Friday, March 11, 2016

Women's History Month: The Bronte Sisters

Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë, by their brother Branwell. He painted himself among his sisters, but later removed the image so as not to clutter the picture.
The three daughters of a minister in rural England almost two hundred years ago do not seem like candidates for authors of strong female characters in near-horror gothic novels-but there you have Emily, Charlotte and Anne Bronte.

Their real lives in the moors of Yorkshire germinated the seeds for Jane Eyre, Cathy and Heathcliff, and what some consider the first feminist novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. 

The unusually bright girls were surrounded by nurturing, attentive adults. But life in the beginning of the 19th century was difficult. At a young age, the girls lost their mother and two older sisters, had a difficult experiences at boarding schools, and their beloved brother suffered from alcoholism. However, they had been permitted creative outlets, and despite the social expectations to become a governess, teacher or wife, the three Bronte sisters adopted nom-de-plumes and wrote extraordinary novels.

Brontë family

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bront%C3%AB_family

If you travel to England, you can visit the sister's home.

The Bronte Society and Bronte Parsonage Museum
http://www.bronte.org.uk/

Jane Eyre was published in 1847 by the eldest sister, Charlotte. It is the compelling life story of a girl orphaned and navigating through a treacherous series of difficult relatives, boarding school tragedies, a Byronic figure making for tense moments while governess, stressful marriage proposals, and a denouement of  crashing finality. Jane proves an indomitable taking-charge-of-her-life female character. Charlotte Bronte initiated literary insights that influenced James Joyce's stream of consciousness almost a hundred years later.

Jane Eyre has been produced in film and miniseries. This is my favorite version:

Jane Eyre (2006 miniseries)

http://en.wikipedia.org /wiki/Jane_Eyre_%282006_miniseries%29  

 

Linton/Earnshaw Geneology

Encouraged by the success of Charlotte's novel, Emily published Wuthering Heights. This is another doozy of a book. The story takes place in an isolated location on the English moors. Intense emotions ferment between and within the two families in the story, one fairly normal (the Lintons) and one pretty much dysfunctional (Earnshaws). Of course romance is involved. Also, profound unforgiveness, jealously, rage and several more of the seven deadly sins that makes for an enjoyable and memorable gothic novel. Heathcliff and Cathy are unforgettable. 

Sadly, Emily Bronte passed away shortly after the book was published. It is considered a classic of English literature.

Heathcliff and Cathy. (1992 version with Ralph Fiennes)

This is my favorite production of Wuthering Heights, even more than Olivier as Heathcliff. Guess you can tell I like my Masterpiece Theater.

Wuthering Heights (2009 television serial) 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wuthering_Heights_%2 82009_television_serial%29 

Anne Bronte's novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is considered the first feminist novel. Her protagonist, Helen Graham, is an abused wife who chooses to defy her alcoholic husband and takes her son with her as she flees, breaking several English laws that prohibit any women's rights. The story includes a shocking scene in which Helen slams the door in his face. (Remember, this is 1847 in Victorian England.) Where would Anne get such ideas? Interestingly enough, her father, although an Anglican minister, at one time had counseled an abused wife to leave her husband. There were many instances within the 'dissenting' churches of the time that empowered women more than traditional churches, and Anne's aunt was a Methodist. Though even now, sadly, many churches of many faiths would not support this move. So, this is still a shocking novel. The main character encounters a variety of interesting persons, observing hypocrisy in both male and female. Helen maintains her strong mores and even comes out with a happy ending. This Bronte sister also died almost immediately after her book was published. (Tuberculosis was rampant.) There was such a hubbub about this book that Charlotte Bronte did not want it republished, thinking to preserve her sister's reputation.

Surprisingly, I have not seen this production. It was on Masterpiece Theater while I was working on my masters and not watching much television.

But Netflix has it! It is now at the top of my queue. (Update--it is very good.)

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115387/

 After meeting the Bronte sisters, we will watch how our little girls play make believe with more interest.

 

 

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