Charlotte Brontë Bicentennial

fotoCan we imagine a world of literature without Jane Eyre? Since Charlotte Brontë’s catapulting entry into literary fame, along with her sisters, our notion of the world and how literature portrays our world have changed. Today marks the 200th birthday of Charlotte Brontë and though she is to some extent eclipsed by the Bard this Saturday (and the British queen today as well), she deserves a celebration of her accomplishments in her all too short life.

I will start with admitting that I did not finish Jane Eyre the first time I was supposed to read it for university. She was just so annoying and submissive, and it ruffled my feminist feathers. So it was not until a couple of years ago that I really demanded of myself to finish it. I cannot say I enjoyed it, I still find Jane annoying but I did begin to understand her, and the book, a little better. Perhaps it was the increased context readings I did at the time. Sometimes, I need to read about a book before I start to like it rather than just reading it on its own.

I think my overall reluctance towards her was the popular notion that Jane Eyre is a love story. There is a love story in it but I do not find it to be the central theme not plot. Jane Eyre, to me, is a coming-of-age story, a search for your own true identity and the perils of succombing to another’s will. When you feel all alone it is so easy to loose your sense of self and just ‘do as the Romans’, even though it can go against everything which makes you you. So to have all that whittled down by the focus on the love affair between her and Mr Rochester, or St-John Rivers for that matter (hey, I have seen Team Rochester and Team Rivers floating around!), was in a sense humiliating. Because, it is so much more than that. I have the same sense of humiliation regarding Jane Austen adaptations and analyses.

Last December, I read Villette by Charlotte Brontë, and that was an instant favourite to me. I wrote a review on Goodreads which you can read here if interested. Her last novel and at a time when she was all alone, all her siblings in their graves, and her heart broken. It shows in the novel. Actually, it makes you feel like it. You cling to that little stupid sense of hope throughout the novel that there can be a place for you in this world, a warm hearth and a heart to love. What I am really starting to like about Charlotte Brontë’s writing, is the characterizations of weather and how much of a presence it has throughout her stories. It is something which I hope is present in her other novels, Shirley (apparently loosely inspired by her sister Emily) and The Professor.

Jane Eyre has inspired so many sequels and retellings over the years, with the most recent release being Jane Steele. My personal favourite, which you may know if you follow me on Instagram (I am trying to shut up about it but it’s hard because it’s that good!), is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Not so much a sequel as a prequel and a retelling – from Bertha Mason’s point of view. Yes, the ‘madwoman in the attic’-woman. I will probably post a review – or my whole MA thesis – here at some point. But now go read it! It’s short, it’s set in Jamaica, and it’s sensual and amazing (Uh, and it turns fifty this year, so yay for more anniversaries!)

So there is no shortage of reasons why anyone should start reading Charlotte Brontë, because I have not even ventured into all the references in other books at large to her works, and yet we cannot escape her legacy even if we tried. I mean, maybe if you were a frat-boy-douchebag you could but who wants to be that? Anyway, let us comemorate the humble beginnings, the willpower, and trust in their talents and ambitions that the Brontë family shared and nurtured despite the horrible events surrounding them. They gave us everything and our world was changed forever by them, starting with Charlotte Brontë and her governess.

Happy birthday.


Idag er det 200 år siden den vestlige verdenslitteraturs største kvindelige forfattere blev født, nemlig Charlotte Brontë. Kan det overhovedet lade sig gøre, at tænke sig en verden hvor hende og hendes søstres romaner ikke eksisterer? De har betydet så meget og kom som et jordskælv fra Yorkshire og ud i resten af verdenen.

Jeg vil være ærlig og indrømme, at jeg absolut ikke brød mig om Jane Eyre [‘Jajn Air’] da jeg skulle læse den første gang på universitetet. Alle talte om den store kærlighedshistorie mellem Jane og Rochester, og jeg fandt hende irriterrende og underdanig uden grund. Så det tog nogle år inden jeg fik læst den igen og helt færdig. Det har nok også hjulpet at jeg havde læst så meget mere om den (som ikke omhandlede kærlighedsdelen) og jeg begyndte at se dens kvaliteter. Jeg synes stadig Jane er irriterrende til tider, men man behøves jo heller ikke at kunne lide alle mennesker for at kunne lære af dem. For man kan lære meget af hende da Jane Eyre er en dannelsesroman, ikke en kærlighedsroman. En roman om at vokse op og lære sig selv at kende, at udfordre sig selv og komme til kort for derefter at rejse sig stærkere. At finde ind til den vigtigste kerne i sig selv og holde fast i den, ligegyldigt hvad andre ønsker eller mener. Det er noget, som vi stadigt har brug for at lære idag og til alle tider.

I vinters (det er vel forår nu?) læste jeg hendes sidste roman Villette, hyldet af en anden af de store kvindelige forfattere George Eliot, som den mest fuldendte af Brontës værker. Den var fantastisk. I sådan en grad at jeg glæder mig til at få læst hendes andre romaner. Til trods for hendes alt for tidlige død, er der ikke nogen fare for at mangle romaner inspireret eller dedikeret til Charlotte Brontë og specielt Jane Eyre. Her i år er der kommet en thriller-udgave Jane Steele (‘Reader, I murdered him!’) og min nok absolut yndlingsroman overhovedet er Wide Sargasso Sea; på dansk blev den udgivet i 1967 som Langt over havet men jeg har planer om at genoversætte den da den fejrer 50 år i år. Den er en forløber til plottet i Jane Eyre og følger Bertha Mason – galningen på loftet – og hvordan hun endte der. En virkelig fantastisk historie, men jeg skal nok stoppe nu inden jeg får skrevet hele mit speciale om den én gang til.

Der findes nok ikke nogen – gode – grunde til ikke at få læst Charlotte Brontë, eller nogle af hendes søstre, og bare at vide lidt om deres livsgrundlag gør at man bliver imponeret over den viljestyrke og tro på litteraturen som de havde. Så jeg glæder mig allerede til de næste 200-års fødselsdage i 2018 og 2020.

 

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About Ann-Cathrine 38 Articles
Established 1987 in Aarhus, Denmark. MA degree in English and Art History from Aarhus University, Denmark. Loves books, art, writing, coffee, dandelions, paper dolls, and haute couture.