Friday, April 21, 2017

Charlotte Bronte -- a birthday, a confession, and a question


First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Charlotte Brontë (books by this author), born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England in 1816, the third of six children. The family moved to nearby Haworth in 1820, when Charlotte was four, because her father had been appointed the town's minister, and there she grew up on the Yorkshire moors. Her mother died of cancer the following year, and Charlotte and her two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, were sent to boarding school. Conditions at the school were deplorable; the two older girls both contracted tuberculosis and were sent home, where they died in 1825.

Younger brother Branwell received a box of wooden soldiers from their father when Charlotte was 10, and soon the four remaining Brontë children - including Anne and Emily - began using them to populate imaginary kingdoms known as Angria and Gondal, about which they wrote and acted out detailed narratives.

As a young woman, Charlotte worked as a governess for a series of Yorkshire families, and even entertained the idea of opening a school with her sisters. She and Emily studied in Brussels with this goal in mind, but the school proved a nonstarter: their advertisements failed to raise a single response.

She and her sisters published a volume of poetry in 1846, under the masculine-sounding pen names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. She wrote, "We had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise."

Charlotte's most famous novel, Jane Eyre, was published in 1847, and in it she drew heavily upon her boarding school experiences and her early career to tell the story of a plain and penniless orphan governess who falls in love with her troubled - and married - employer. It was a best-seller, but critics called it "coarse" and "un-Christian," and the criticism only increased when it was revealed that Currer Bell was really a woman.

Within a year of the novel's publication, Charlotte's three remaining siblings died: Anne and Emily of tuberculosis, and Branwell of alcohol and laudanum abuse. Charlotte remained close to home, caring for their father, and in 1854 she married her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. She became pregnant soon after, but died of complications of pregnancy in 1855.

                                                       *****

Personal Postscript:

I confess. I have not read Jane Eyre. That must be corrected immediately. 

But what about you? Have you read it? Comments?




14 comments:

  1. The Brontës' story shows, I think, the struggles that women faced in the literary world at that time, Tim. Certainly there was a double standard as far as what women were 'supposed to' write. It all makes me wonder what would have been said about Jane Eyre if the author'd been male.

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    1. Yes, and note paragraph beginning with "Charlotte's most famous novel." Currer Bell faired better than Charlotte Bronte. I suspect problem still exists in publishing, marketing, and beyond.

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  2. yes, i've read it but it's been many years; i should reread it, but most likely won't: just too many books out there clamoring for my attention... my vague memory of it is rather grim; sort of like a ghost story without the ghost...

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  3. "Critics called it "coarse" and "un-Christian," and the criticism only increased when it was revealed that Currer Bell was really a woman." So, the novel wasn't appreciated by critics even when they first thought it was written by a man.

    I have read _Jane Eyre_, and while it is grim, I found the characters to be far more human and creditable than those in _Wuthering Heights_.

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  4. Grim? No, I cannot handle "grim" novels at this point in my life! I guess CB and JE will not be on my reading list for a while. Thanks.

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  5. I fail to see what is coarse or un-Christian about the novel. To be sure, the heroine declines to go off with a missionary to India and take the chances of tropical diseases; but I presume that the hard reviews appeared in the London newspapers, not those of Calcutta or Bombay, and that the reviewers had mostly not chanced their health on the subcontinent. And the relative who goes off to join a convent is something of a prig, yet I doubt the English reviewers of the day were zealous for the Roman Catholic church.

    It might be amusing to read it in conjunction with Jean Rhys's take, The Wide Sargasso Sea. That book is grim enough. I don't know that Jane Eyre is grim on the whole.

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    1. More proof, George, the readers and their interests often trump critics and their prejudices; for example, we know and care about Bronte and her novel but who knows or cares about those uncharitable critics?

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  6. I read it within the last couple of years and enjoyed it completely. When I've read Austen, it was out of a sense of duty -- it was a Classic, it was recommended to me, etc. Jane Eyre, though. I liked Jane from the moment I met her. What stirred me most about the novel is that Jane pursues the Right course of action, even when she wants desperately to fudge the rules a bit. For this quote alone I would read the book:

    “I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad — as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth — so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am quite insane — quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot."

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    1. Insane? I like her more already. Ah, a kindred spirit!

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  7. I loved Jane Eyre. It is one of my favorite novels.


    i think that the "Un - Christian" comment is interesting. I thought that the book to championed some aspects of Christianity while at the same time criticizing its harsher tendencies.

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    1. Brian, I wonder about the critic who made that comment and the editor of TWA who chose to include that comment without attribution. What bias is involved in each case?

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  8. Read and reread multiple times. Magnetic Jane.

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    1. Marly, CB and JE await in my Kindle until I'm in a receptive mood.

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