August 12, 2013

What did Charlotte Bronte think of Jane Austen?

A Bronte Rogue or  an Austenian Gentleman?

“I had not seen Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth as Darcy till I had read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped [photographed] portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck [stream]. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.”

And you thought only contemporary authors could be snarky!  (More here.)

Considering Bronte had been told to write like Austen, she might have been justified for being a bit miffed. She decided to go a step further and slam her rival in classic nineteenth century style.

Was this more than writerly rivalry, though? Does it represent a real difference in what kind of writing —  and what kind of hero — or indeed, what kind of society, is preferable? Bronte was a Romantic, who idealized the violent passions, whereas Austen captured the aspirations of the nascent middle class. Both were rebels, I think, against the existing order, but Austen’s heroines were determined to conquer the class divisions of the old system through sense and sensibility, whereas Bronte heros were more likely to burn it to the ground.

Tara Maya

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