• Jane Austen,  Reading,  Risky Book Talk

    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?

  • Uncategorized

    Wuthering Heights and a mess on the floor

    This is what a finished book looks like.
    Last night I finished Improper Relations, my next Little Black Dress book, and this is the entire manuscript dropped on the floor as I went through it page by page after a hard copy edit.

    Whew! I’m still catching up from Nationals and then a Mullany expedition to the beach last week where I thought I’d have internet but didn’t. Here’s a pic of my mother in law Rosie Mullany to whom I dedicated A Most Lamentable Comedy.

    But today is the birthday of Emily Bronte (1818-1848) so I thought we should talk about Wuthering Heights. I consider it an odd, difficult novel, full of shifts in time and narration. Where Jane Eyre (by sister Charlotte) has a clear legacy in popular fiction (plain, poor, virtuous heroine–check; brooding dark hero–check; brooding dark house–check; unspeakable secrets–check), what influence has Wuthering Heights had?

    It’s almost as though Wuthering Heights stands alone, the odd cousin who smells of elderberries and talks to herself in a corner at the family gathering. We know she’s there, we know she’s part of the family, but she doesn’t quite fit in. Somehow she takes things to extremes–Heathcliffe is dark and brooding yet psychopathic; the heroine dies; the bleak landscape is the star of the show.

    And what about the movie versions? Do you think any of them crack the Wuthering Heights code? There’s the 1939 classic with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon (left); the 1992 version with Juliette Binoche (whom I love, but why??) and Ralph Fiennes with bad hair.

    The most recent is the 2009 PBS adaptation with Charlotte Riley and Tom Hardy (both of whom look far too clean in this pic and yet another bad Heathcliffe wig). And according to this article Keira Knightley and Lindsay Lohan are battling it out for the role of Cathy in yet another remake.

    But to me, the most brilliant adaptation is this one by Monty Python (it starts about a minute in after some silly stuff with a policeman but this was the only one I could find without Spanish subtitles):

    What do you think? Is there a movie version you like? A book you feel that is particularly influenced by Wuthering Heights?

    My blog tour continues tomorrow with a visit to the Word Wenches and more next week–visit my website for the whole schedule (and enter the contest, which is ending soon, while you’re there).

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