Thursday, 21 April 2016

Writing - Brontes and their influence

Charlotte Bronte was born 200 years ago today. Her and her sisters have had a great influence on literature but also on the lives of women.

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Charlotte Bronte (1816 - 1855)

The Brontës are remarkable for being three successful authors from one family. But, more remarkably, Charlotte, Emily and Anne were all women who were successful at a time when women didn't have much freedom, either at home or in society. 

Charlotte was the eldest and published her books, including Jane Eyre, under the pen name of Currer Bell. Charlotte was born in Thornton in the west of Bradford, the third of six children to Maria and Patrick Bronte. In 1820 the family moved to Haworth but a year later tragedy struck when Maria died of cancer leaving five girls and the son, Branwell, to be brought up by her sister Elizabeth Branwell. Patrick was the permanent curate at the church of St Michael and All Angels.

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Charlotte and her sisters wrote books filled with strong female characters and may well have generated the energy for future feminist activists. However, in spite of the characters they wrote breaking convention, Charlotte wasn't that keen on votes for women.

The Brontës’ novels often revolved around the female characters finding deserving husbands, rather than breaking completely free of social conventions. However a lot of their ideas were radical for their time. 
For many women reading their books in the 19th and 20th Centuries, the Brontë sisters and their characters epitomised women who weren't afraid to stand up for their rights. Although some of the concerns raised in their books have been partially addressed, the sisters’ contributions to women’s rights are still celebrated by those who continue to fight for equality. 


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Jane Eyre was an instant success when published in 1847 and has never been out of print since that time. When the text is looked into beyond the restraints of it being a Victorian novel there is much more to discover.

Jane Eyre ceases to be a distant Victorian classic, but a woman whose messages about equality and independence have yet to be taken on board properly. Her famous speech to Rochester, "I am no bird, and no net ensnares me", was never meant to be just a motto on a commemorative mug.
You can't blame readers for being massively diverted by Jane and Rochester's epic love story and the gripping melodrama surrounding it of dark secrets, mad women and creepy old houses on fire.
But there's another kind of fire in Jane Eyre, too, of righteous anger, stringent morals and passionate advocacy. It's the inflammatory nature of Jane's 'rebel slave' outbursts against authority and rage at her own powerlessness that scandalised some of the novel's first readers in 1847 and made them mark the book down as dangerously subversive.

I wish I had as many £5 notes as I've heard author's criticised as being subversive, but as I keep banging on about, writers have a duty as the public's conscience to keep nudging the politicians and society in the right direction appropriate to the age. Charlotte Bronte was one such author even though she may not have been recognised by all as such over the years.

God Bless