Austen vs. Bronte

I’m working my way through Charlotte Bronte’s Villette. I’m not sure that I’m completely invested, truth be told. I read somewhere that upon reading Villette, George Eliot wrote to a friend that it was better than Jane Eyre. I was pretty excited by this because a) I think highly of George Eliot and b) I love Jane Eyre.

So far I think I am underwhelmed. But you never know what will happen with these Brontes. They are sneaky like that.

Earlier this year, on the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice’s being published, the old Austen vs. Bronte feud seemed to flare up again. Given the chance to reread Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre, I honestly don’t know what I would choose. I don’t want to be painted with that brush – Austen or Bronte. All their books are terrific!

I don’t know why we can’t all get along and enjoy Austen and Bronte side by side?

I don’t really know why Jane Austen’s work has to compete with the work of Anne, Charlotte and Emily actually. They didn’t live at the same time – in fact only Charlotte had been born (in 1816) before Jane Austen died (in 1817). They don’t have particularly similar styles – Austen tends more to satire while the Brontes are really very dark. Like really dark. There really isn’t that much humour to be found in the work of the Brontes (though I did laugh at the explanation of a line that women shouldn’t think too much as it would make them lightheaded since thinking would take the blood away from the reproductive organs, thereby making a woman barren).

That said, I always find myself surprised at how insightful and modern the Bronte books can be. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has a woman fleeing an abusive, alcoholic husband; Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights tackle extreme forms of mental illness; and Villette’s Lucy Snowe is pretty clearly depressed.

Then there are those that disparage Jane Austen’s work as little more than chick lit (which also? Is awesome). People actually exist that think Austen’s work is fluffy and silly.

Is their work compared because none of them ever married? Is that it? It’s said that Austen refused marriage and apparently Charlotte Bronte did the same. Did she eventually marry? No idea.

Or is it that in the end, most of their characters get married? It can’t be that their stories centre around women because that’s way too broad a framework on which to base any comparison.

Then again, I only read them for the fun of it. I have virtually no background in literature and I’m probably missing the point.

I just like to read them. Bronte or Austen. They are equal in my world.

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14 thoughts on “Austen vs. Bronte

  1. I love this! I completely agree. I like Austen and Bronte, although they are completely different. And yeah, Austen defiantly isn’t fluffy. Silly people eh?

  2. there’s too much hatred among the austenites and the bronteites, especially the former I’m afraid. Jane Austen will always be a classic because of realistic characters. But some hyper-rationalists scorn the Brontes for deep emotion and depressive characters. The Brontes brought out the insides of characters and showed that unusual individuals do exist in society, and that it is possible for a plain, uncharismatic woman to be a heroine.

  3. I think they are compared because of how they’ve all put women on the map, so to speak. If I HAD to choose, I’d pick Austen just because I more enjoy the humor/satire. (Which is why I liked the Hobbit movie better than LOTR…more comic relief.) But really, they all offer their own special piece to literature and seem equal to me too.

    I have a book called “The Crimes of Charlotte Bronte” by James Tully. Basically this guy takes the inconsistencies in the Brontes’ biographical information and turned his findings into a story. So although it’s called a novel, it’s based on his findings and conjectures of their lives. The idea is that Charlotte killed off her siblings.

  4. They were often compared because Charlotte+ Emily Bronte and Jane Austen were totally different, even to the point of being opposite, and I’ve seen lots of people say that one either likes the Brontes or Jane Austen. That’s often true, but of course there exist people who like both styles. It’s pretty much like Tolstoy vs Dostoevsky.
    (Anne Bronte, to me, was more like a blend, a reconciliation).
    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. I just came across your blog and liked to write a comment, that’s all.

    • I’m glad you did!

      It does seem like people either like the Brontes or Austen…I like them both. But I don’t find that their styles or even their subject matter is that similar. I can never quite figure out why it has to be one or the other!

  5. Well, wallop me with an old welly! Those that claim one can only like Austen ‘OR’ Bronte must have been dropped on their heads when the stork delivered them.

    Let me see. How shall I frame my defence? I like Beef and I like Cod Fish. I do not have to choose whether I will eat one or the other. I will eat both, and in the same meal. After the soup [Charles Dickens], I take the fish {Austen], and then for the meat course I’ll devour Charlotte or Emily. My desert frequently includes Richard Llewellyn, or John Steinbeck, with sippets of Wordsworth, Dickinson, and, perhaps, a large gulp of Dylan Thomas to wash the lot down.

    Art , music, and literature are disciplines where snobbery is anathema as the sure sign of a small mind, but, sadly, the world is awash with their tragic comedies.

    When dining on a fine beef sausage, one can either chop it into bits to find out why it is what it is or else one can eat it and enjoy it and look forward to more of the same.

    Please pass the mustard, the brown sauce, and the tartar sauce. Now, where are my dining tools?

  6. I don’t understand the fact that some believe that if you like one you must hate the other. I like both, but I must say that I greatly prefer the writings of the Bronte sisters.
    I read and enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, Lady Susan and Northanger Abbey, and I plan on reading Persuasion soon, but I just didn’t find them to be “amazing” to me. Meanwhile, Wuthering Heights simply blew me away, and from what I’ve read of Jane Eyre so far I very much like that too.
    So in all I would prefer Bronte, but I definitely give Austen credit where credit is due. Her books are well written and quite entertaining, and she was something of a trailblazer to female literature in the 1800s – without her we probably wouldn’t even have the Brontes’ novels!

    • I don’t get it either. And really, they are so different! I’ve always found Wuthering Heights a tad hysterical but I love Jane Eyre and was blown away by The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Didn’t love Villette but enjoyed Agnes Grey.

      For me, Jane Austen gets better with every read but my love for her doesn’t preclude my appreciation for the Brontes!

  7. Pingback: Snobby Austen – Emma: A Modern Retelling | The Paperback Princess

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