could spring forth like a plant... all of it implies that the view is inaccurate and outdated.

Elizabeth Gaskell promoted the long-persisting romantic view of Bronte as having no connection with the rest of English society at a time when industrialization was causing much turbulence, but as having sprung naturally, like so much purple heather, out of the English countryside.

Romantic

When you describe something as being "romantic", when you're not talking about a date with your favorite person, you're saying that the view is idealistic and unrealistic. It means that the view is what one expects it to be but implies that it does not reflect reality.

Portrayed

Alone, "portrayed" doesn't necessarily discredit this work but we often use "portrayed" to describe an author of fiction's writing about their characters or an actor's interpretation of a character.

Metaphor

The way that the author of this passage makes Gaskell's opinions seem absurd - specifically the idyllic metaphor contrasted with the description of the real turmoil going on at the time:

"a time when industrialization was causing much turbulence, but as having sprung naturally, like so much purple heather, out of the English countryside."


So, together, these three things work to discredit Gaskell's view in light of a more reasonable on since espoused by other historians:

Arnold sees evidence in Bronte's writing that calls into question the veracity of Gaskell's assertion:

Gaskell also portrayed Bronte as irreproachably proper, incapable of "unladylike” feelings or dangerous views; this was at variance with the subversive spirit Matthew Arnold accurately discerned, albeit with distance, deep within Bronte's fiction.

And feminists, too, have shown a different side, eschewing these old interpretations.

Feminist have introduced new interpretations of Bronte's life.

Finally, the essay talks about Barker's new version of Bronte's life which includes and accepts that Bronte may not have been the person Gaskell claimed.

it is primarily Juliet Barker who takes into account the larger world that impinged on that life-- the changing England in which old divisions of class and gender were under pressure.

The answer, therefore, is C

C discuss a change in perspective on Charlotte Bronte’s life

There used to be a belief that Bronte was an innocent, romantic fully above the realities of the world she lived in, to a new view of her as having more depth in her writing and being a woman of her time.


So, we've talked about why it's C. Why is it not B?

Well, let's look:

B defend a particular view of Charlotte Bronte’s life

You argue that the essay is defending Gaskell's view. I hope that I've explained that it's not in a way that's clear. Please let me know if I have not.

Now, another answer claims that this essay is actually defending Barker's view by discrediting the older version of history. The problem in this is twofold.

Firstly, the essay says nearly nothing about what Barker actually writes. It's difficult to defend something if you don't explain it. Discrediting someone else's point of view does not "defend" yours. All it does is discredit that point of view. If B read "Discredit a particular view of Charlotte Bronte's life", I would 100% agree with that and pick it as the answer - but it says "defend", not "discredit".

Secondly, the essay uses at least two if not three sources to show the changing opinion - Arnold, "feminists" as a group, and "feminists" specifically in the person of Barker. There's no one view being defended.

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    I agree that "C" is the answer. However, I don't interpret "romantic" as you do. I take it to mean "of the 18th and 19th century literary and artistic movement now called the 'Romantics'" Famous romantics include Byron, Goethe and Wagner. The notion of Bronte of "springing naturally like wild heather" is very much a Romantic viewpoint. The word should be capitalised, but I consider that an error in the source, as there are other errors ("feminist" should be plural, no space after apostrophe) GRE texts from this source have frequent small errors.
    – James K
    Aug 10, 2017 at 16:15
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    @JamesK the very fact that it's not capitalized is why I haven't interpreted it that way. We can only judge based on the content we have.
    – Catija
    Aug 10, 2017 at 16:39
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    It's a reasonable interpretation. I just wanted to mention that there is another way of reading "romantic" in this context that makes as much sense.
    – James K
    Aug 10, 2017 at 18:40
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The answer is "B".

The language of the paragraph goes out of its way to discredit the perspective of the original biographer. @Catija is correct in her interpretation of the use of language like "long-persisting romantic view," which specifically sets "view" apart as "being around longer than it deserves" and "not being reality-based." The author of the paragraph obviously believes the circumstances of life at the time of Ms. Bronte had an effect on Ms. Bronte that the author believes is not reflected in the original biographer's work.

Though there are many instances of language specifically being used to discredit the original biographer's viewpoint, it's the sentence, "While correcting many of Gaskell's errors and omissions at last, even Winifred Gerin's Charlotte Bronte: The Evolution of Genius (1967) failed to discard Gaskell's viewpoint," that really nails down the lid on the coffin. It demonstrates that the paragraph author is more interested in later viewpoints supporting his/her own viewpoint than what those viewpoints actually are.

But the paragraph's author's intent isn't clearly exposed until this statement: "…but it is primarily Juliet Barker who takes into account the larger world that impinged on that life — the changing England…." Here, the author makes clear that the change in perspective accurately reflects the truth of Ms. Bronte's life. It is this that the author is defending. Thus, the answer is "B".

Why not "C"? Because the paragraph does not discuss the changes other than that they happened. It does not discuss how those changes have modified or improved our understanding of Ms. Bronte. Indeed, considering how much time is given over to desparaging the previous view and how definitively the author accepts the new view compared to how little time is spent explaining the value of the new view (which isn't explained at all), it cannot be "C".

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    The answer is definitely c.
    – Catija
    Aug 10, 2017 at 14:23
  • @Catija, other than pointing out Juliet Baker's willingness to adopt a perspective the paragraph's author approves of, what discussion of the change of perspective took place? I believe a fully descriptive answer to replace my own is in order.
    – JBH
    Aug 10, 2017 at 14:40

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