Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Bronte/Austen Standoff

I've been inspired to spew my thoughts on this finally. I wanted to take the
time to re-read and read all the works of Bronte and Austen so that I would be buffed up on my thoughts but I'm a busy homeschooling mom of three and let's face it, there is no time for my literary analysis sessions.

So, let it be said that I'm going from my impression from past reading. Rick and I are in the middle of watching the Masterpiece Theater version of Jane Eyre that just came out. Now, you have to know, Jane Eyre is my all time favorite book in the world next to the bible and C.S. Lewis. I am a hard core fan. So, the movie has to be good, real good. My favorite (as you will see in my profile) is specifically the Timothy Dalton BBC version of Jane Eyre, but yes, it's getting dated. So far, this one has me in Jane Eyre heaven, I LOVE IT! I even love the Mr. Rochester in it, and that's a hard thing to say. Mr. Rochester is to me almost more important a character in the book than Jane Eyre herself, and next to my husband, my biggest heart throb. Forget Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp step aside, Mr. Rochester is the stud of all time (did I say next to my husband yet:). Thankfully, he is not even real, so I'm okay right!? I've been impressed with the character since I first read the book at 14 or 15.

Yet, on to my whole Bronte/Austen comparison. Here is the shocking conclusion ladies and I realize that I may shake up you Austen fans a bit. (Donna, help!?) Especially as Austen has been loved and highlighted in christian women circles. She seems so modest...but is she? Well, yes, but...

Jane Austen is the soap opera of her time. Plain and simple.

Her books are wonderful, and a great read, no doubt, but they do center around a romantic dilemma where Bronte centers around a moral dilemma which therefore effects the romantic dilemma. Many people refer to the Bronte books (by sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne) as "dark". Well, people, life is dark. Life is not all romantic dilemmas of misunderstandings and girly dramatic assumptions as to what the male species is thinking. Life is a moral challenge, a tug at your heart as to what you should do when ethics combat your emotions. Bronte does that, she reaches in and pulls at your heart. That is writing.

Notice that in all three main books "Jane Eyre", "Wuthering Heights", and "The Tenant of Wildfel Hall" there is a moral dilemma that keeps them from their love. In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester has married a mad woman (oops, spoiler alert a little too late:*) and yet he falls in love with a fresh sweet breeze that is Jane. His dark world is startled by the appearance of bright sunshine and warm breezes, yet, he is legally and morally tied to a woman he cannot love nor receive love from.

"Wuthering Heights" (I remember this one the least) is the moral dilemma of a man in love with a woman who toys with his emotions and marries someone else despite her love for him. What is one to do?!

"Tenant of Wildfel Hall" is about a woman who has married a violent drunk. She and her child have to leave him because of the severity of his problems. In her day and time there were not programs to enter, no support for these women. She was ridiculed and looked down upon and many wondered why she lived alone. To top it all.....she falls in love. I need to read it again really, I was around 17 when I read it last. I remember reading for a whole day to finish it. Gripping!

My point? Austen is great but she is a gentle ride on the drama queen boat. All her main characters are somewhat over-reactors to really quite simplistic situations. Bronte brings depth, she makes you face things you might not know what you would do if it were you.

"Dark" and nitty gritty, compelling, heart wrenching, triumphant, REAL...and that is good literature.

I hope you can get the Jane Eyre Master Piece Theater from's very good, its wonderful! (oh, I have seen part one only...I'm assuming the rest is going to be just as good as part one..I'll let you know...I'm so anxious for it to come!)


Kristen Borland said...

well, true, austen is supposed to be light-hearted fun. in fact, i remember reading a very criticial quote from one of the bronte sisters about austen. it's all about what you like. austen's characters are grown from her study of human nature in her society, and, sorry, they aren't all that exaggerated. they are the most ridiculous of the middle and high classes that austen grew up and lived in (including a bit of corruption in the church, because, after all, it was a job not a calling back then for the men who weren't fortunate enough to be the firstborns in their family, and they were certainly not the clergymen we know today). and she had a hilarious sense of humor with which she looked at all this. it's meant to entertain and poke fun of the ridiculous.

the brontes are a bit dark, but not in a bad way. i'm a fan, though i've only read wuthering heights and jane eyre (with jane eyre being my fav of the two). the bronte sisters led very desolate lives out on the moors, and were sent away to awful boarding schools with terrible conditions, and i believe one sister even died there. there's nothing frivolous or light hearted about their lives, so their literature reflects their serious and the deeply emotional experiences. i have to say i'm a little more impressed by their plots simply because they took more imagination to come up with, having little experience with love themselves and little happiness in life to draw from.

i think you have to take both austen and the bronte sisters and enjoy them for different reasons. life can't all be dark or we'd go insane... hmm... perhaps the cause of mr. rochester's first wife's fall into madness? after all, what kind of family life did she have if her own father tricked some one into marrying her?

we have to have some humor in life, to entertain but also to examine our own quirks. and i have to strongly disagree that she is a drama queen or a soap opera, even for her time. have you met drama queens or seen a soap opera recently? whatever depth she lacks in the deep, serious emotions, her educated wit makes up for it all. she was a study of character and human flaw, and then made light of it all. a drama queen doesn't look outside of herself or, really, think all that much.

i think the point is, we all like different things, and we all need different things. fortunately, the world has been blessed with so many amazing authors.

ahh... sometimes i miss college!

