I am an unabashed Jane Austen fan. I love the way she, as the internet would say, eviscerates her society with her sharp satire. I love the way she writes. I love her characters (even the not-so-great ones). Most of all, I love the way that I don’t love her without reservation. It means I’ve gotten to a point in my relationship with Jane Austen to be critical, to point out things I don’t like and characters I think she flubbed. I don’t worship her anymore, which is really exciting for me.
Yes, I’m weird.
I have no issue like this with the Brontë sisters. While I don’t mind Jane Eyre, I have always thought Charlotte Brontë had a problematic approach to relationships. Love doesn’t need to be possessive, if that makes sense. It doesn’t need to be that “I am him and he is me” shit (I’m looking at you, too, Emily. Wuthering Heights. PLEASE STOP ACTING LIKE THAT SHIT IS ROMANTIC, PEOPLE!). That isn’t love. That The Notebook shit is problematic.
*takes a deep breath*
Let me explain. I understand it. They were Romantic Era writers. Their relationship with romance basically makes it as if Marianne Dashwood had decided to turn her hand to novel writing. You know… the Marianne that existed before she realized she’d been an idiot and needed to grow the F up. (I just did Sense and Sensibility for Boozy Books. Check it out if you need to know what the heck I’m talking about.) They’re Romantic. There’s a reason Charlotte Brontë went full on mean girl and decided to smack talk Jane Austen as if they were both in the business of writing love stories.
They weren’t. Charlotte was in the business of writing Gothic romances and Austen was using romance as a vehicle for social satire. THAT’S WHY HER NOVELS ARE LIKE WALLED GARDENS, CHARLOTTE! SHE’S MAKING FUN OF THE CONSTRAINTS SOCIETY PUTS ON WOMEN AND THE CRAZY THINGS UPPER-CLASS ENGLISH SOCIETY OBSESSED OVER. GET IT RIGHT, WOMAN!
Listen, guys. If it seems like I’m coming down hard on Charlotte Brontë, it’s because she deserves it. Not because I don’t like Jane Eyre–I do, and I read it often and get angry at the various adaptations as much as anyone because no one seems to realize how important Jane’s childhood is to the story; the forced restraint and the way love allows her to fully express herself, etc (see, I’m not a hater)–but because Charlotte had a tendency to be really damn judgey. Even of her own sisters.
This is how I’m getting to my point, lol. I think Emily Brontë is a better writer than her sister even if Wuthering Heights is rage-inducing. If I convince myself that Emily was purposefully pointing out the ridiculously problematic nature of Heathcliff and Catherine’s so-called love and how such love is destructive, I can love that novel. Someone who’s better at this than me please confirm my feelings. Please. Anyway, when the three sisters published a book of poetry together, it was Emily (writing under the name Ellis Bell) who was singled out as having the best poems. After her death, Charlotte took it upon herself to make Emily “more palatable” and mythologize her.
I do not like Charlotte.
But I don’t want to go ahead and say Emily was the best writer because, much to my own chagrin, I have never read Anne. And so I am setting a challenge to myself. I am going to read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and determine for myself which Brontë sister is truly supreme. I’m going to go ahead and give some advantage to Anne, despite never reading her, simply because
- Charlotte prevented Anne from achieving the fame she should have, and I really hate Charlotte Brontë as a person right now.
- The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is all about how idiotic it is for a woman to try and “fix” a bad man through her love. It’s downright feminist, especially for its time. And maybe for ours. I’ll let you know.
Expect updates! They might be short because I’m doing CampNaNo right now, so that’s a lot of writing, but… I will definitely update you.
So far, I’m #TeamAnne. Here’s hoping my own biases are confirmed.