Monday, January 17, 2005
?Odious thinks I should post something about the Brontes; he’s been reading Villette, which sparked a long conversation since he finds it very odd. He was commenting on the vague illnesses caused by, apparently, depression, and I told him that he has to remember what the time period was like (I said, in fact, “You know, you’ve read Freud”, but then realized that of course he hasn’t!). Life was difficult for everyone in the 19th century, but especially, I think, for poor gentlewomen. Women of the working class could at least work, as servants or in shops, while well-to-do women were taken care of by their families should they be unfortunate enough not to marry; but women like those in Charlotte and Anne Bronte’s novels were, like the Brontes themselves, doomed to wretched cold lives as seamstresses or teachers. Odious was appalled to hear me say that Agnes Grey has an even more depressing life than Lucy Snowe or Jane Eyre, but I think it’s true, and it may also be why Anne Bronte is less popular than her sisters. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are archetypal classic novels–their characters cry out to be recognized and remembered, and thus are more readily accessible to the reading public. They really are great books and are rightfully hailed as such, but Anne’s novels strike a different chord. She was more obviously a feminist of her time than her sisters; as it says on the back of my copy of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, “the slamming of that bedroom door reverberated throughout the literary world!” While I love Jane Eyre with all my heart, and appreciate the wild beauty of Emily’s prose, Anne’s characters are deeper and richer, and her writing paints, I think, a more accurate picture of life. There are no great heroes or heroines, or tremendous loves and battles of will, but only the quieter, harder, everyday struggles that are perhaps less exciting to read about but at the same time more resonant.