Literary Legends: Charlotte Bronte

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This past Thursday (April 21) was the day that Charlotte Bronte was born 200 years ago. Today is the day that marks the Bard’s death, 400 years ago. And it also happens to be World Book Day. So why not celebrate all three with two book posts on the authors? 

This first book post is focused on Charlotte Bronte. William Shakespeare will follow on Wednesday.

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A good book, pretty flowers, and cake – what more can a person want?!

I first encountered Charlotte Bronte as a teenager. I had an older sister who had tried to discourage me from reading the story, but naturally that only made me more determined to do it. From the first lines plunging the reader into the story (“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day”), to the breathtakingly simple “Reader, I married him” – I couldn’t stop, wouldn’t stop, reading.

I enjoyed a very interesting and enlightening article from The Atlantic on Jane Eyre and the Invention of the Self. In this article, Karen Swallow Prior examines the radical and revolutionary theme of the individual that sparked wonder in Bronte’s Victorian readers, while creating an irresistible connection to her heroine that has survived since its publication:

“The broader cultural implications of the story—its insistence on the value of conscience and will—were such that one critic fretted some years after its publication that the “most alarming revolution of modern times has followed the invasion of Jane Eyre.” Before the Reformation and the Enlightenment that followed, before Rene Descartes’s cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”), when the sources of authority were external and objective, the aspects of the self so central to today’s understanding mattered little because they didn’t really affect the course of an individual’s life. The Reformation empowered believers to read and interpret the scriptures for themselves, rather than relying on the help of clergy; by extension, this seemed to give people permission to read and interpret their own interior world.”

Do read the article in its entirety if you can.

Here is my favorite copy of Jane Eyre, featured in the above photo. You can also get a paperback version here.

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Another of Charlotte Bronte’s works worth mentioning is Villette, her massive story that has never seen the praise of Jane Eyre, due to having followed that popular novel. Here is part of a commemorative post that I shared on Instagram to mark Charlotte’s birthday:

“While Jane Eyre is the most endearing of Charlotte’s works, no doubt she’d be hurt if her other novels were neglected. If you haven’t read Villette, do give it a try! It is vastly underrated and has always lived in the shadow of its predecessor. George Eliot considered it better than Jane Eyre. Virginia Woolf called it Charlotte Bronte’s finest work. If the author found her voice with Jane Eyre, she sang in Villette.”

In an article that explores the merits of Villette, claiming that its greatness surpasses that of Jane Eyre, Lucy Hughes-Hallett tells us that:

“Its heroine, Lucy Snowe, is a narrator who tantalises the reader with all the technical virtuosity that Brontë – a modernist before the term was coined – could command. There has seldom been a fictional heroine so physically plain and emotionally throttled, who is yet so sensuous, so intelligent and so keenly feeling. There has seldom been a first-person narrative that withheld so much from its readers, and yet communicated such terrible or such intimate emotion.

Read the rest here, and if you haven’t done so already, do read the book as well!

This is my copy of Villette, but I absolutely adore this Vintage edition and Penguin English Library edition. I hope to acquire a copy of both eventually.

Finally, just for fun to conclude this post, here are 20 fascinating facts about Charlotte Bronte.

Happy Reading!

Until Next Time,

Shelbi

 

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