Monday Muse: One Brontë Down, Two To Go

Hey, guys! Welcome to today’s Monday Muse, and a continuation of my month-long (or however long it takes, really) competition between the Brontë sisters. It’s a terribly official competition because, of course, my opinion is the One Ring of literary judgement and, after this, no one will ever need to study the Brontës ever ever again. It’ll be done. We can move on to important stuff like which of the Adamses made a better president (hint: it’s Quincy Adams) or which 90s boy band is the best (because anything after the 90s is just kidding itself).

Last week, I talked about how I feel about Charlotte Brontë and shared my pairing of Jane Eyre. I want to make it clear that I’m not being terribly serious here; I don’t know nearly enough about Charlotte Brontë to pass judgement on her. Do I like that she seems to have made a concerted effort to scrub her sister Anne’s legacy after the latter’s untimely demise? No. It reeks of dour asceticism, the kind that permeates Jane Eyre. Jane is such a moralist, she is somehow able to rehabilitate Rochester through her purity. It’s well documented that the Brontë clan were deeply religious (their father was a curate) of the self-denial, reserved, puritanical version. It oppressed Anne, which wouldn’t do for Charlotte. And, while I can understand that it probably came from a place of love, of protecting Anne’s image among the judgmental English, it only served to scrub Anne from the Brontë  legacy. Which I find deeply unfair.

Anne Brontë is usually studied solely as a means by which we can truly understand the genius of her sisters. There is a sense that quiet, delicate Anne is unable to reach the vaunted heights of her transcendental siblings. Her prose lacks the transformative qualities of Charlotte and Emily, and her books are without the depth. Where Emily and Charlotte are able to take their life experiences and infuse them with Gothic fantasy, Anne’s tendency toward realism makes them seem unformed. Basically, Anne is only great because she is a Brontë, not on her own merits.

I call bullshit. Forgive the profanity, but it’s utter and complete bullshit. I was actually enraged to read these opinions. How dare people pass their personal opinions off as fact?! (*cough* Except me. I am always right.) Anne Brontë is just as good as her sisters. In fact, based on what I’ve read so far of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, she is the best of them. Her characterization is super solid, sometimes needing only a sentence to perfectly encapsulate some of her secondary characters. And her language is clear, without the density that can sometimes make Jane Eyre difficult to sink into. I will grant that I found Wuthering Heights even clearer, but I loathe what it has to say with every fiber of my being (unless, uh, it’s completely satirical which PLEASE SOMEONE TELL ME IS THE CASE! PLEASE! I WANT TO MURDER EVERYONE IN THIS GODDAMN BOOK!). I love that Anne has given as a Byronic heroine for the male POV character to love and worship from afar. I adore that said woman says what she feels and does what she knows is right. Anne Brontë has no problem telling her readers that the whole “I will change him with my love” Romantic belief (as in Romantic era, not flowers and romance) is bullshit. The realism some critics decry as less worthy is actually downright feminist and belies the desirability of Byronic heroes. It says something worth saying. Jane Eyre could no more change Edward Rochester using her purity and love than any abused woman can change her abuser. It’s an important lesson. It’s just a lesson the world wasn’t ready to hear.

But, you’ll be glad to know, Anne is coming up in the world. As our appreciation for her clear prose and realism grows, she is gaining esteem in her own right. No longer is she simply going to be the third Brontë sister; she is going to be Anne, bad ass writer. And I love her.

I’ll be back on Friday to pair Wuthering Heights. I’m saving my vitriol for then. Just saying: while Emily Brontë is an amazing writer, I really hate her damn book.

C

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