What is it about the Brontë sisters?…
In one very small home—a parsonage—at the top of a village in Yorkshire, at the mouth of the windswept moors, there lived a family of immense talent. I would even use the term genius. There is something mystical there, something divine, in the fact that three women could change literature and create powerful works that would question Victorian society’s morals, daily life, and how women were treated. The power and the truth in their works is astounding—and it has resonated throughout time, and throughout my life in particular.
I read Jane Eyre for the very first time when I was a sophomore in college, enrolled in the course “Women in Literature.” I devoured those pages in Indiana University’s student union, seated on a comfy couch in front of a Gothic-style limestone fireplace that was as tall and as wide as a young woman. I felt the heat of the flames that swallowed up Thornfield Hall; in the marrow of my bones I felt Jane’s desire to be seen as more than poor, plain, little, and obscure. Charlotte Brontë’s work dug into me deeply.
A few years later I read Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights on audiobook. While the audiobook did not do the book justice, my reaction after my first reading was—at least initially, before a good analysis–that those characters are terrible people, and they seem to yell at each other an awful lot. (I recently finished a re-read of the novel and—while I still didn’t like the characters, or enjoy it as much as Jane Eyre—was wowed by the powerful writing, and the story of those doomed characters… it’s a story that haunts me and perplexes me still, which makes me admire it all the more).
In graduate school I was reading several hundred pages of political science literature a week, but after the tragic NIU school shooting in 2008 I wanted to escape—all I wanted to read was fiction. I read Maeve Binchy, Marisa de los Santos, and other contemporary authors before turning to Jane Austen to re-read my favorites. And then I picked up Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey. It was so unlike Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and I absolutely loved it. It was like a Jane Austen novel, yet not; it was realism, yet more than that—it’s clear to me now that Anne Brontë is forever a governess, as her writing seems to teach the reader, and seems to respond to both the complex writing of her sisters’ as well as controversial topics of that time period… This is something I will love to address in future posts… (and Anne’s masterpiece, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall! It’s so often overlooked, and everyone should read it. Seriously).
Fast forward to 2016 when a wonderful novel was released: The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. It’s about Samantha Whipple—the last living Brontë descendant. She’s attending Oxford and she has some family mysteries to resolve. This novel immerses the reader in Brontëland, learning obscure details about the family and the works of the three sisters.
That was what re-ignited my passion for those three genius sisters.
After reading that novel I wanted to learn more about the Brontës, and so I discovered the ultimate guide: Juliet Barker’s The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors. It was everything I wanted to learn, everything to satisfy this growing interest, and more. Subsequently the BBC made the film To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters. It was incredible to watch a part of the sisters’ lives play out on the screen and it made me love them more—their battles may not have been so different from our own: having a brother (Branwell) battling mental illness and addiction; going up against gender bias and hoping their work would be judged fairly as they shared it with the world; having a love for writing that was so strong, it was irresistible.
Dear readers, that is the history of my Brontë
obsession interest and how it has grown over time. And now across social media I’m excited to find an entire Brontë tribe who is just as obsessed enthusiastic about this incredible family! So enlightening and lively are the discussions taking place about their works and their lives (especially regarding Emily Brontë, as it is the 200th anniversary of her birth), the controversies, and the myths, I’d like to contribute my own voice.
Over the following months I plan to share my interpretations of the Brontë sisters’ works, discuss their lives and the historical context, and basically celebrate these incredible women. Won’t you join me on this journey?
Which is your favorite Brontë work? Do you have a favorite Brontë sister?… Comment below or on Twitter/Instagram, and let’s start the discussion!