On November 3rd, I launch a new book, The Bronte Plot, and, as the title implies, it holds very little Austen within it and instead lives within a more Bronte-esque landscape. That said, The Bronte Plot does not parallel the plots of those books. Fear not, you’ll not find any wives hidden away, abusive men stomping about or lovers roaming the moors (Okay, that’s not true… but they’re taking a walk and not enjoying the moor at all.)
So just for kicks, I wandered the Internet to see what Charlotte Bronte thought of Jane Austen. I’m a little embarrassed to say I didn’t know. Well, let’s just say Charlotte was less than kind about Miss Austen. One article said she stated the following to George Lewes and another said she printed this in an introduction – either way here’s Charlotte:
I had not seen Pride and Prejudice 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.
She says more, elsewhere. None of it flattering.
Okay, I’m going to lay it out right here… I get not spending time with Austen. She may not be one’s cup of tea… but to say she shows you a “commonplace face” or no feeling, no understanding… ? Those statements feel off the mark to me.
Yes, Austen kept within “a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden.” She kept within her direct sphere and cuts with surgical precision. But we feel the rest of the world swirling around her, without embellishment, as she pulled the curtain only slightly here and there. And I think her portrayals of human nature are not only precise and succinct – I think they are all the more so because she never droned on about them.
So while I have thoroughly enjoyed the Brontes over the past year and I love the story I wrote drawing upon their influences – I was a little dismayed to find dear Charlotte less than charitable about Jane. In the end, I’ll stand with G.K. Chesterton who asserted the following, with a clear understanding that the world of literature changed dramatically from Jane’s time to the Charlotte’s:
Jane Austen was born before those bonds which (we are told) protected women from truth, were burst by the Brontes or elaborately untied by George Eliot. Yet the fact remains That Jane Austen knew more about men than either of them. There was precious little of truth protected from her.
What are your thoughts?
And have a great day!