Sunday, September 9, 2018

Authors from Our Reading List: the Bronte Sisters

The Brontë Sisters (1818-1855)

Jane Eyre - Who could fail to identify with Charlotte’s brave little orphan who refuses to be crushed by her bullying cousins, her sadistic head-master, or even the domineering man she loves. ‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?’ she demands of Rochester. ‘I am a free human being, with an independent will’, she tells him and how we cheer as she goes on to prove it, refusing to be his mistress rather than his wife and rejecting the passionless St John Rivers. Jane Eyre doesn’t win first place because it has its silly moments (as in the gypsy-woman episode) but mainly because it was an unnecessary and cowardly cop-out to give Jane a newly discovered family and fortune before she returns to Rochester.

Wuthering Heights - What can you say about the world’s greatest love-story, beloved of millions of hormonal teenagers and the silver screen? Except that it most definitely is not a love story. A tale of thwarted passions, obsession and revenge indeed – but not of genuine love. Heathcliff and Cathy are two sides of the same coin: ‘I am Heathcliff!’ says Cathy, ‘he’s more myself than I am’. When they cannot have what they want, their mutual response is to destroy each other. There is love in the book, but it’s not the ravings of Heathcliff and Cathy: it’s the blossoming affection between Heathcliff’s innocent victims Hareton and Catherine. There’s no denying the sheer power of Wuthering Heights, nor the cleverness of its structure, but as every film director has discovered, the death of Cathy less than half way through the book, though necessary to the plot, leaves the reader feeling short-changed.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne is the also-ran of the Brontë family yet The Tenant shares all the virtues of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights – powerful writing, gripping storyline, dramatic tension and passionate authorial involvement – whilst remaining firmly rooted in reality (no Rochester fooling his guests by disguising himself as a gypsy-woman or Heathcliff digging up his lover’s corpse). It’s the only Brontë novel not to feature orphans and/or dysfunctional families and it’s steeped with quiet humour. But its heroine, Helen Huntingdon, is a woman who flouts every convention by leaving her husband to save their child whom he is corrupting, earning her own independent living and eventually herself proposing marriage to the man she loves. Forget Jane Eyre – this really is Victorian feminism at its most radical!

To walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters

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