Alicia said...

Ohhh, I knew I would be hearing from you, I thought of you last night and wanted you to know my thoughts were not meant directed at anyone's taste in particular.
These thougths are certianly my impressions.
You are right, the Bronte's led a dark life. NO, they did not go to the schools and die there (that is more the structure of the early novel in Jane Eyre). They were raised by thier aunt Elizabeth after their mother died of cancer. Their two siblings also died. They all died in early adulthood Emily and Anne both of tubuculosis (sp?) and Charlotte, though she lived the longest (I think she made it to 30) died in pregnancy right after her marriage. Their only brother died of alochol and opium abuse.
As Rick pointed out to me, it seems they were also effected by where they came from. Austen lived in the warmer part of England wereas the Bronte's lived in the moors of the colder part.
I'll give it to you on the humor and whit point, Austen is very whity (please note that I said I do really like her work) and that puts her a cut above the romantic novels of today.
Perhaps she is better said to be the romantic novel of her day, meaning that decency would have been seen in the romance novels then.
Although Elizabeth Bennet is very wity, I still stick to my drama queen take on her. (note to the character Marianne in Sense and Sensability is very similar to Elizabeth, in fact there is a direct repeating parallel also between Willoughby and Wickham. They are similar characters almost to a "t".
The conflict in the novels is just as you say, social, and the girls reaction to their social challenges. Remember I said it was soap opera OF HER DAY. Soap opeas as we know them now would not parallel what they would have been then, they would have looked like Austen's writing.
Bronte would not have been as welcome because of the bringing up of difficult social AND moral issues. Yet, at least in "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" and "Jane Eyre" both heroines hold to thier moral core and fight off the temptation to give in, even though the circumstances really are not fair at all.
I also love the fact that Jane and Mr.Rochester are said to be plain looking if not rough looking on his part. Much of Austen is "the dashing Mr.Darcy" and "the dashing Mrs.Bennet". It's all good, just more frilly.
Mr.Rochester's wife was insane from the beginning, btw, he just did not know it and they hid it from him.
You are right, a novel cannot hold all that dark and be enjoyed. I mentioned that people refer to them as "dark". I dont' find them dark in the sense they mean, I find them more real. They do end in light and triumph which is a deeper sweeter conclusion because you have felt their pain along the way.
You feel Elizabeth's frustration and annoyance along the way of the novel. Yet, it is brought upon herself by herself because she does not seek out the truth before making assumptions. She misses out on knowing what a great guy Mr.Darcy is from the beginning. In that way, she is a drama queen.
The conflict comes from inside the social scene and is petty, Bronte's conflict comes from the outside of the social scene making an impression on the what is going on deep in personal lives and is as far from petty as you can get.

Well, I'm done now.
You are right, they are to be enjoyed differently. I enjoy them both differently. Yet, for a year I have been putting them up in comparision in my mind and realized that the results brought my reason for liking Bronte more. It's more like a better than two bests thing.
I had all of Austen's works at one time (before I had to clear the way for the kids stuff), even her two unfinished novels! I enjoy her greatly and her characters are very interesting. She is a good fun, light read.
Bronte pulls my guts out and warms my heart all at the same time.

Christina said...

Alright, you've motivated me to try reading Jane Eyre again. It seems the last two summers I've read dark books right before school starts, Frankenstein and The Phantom of the Opera. This summer I'll put Bronte on my list!

Do you have a copy I could borrow?

Alicia said...

Yes, I think I do. I keep a few for handing down to the girls. They are delicate though. I trust you!:)
Now, Frankenstein and The Phantom (I'm also a big Phantom fan) are VERY dark.
I think Kristen is right, it's all about what you are drawn to. I hope you like it though. I'm really okay if you don't too. Reading is all about taste like movie viewing. This post was really just my sorting out my own reasonings of preferance.
I actually have been wanting to do an Austen book club. I would love to do a Bronte one too, but Austen is not as heart wrenching. Something light and witty sounds better this summer. Anyone interested?

Kristen Borland said...

hi, back from vacation and catching up on the conversation!

just wanted to say about your last thought that i generally do steer away from heart wrenching. i used to enjoy it more but haven't been able to handle it more recently. that being said, i still get a little excited about the prospect of returning to my college roots and dissecting literature (even of the "dark" persuasion).

Alicia said...

Well... I have two people I know who want to read Jane Eyre now... you up for it at all?
BTW sweet friend, I'm so glad you came back and chatted, I worried I had offended you with my passionate mumbo jumbo... silly of me,..but i love you so much!
I miss this part of college too. sigh.