Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Heart the Brontes

The parsonage where Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte lived and died

Since I was a very young girl, and read Jane Eyre as a missionary kid in Beirut, Lebanon, I've been in love with the Brontes.

This cover of Jane Eyre is actually a portrait of Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte (along with their younger brother Branwell, who never achieved the success his sisters did), lived a quiet, uneventful, isolated life with their clergyman father in a parsonage in Haworth, England.

Never having experienced much of life outside the parsonage, it's always been a mystery to Bronte-lovers how they could have come up with so much drama, pathos and passion in their writings. (By passion, I mean raw emotion. Their books stay within most of the rigors of their Victorian era, although they were often criticized at the time for having too much feeling, or not the "right kind" of feeling.)

Interesting, the sisters initially submitted their books under male pseudonyms: Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Who knows if the books would have ever reached publication if they hadn't done so?

Jane Eyre is the grandmother of all Gothic romances. A reader can't help but be drawn into Jane's world and feel her raw emotion in every page. And, big spoiler for you here, but a happy ending. A happy, albeit less than fairy-tale, ending. There's no question about it, Jane Eyre is my favorite novel of all time.

After reading Jane Eyre, of course I had to read Wuthering Heights, written by Charlotte Bronte's sister Emily Bronte.

If critics of their era didn't like Charlotte's emotion and passion, they were in for an even bigger jolt with Emily's.

This from Wikipedia:

Early reviews of Wuthering Heights were mixed in their assessment. Whilst most critics recognised the power and imagination of the novel, many found the story unlikeable and ambiguous...H. F. Chorley of the Athenaeum said that it was a "disagreeable story" and that the 'Bells' (Brontës) "seem to affect painful and exceptional subjects". The Atlas review called it a "strange, inartistic story", but commented that every chapter seems to contain a "sort of rugged power". It supported the second point made in the Athenaeum, suggesting that the general effect of the novel was "inexpressibly painful", but adding that all of its subjects were either "utterly hateful or thoroughly contemptible".

Wuthering Heights is one of the most intense novels ever. The central characters, Heathcliff and Catherine, really are not very likable, especially Heathcliff. And yet the reader is compellingly drawn into their intense love for each other.

Heathcliff is the prototype of the bad boy that nevertheless holds an attraction. As a young girl, I had a bit of a crush on Heathcliff--interestingly though, having recently re-read the book as an adult and knowing more about abusive men, I think he's pretty awful.

Wuthering Heights IS a great read, of the greatest ever, so I recommend it to any fiction lover.

I think I've only read one book by Anne Bronte--The Tenant of Wildfell Hall--and although she will forever take lesser billing than her sisters as a writer, I did enjoy the book.

Villette is my second favorite Charlotte Bronte book. Although it doesn't measure up to Jane Eyre (for me, anyway), it's still a terrific read that I've gone back to several times.

I've read several biographies of Charlotte Bronte and the Brontes as a family, but one of the most fascinating is Daphne DuMaurier's The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte.

Besides chronicling the life of a brilliant young man whose genius and promise were eradicated by alcoholism and drug addiction, the book provides compelling insight into the family life of these extraordinarily gifted siblings.

Above, the room in the Bronte parsonage where the sisters did their writing. This from an excellent blog called The Brontes:

This is the room in Haworth Parsonage, variously known as the dining room, the drawing room or the parlour, in which the Brontë sisters used to write and discuss their work with each other. When the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte’s friend and future biographer, first visited in September 1853, she was struck by its exquisite cleanliness and neatness. In contrast to the “bleak cold colours” of the Yorkshire moors outside, “the room looked the perfection of warmth, snugness and comfort, crimson predominating in the furniture”.

If you haven't yet discovered the Brontes, and you are a lover of fiction, I heartily recommend them to you.

If you are a Bronte fan, which book is your favorite, and why? Let me know in my comments section!

Image credits: All images in this post are re-blogged from The Brontes, a must-see site if you're a Bronte fan.


Alice said...

I did a big portion of my master's comps on the blurring of autobiography and fiction, vis a vis Charlotte Bronte (particularly Villette, but also Shirley and The Professor). Her biography, written by Mrs. Gaskell (author of Wives & Daughters, Cranford, etc. etc.) is a must-read.

Jane Eyre is by far my favorite. I do not like Wuthering Heights, but I read a great quote about both novels: "Wuthering Heights is the most respected of the Bronte novels, but Jane Eyre is the most loved."

I've also seen many film versions of JE, but (to me) the best is the 2006 version with Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester.

I could talk about the Brontes all day! :-)

hopeinbrazil said...

Hi Cindy, Looks like we have something in common: I discovered Jane Eyre when I was an 8th grade MK in Taiwan and have been a diehard fan ever since.


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