Austen vs Brontë

Two_women_are_arguing_in_the_street_watched_by_a_crowd._Etch_Wellcome_V0040755How better to start 2016 at Risky Regencies than with a cat fight? Not a real one, of course, but a literary one pitting Jane Austen against Charlotte Brontë.

I just read Why Charlotte Brontë Hated Jane Austen by Susan Ostrov Weisser (Daily Beast, 10/19/2013) and, intrigued, looked around and found The Austen vs Brontë Smackdown on the blog Austen Pride (5/16/2009). I also found a long discussion of Austen vs the Brontës on Goodreads, which I skimmed, but did not read.

Apparently Charlotte Brontë had never read Jane Austen until a critic suggested she do so after she’d written Jane Eyre. She studied Pride and Prejudice and, among other things had this to say:

She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him with nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood…

Austen Pride makes the point that Austen, who had passed away a year after Charlotte Brontë was born, could not rebut this accusation. In Northanger Abbey, Austen did, however, parody the emotional excesses of gothic tales, of which the Brontës’ books could be included.

Of course, those of us who love Austen would also argue that there is plenty of passion in Austen’s work, although it is brimming beneath the surface. How could you not think so of Persuasion?

Austen Pride concluded that the two authors were writing from different perspectives. Austen was writing about her keen observations of the world in which she lived; Charlotte and her sisters, on the other hand, wrote what was in their imagination.

Me, I was never a huge fan of Jane Eyre. I loved the beginning when she was in the orphanage, but I never believed in the romance between Jane and Rochester. And the coincidences of falling in a ditch and being found by her long-lost cousin didn’t work for me. I also hated how Rochester treated Jane. And don’t get me started on Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff and Cathy have to die to be together? And who would want Heathcliff anyway? I preferred Edgar to Heathcliff.

I think I hold my fictional heroes to very high standards, ones that the Rochester and Heathcliff don’t quite meet. I understand the forces driving the Brontë heroes, but I much prefer heroes I can admire and even fall in love with. Heroes like Austen creates.

I also love all the finely drawn characters in Austen’s books. Their actions and feelings are much more believable to me and that gives me the sense that I’m in a real place, among real people.

But that is me, thinking on the surface of the stories, which is mostly how I read books.

What about you? Do you prefer Austen or the Brontës? Or do you like both for different reasons?

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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11 Responses to Austen vs Brontë

  1. Satu M. says:

    I don’t understand why I should choose a side and despise the other. Brontës are very different from Austen and I love most of their works.

    Greetings from Finland

  2. Teresa (Broderick) says:

    I’ve read some of the Bronte novels but to me they don’t come close to Austen. I love her novels and agree with you about them being about real people. Heathcliffe definitely didn’t do it for me. All that brooding and whining would put any woman off. But then my favourite Austen hero is Captain Wentworth. The complete opposite.

    • diane says:

      Me, too, Teresa! Persuasion is my favorite Austen book and Captain Wentworth is my favorite hero! He is honor to the core!!

  3. Elena Greene says:

    I don’t see a reason to choose. I feel a little sad to see authors dissing each other, or readers too strongly taking sides. This is how I felt when I read JK Rowling’s comments about CS Lewis. Perhaps this is what happens when authors write stories that are similar enough to be compared but have significant differences that are important to the authors.

    Diane, I do agree with you about Heathcliff not being a true romance hero–any more than I feel Scarlett O’Hara is a true romance heroine. Though I don’t care for GWTW I do enjoy Wuthering Heights, but not as a romance.

    • diane says:

      I don’t really mean to be dissing Bronte, Elena. After all, she and her sister wrote books that have endured as classics almost two centuries. Their stories are powerful — just not my favorite kind of story!

  4. Lorraine says:

    Ugh. I once spent several decades reading Wuthering Heights in a sophomore English class, which gave me a lifelong distaste for anything Bronte. Adult attempts at other Bronte books have had similar effects. Unsurprisingly, Northanger Abbey is my least favorite Austen, and restrained, mannered Persuasion, my favorite.

  5. ki pha says:

    I actually like both for different reasons. But I do enjoy Austen’s work a tab higher. They’re more on the romance side of works and I like that (romance reader of course), while the Brontes like to play with the whole dark and mysterious setting, very Victorian which I need sometimes too. But then I do like the lighter side of romance and well, Persuasion beats it all out (sorry Darcy) however I do love Mansfield Park and Edward, even if he’s the cousin.

  6. HJ says:

    I disliked the attempt (not by you, Diane) to make what was a considered comment by Charlotte Bronte on Austen’s writing into a catfight (itself a demeaning term). She identified a difference between their styles of writing, and naturally preferred her own. I prefer Austen’s. It’s a matter of taste and literary analysis, not of personalities.

    • diane says:

      HJ, you are so spot on about the term “catfight.” It is demeaning and I fell right into all those awful stereotypes by using it. Consider my eyes opened on that score! Thank you!

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