Okay – so Charlotte Bronte wasn’t a great admirer of Jane Austen – in fact, in one of her letters to a friend she states that Miss Austen…is shrewd and observant.” Now, mind you, this description does not necessarily carry strong negative connotations, but – placed in context – describes a chasm between Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.
When one attempts to compare the two, one immediately finds:
Austen, with her everyday descriptors of people, places, their quirks, follies, and joys. As Bronte described Austen’s work herself, “An accurate portrait of a commonplace face.” In other words – she describes what she sees.
And because Austen is such an excellent ‘see-er’, the world of her novels come to life even in the simple world of Meryton, or Barton Cottage, or Highbury. The everyday characters become extraordinarily ‘real’.
Bronte on the other hand, wrote with an adventurous, ‘sentimental’ flare. Passions flew, imaginations soared outside the ‘normal or commonplace’. When describing Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, she gives a hint to the focus of her own novel. It appears to me (as with her sister Emily), Charlotte Bronte sought to write with a tinge of mystery, perhaps darkness too. Edgy, with an apparent lack of humor.
Does this mean I don’t like her work? By no means. I read Jane Eyre about once a year. I love the story. It’s fascinating – but to feel as if I’m cuddling up next to a friend by the fire – well that is certainly Austen’s work.
From a letter written in 1850, Charlotte Bronte wrote (after reading Emma)
” (I) read it with interest and with just the degree of admiration which Miss Austen herself would have thought sensible and suitable — anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, or heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré and extravagant.
She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress.”
There seems to be a healthy respect that grows from Bronte’s work for her contemporary, Austen. Bronte may see Austen’s work as free of passion, but with well-placed descriptions and words to create a credible story. I do wonder what Austen would have said of Bronte’s novels 😉
During my visit to Derbyshire, UK, I went to Hathersage, the town where Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre. To think, this countryside is the very same as the Derbyshire of Austen’s Pemberley, but seen through the veil of the gothic-style Jane Eyre, it looks quite different.
Here are a few pictures: one of St. Michael and the Angels Church, that Charlotte would have attended when she stayed with the Eyre family, while she was in Hathersage, and a few others of the Derbyshire countryside.