Many years ago, I enjoyed Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and then moved on to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. With less than thirty pages to go, I threw it across the room and didn’t touch it again except to take it back to the library. I wondered what had made the Bronte sisters so intense and, at times, so maddening. Thanks to Catherine Reef’s The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, I now know.
The Bronte Sisters illuminates the personalities and the family dynamics that influenced the authors’ works. Death, abuse, isolation, and the prevailing misogyny of 1800s England led these intelligent women to deep introspection and a burning desire to create.
Oddly enough, Branwell Bronte (their brother) was neither abused at school nor faced with limited career options as his sisters were, yet he was the only one of the siblings who completely despaired and led a dissolute life.* The authors had inspiration for their more horrible male characters living right in their home.
The one difference I saw between he and his sisters was the women’s deep and constant faith in their God and the life to come. Of the many quotes in the biography, my favorite was Charlotte Bronte’s on Darwin’s theories and the rejection of God:
“The strangest thing is that we are called on to rejoice over this hopeless blank, to welcome this unutterable desolation as pleasant state of freedom. Who could do this if he would? Who would do it if he could?”
Now I’m curious to find their poetry too since that seems to be the most reflective of their worldview.
Expect commentaries on Bronte novels in the coming month. Well, excepting Wuthering Heights. Y’all don’t need a four-page post detailing the repulsive traits of every character described therein.
*Every time Branwell was mentioned, this song popped into my head. Ugh.