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The Brontë sisters : biography and legacy to litterature

The Bronte are objects of fascination because it is rare for several members of the same family to be so talented and produce great works of English literature.

The Brontë sisters and legacy

Credit Photo : The Brontë sisters and their legacy - intercripol.org

These three sisters were poetesses and British novelists during the Victorian and industrial era of the 19th century. The Brontes are objects of fascination because it is extremely rare that several members of the same family are so talented and give birth to great works of English literature. The Brontë myth is based on this "plural" which includes Charlotte, Emily, and Anne but also on their tragic fate, making them talented prodigies, but doomed to an early death which prevented them from continuing to contribute to the literature.

I. Their biographies


    The Brontë siblings are an English literary family from Yorkshire whose notoriety is essentially due to three of the five sisters and one brother. The latter, Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily (1818-1848), Anne (1820-1849), and their brother Branwell were very close and shared their passion for writing from a very young age.  They received a good education from their father, who was a pastor.  Something quite rare in this context of the industrial revolution, where the population was poor and uneducated. Indeed, he encouraged them to read, write and dream in the open air of the moors.

    Their works were marked by their confrontations with death, that of their mother from cancer, and those of their sisters following their stays at the Cowan Bridge boarding school. Tragically, they also suffered a tragic death that would promote their reputation and that of their family. In 1848, Branwell and Emily died of tuberculosis, a deadly disease at the time, followed by Anne a year later. Charlotte married 5 years later, before dying only a year after that in circumstances that have never been clarified. Their father outlived the whole family, passing away six years after Charlotte's death.

    Haworth Rectory is now a museum whose visitors come from all over the world. It has become a place of pilgrimage and symbolism, especially for great writers

II.    Their works and their legacy


    Three masterpieces sum up their heritage in English and feminist literature: Jane Eyre (1848), Charlotte's first novel, The Lady of the Manor of Wildfell Hall (1848), Anne's second novel, and Emily's only novel, Wuthering Heights (1848).
    In 1846 they published their first poems that were difficult to emulate, then novels using male pseudonyms under the names of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (Initials of their respective first names); who attracted attention by the originality and passion they exuded. They were often criticised. Only Jane Eyre was successful in her time. Their other novels were not admitted as great literary works until later with Villette (1853) by Charlotte.
    For Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and their brother, Branwell, writing represented a lifeline in their semi-reclusive moors. The texts of their youth were collected in the publication Juvenilia, whose hero of most of their stories, hidden under "various and exotic names", was none other than the winner of Waterloo, Wellington, adored by their father.

     1.    Charlotte


    An interesting anecdote that shows the pugnacity and determination of Charlotte and her heroines was her sending some poems to a poet laureate of the time: Robert Southey, a figure of romanticism. The latter shared the prejudices of the time, and his thoughts can be summed up in this response to Charlotte: "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it cannot be. The more she devotes herself to the duties that are incumbent, the less leisure she will have to practice it, even as a talent or for entertainment.”
    This was a miserable reflection of the time that did not discourage Charlotte and her sisters. They published their novels despite the lack of enthusiasm for their poems.

    For Charlotte, Jane Eyre was her first publication and the first novel in literature where a woman's feelings were expressed by a woman in a tormented love story. The heroine is described there as dominated by four men before taking her destiny into her own hands and obeying only herself. She is anti-conforming to the Victorian idea of a woman.
    It was also a sort of outlet for her trauma linked to the loss of her sisters in an execrable boarding school (deprivation, corporal punishment, humiliation, bloodletting, forced vomiting), but lenient compared to others, a place that hastened their death. She describes the tyranny of the director and the reverend, the negligence of the doctor, brother-in-law of the director in the context of a strong epidemic of typhus and tuberculosis, which was fatal at the time.
    She also wrote Shirley (1849), a tribute to what her sister Emily would have become if she had found herself in conditions of "good health and prosperity". She also depicts the mores of a world where manufacturing is in social crisis with humour and irony.
    Then, Villette (1853) paints a portrait of the status of women and the choices and professions available to women. She thus describes a Protestant heroine living in a Catholic country who falls in love with a professor of the same profession of faith. Charlotte casts doubt on this story with regard to the outcome following a crisis: did the professor who left for the West Indies drown when his boat sank or did he return to marry Lucy?
    Finally, The Professor was published posthumously in 1957, although written in 1847 without finding a publisher to publish it. He is considered the least successful, a priori, because of his choice of an autobiographical male point of view that is not credible.

     2.    Anne or "the literary Cinderella"


    Her first novel, Agnès Gray (1847), received a relatively neutral but more flattering reception, even if some found it distasteful. She describes the precariousness of governesses, one of the only professions considered respectable for women, based on her personal experience.
    She is best known for The Lady of the Manor of Wildfell Hall (1848), which was not really appreciated, at the time, because it challenged the moral standards of the time, highlighting the abuse and domestic violence suffered by women by their husbands. It shows an assumed and determined woman who decides to leave her abusive husband and support herself and her son. The heroine is alone and abandoned but resists through her resignation and strong temper.
    Despite significant sales, he is decried for his omnipresent violence, his savagery, and his lack of justice which intrigues and shocks. He was called "gross and repulsive", "bludgeoning of overflowing passions" but also his power, his "Shakespearean" side filled with cruel truths to read. After Anne's death, Charlotte prevented the republication. The central idea is the alcoholism of a man who ruins his family, an indirect link with the downfall of their brother.

     3.    Emily or "the sphynx of literature"


    His book Les Hauts de Hurlevent (1848) was criticised for the originality of the subject and the narrative form used. Indeed, she depicts this with violence, darkness, cruelty, and immorality for Victorian conventions, the taboos of society on brothers, sisters, and spouses who live under the same roof: incest. So much so that the populace thought it was written by a lawless man.
    We can see an allusion to his father, who would have considered marrying his sister-in-law (no direct relationship) after the death of his wife, but who did not respond to the good morals of the time and was considered incestuous.

    The common point of their works is their main characters that advance on a path of life with many obstacles to find happiness in love and virtue, like an initiatory journey. They were the pioneers of writing strong female characters, determined to get out of their conditions through their education, celebrating the advancement of women. Denouncing the taboos of their times, and even shocking to highlight a Victorian morality tinged with immoralities.