‘Jane Eyre’ is one of my favorite books. EVER. I’ve read and reread it, as well as have watched any film adaptation I can get my hands on (the Ruth Wilson/Toby Stephens in my fav) so many times that its starting to become a joke in my house. I’m not a huge fan of ‘Wuthering Heights.’ It took me two tries picking it up and getting through a few pages before I actually had the wherewithal to finish it.
Earlier this year, I read ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by the lesser known Bronte, Anne. I liked it a lot. As with her sisters’ novels, it was a mystery and a romance. It was not a fairytale, happy book, per se, but then what Bronte book is? Their writing was influenced by the world and time in which they lived, which included a lot of illness, family deaths, sternness at home by their minister father and aunt, and deplorable school conditions (to the point that the two eldest sisters suffered from hunger and sickness while away at school, which ultimately contributed to their deaths from TB). Hmm…, sound familiar? Charlotte’s Lowood School in ‘Jane Eyre’ was probably taken from that experience. Sadly, the longest-surviving sibling, Charlotte, only lived until age 38–all died of TB. It is said that all the girls suffered from depression.
Throw into the mix a brother (Branwell), who was addicted to alcohol and opiates, couldn’t hold a job, was in significant debt and in constant envy of his sisters’ publishing success. It has also been suggested that he was bipolar. Earlier this year, I read Daphne du Maurier’s biography of him, ‘The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte,’ which painted such a sad portrait of his demise. His sisters adored their brother, but the stress of his topsy-turvy life wore on them deeply.
I so admire the Brontes and what they accomplished in their short lives. Not only did their writing bring attention to the deplorable school and social conditions of the time, mental illness and a woman’s inferior station in the world, they made the reader delve deeper to see inherently broken men as lovable and the cold, wet English moors as romantic. Interestingly, most of their work was written from overhearing village gossip about other people’s lives. Emily, for example, was a known recluse who rarely left the Haworth parsonage.
Yet, their writings felt real. Take for example this poem by Emily about a lost love, a longing I’m sure most of us have felt at one time or another in our lives.
If grief for grief can touch thee,
If answering woe for woe,
If any ruth can melt thee,
Come to me now!
I cannot be more lonely,
More drear I cannot be,
My worn heart throbs so wildly,
‘Twill break for thee.
And when the world despises,
When heaven repels my prayer,
Will not my angel comfort,
Mine idol hear?
Yes, by the tears I’ve poured,
By all my hours of pain,
O I shall surely win thee,