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.