“You know full well as I do the value of sisters’ affections: There is nothing like it in this world.” – Charlotte Brontë
With another adaptation of Jane Eyre heading to theaters, it feels like the right time to review the most famous works of all three Brontë sisters. From the more famous and gothic Charlotte and Emily to the more socially relevant Anne, these sisters who first published under the masculine pseudonyms Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell, wrote three of the most iconic novels of the nineteenth century.
Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
Agnes Grey comes from a poorer English family but she was lucky enough to receive enough of an education to make her way in the world as a governess where it’s debatable whether her pupils, their parents, or rival staff create the most difficulties for her to overcome. Agnes struggles not to lose her perspective and manages to find comfort in her faith (and the company of a local clergyman). Anne’s portrayal of a young woman out in the world is far more realistic in it’s presentation than her sister Charlotte’s. The social pressures that Agnes deals with and Anne’s depiction of them may not be as dramatic, but they were far more identifiable for readers of the time and they continue to resonate with readers today. Anybody who has ever volunteered to babysit can sympathize with Agnes’ plight and becomes more grateful for being able to say goodbye at the end of the night to return to their own family.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
After a childhood of being put down by her aunt and cousins and then being shipped off to a harsh school, Jane Eyre grows up to become a governess for the mysterious Mr. Rochester’s young ward. An unlikely and unprecedented romance ensues but Mr. Rochester’s hidden past proves to be an obstacle that might be too difficult for them to overcome. Jane’s struggle to prove her worth to herself as well as those around her is timeless but there are just some aspects of the story and Jane’s reactions for which I just cannot suspend my disbelief. Perhaps my mindset is too twentieth/twenty-first century, but I don’t find Mr. Rochester to be as romantic a lead as he is often made out to be.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
When Catherine Earnshaw’s father brings home Heathcliff, a young orphan he found on his travels, they each found their soul-mate. However, as they grow up and the Lintons move into the neighborhood, Cathy’s ideas of who she is and where Heathcliff fits into her life begin to change. Tragedy strikes not once but twice after the death of Cathy’s parents and the death of her brother’s beloved wife during childbirth. Her brother takes his frustrations out on his infant son and on Heathcliff, doing everything he can to drive Heathcliff and Cathy apart. But Catherine and Heathcliff can’t be apart without bringing down those around them as they strike out at each other in their own pain. Emily’s approach to the novel, narrated by a new comer to the neighborhood years after the driving action, is unexpectedly charming and allows for a greater freedom in exploring the multitude of perspectives in this twisted tale.