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Tag Archives: Charlotte Bronte

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?

I went looking through old postings of mine for a topic for today and came across this one about the Bronte sisters, first written in 2010. I thought it was worth a second look.

My latest Netflix find (it’s available on Amazon Prime now) is The Bronte Sisters, a documentary about Emily, Charlotte, and Ann. I knew very little of the three sisters except that they all lived at home and their father outlived them. As it turns out, the story of the Bronte sisters is a story of how difficult life could be without modern medicine and sanitation.

Howarth, The village where the sisters grew up in Yorkshire, lacked proper sewers. Its dead were buried up on a hill which contaminated the water supply. This problem was not identified until 1850 and even then was not immediately rectified. Lots of people died as a result.

Disease was a fact of life. The Brontes had six children and all of them contracted scarlet fever at an early age. Mrs. Bronte developed cancer and died a slow and painful death. Her last words were, “Oh, God, my poor children.” Ann, the youngest, was not even two years old when her mother died.

In 1824 when Charlotte was just eight years old, she, her older sisters Marie and Elizabeth and Emily, only six, were sent to the Cowan Bridge school, a cruel and harsh place immortalized by Charlotte in Jane Eyre. A year later there was a typhus epidemic and all the girls became ill. Marie, then age 11, was the first to come home, ultimately succumbing to the illness. Elizabeth soon followed her. Charlotte and Emily survived (think of what we would have missed if they had not!)

Later, when Charlotte was teaching at Mrs. Wooley’s school (a much better place than Cowan Bridge), she arranged for Emily, then age 17, to attend. Emily, a shy and complicated person, was extremely homesick for Haworth. She went into a decline that sounded a lot like clinical depression and went home after three months.

The family’s hopes for good fortune rested on the Brontes’ one brother, Branwell, considered to be the most intelligent, most artistic, most creative. He was sent to London to attend Art school, but instead squandered his tuition money and indulged in alcohol and opium. After this, his life just slid into worse and worse addiction, embarrassing his family with bouts of public drunkeness. He died of tuberculosis at age 31 after a wasted life.

Without Branwell to depend upon, it was up to the girls to make money, but they were not very successful at anything they tried. Ann was able to keep a job as a governess longer than Charlotte’s attempt at that profession, but the young man she fell in love with died of cholera.

Charlotte decided they should set up their own school, but that attempt failed. Desperate, she came upon a set of poems Emily wrote and got the idea to have them published. Each of the sisters contributed poems, but the volume only sold a few copies. After that, Charlotte, Ann, and Emily each wrote novels and sent them to publishers. They each published books in 1847. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre was the runaway success. Emily’s Wuthering Heights was considered unconventional. Ann’s Agnes Grey was based on her life as a governess.

A year later Emily died of tuberculosis, and a year after that Ann died of the same illness, leaving only Charlotte. Charlotte kept writing and in 1854 she married, finally having an opportunity for some security and stability in her life. A year later she died of tuberculosis complicated by typhoid fever and pregnancy.

All I could think of while watching this documentary was how prevalent disease and death must have been in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Can you imagine watching your wife and children dying, one after the other? How very awful!! We don’t usually dwell on the prevalence of disease and death of the Regency in our books. For good reason. It’s depressing!

I also couldn’t help but wonder what Charlotte, Emily, and Ann might have produced if they’d lived longer.

What other diseases can you think of that so easily took lives in the 1800s and not now? Do you think Charlotte and Emily could have topped Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights if they’d lived longer?

Here is another Risky Regency posting about the Brontes and Jane Austen

 

 

A Certain Latitude by Janet MullanyI’m happy to announce that A Certain Latitude is free for kindle today through next Monday, so now you have no excuse whatsoever to acquire it. Here’s an excerpt from a very nice review:

The book pairs two subjects you wouldn’t think would work together: very kinky explorations along with a serious eye-opening look at the sugar trade on an island loosely based on Antigua about eight or ten years before the slave trade is abolished in England. … You wouldn’t think those subjects would mesh at all, but in a weird way, they do. It’s not as if modern people don’t get up to serious mischief while the problems of the world continue to rage on right in our faces. However, at the heart of it, what holds the whole story together is a remarkable and easy-to-like heroine. All you need to know about her is this quote from early in the book which portrays her character perfectly: “Whenever she wished she had had the moral courage to starve… she was glad she had the good sense not to.”

readerimarriedhim333x500And I’ve also reissued my erotic tribute to Jane Eyre– Reader, I Married Him–which caused some weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth for its suggestion that Jane could go in uh, different directions. It is finally, finally priced appropriately for a novella. Cool cover!

And remember that reviews are very, very important to other readers, so please post one.

Thanks! Next week we return to our regularly scheduled program.

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