Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë (April 21, 1816 – March 31, 1855), the British novelist, lived a life that was both romantic and tragic. Born in Thornton, a small West Yorkshire village in England, she was part of a clerical family that valued education for all their offspring. She was the family chronicler and champion, burnishing the tale of how the three sisters took masculine pseudonyms to improve their chances of finding publishers, and the challenges and prejudices they faced in their pursuits.

Charlotte and her siblings moved with their parents, Patrick Brontë, a curate, and Maria Branwell, to Hawarth, an isolated town on the moors of northern England. Maria died in 1821, when Charlotte was five, leaving the household to be run by her sister and servants. Read More→

Teaching Jane Eyre: A Professor’s Perspective

If you’re obscure, plain, poor and little, life may not be smooth and easy for you. You may have to bite wicked older cousins who want to torture you, defend yourself from a jealous aunt who wishes you were dead, you may have to survive long solitary hours locked in a scary red room, then to strive to keep yourself sane and alive in a bleak, heartless place like a school for poor girls,  you must accept to go on living without anybody caring for you or loving you … but, in the end, you’ll meet your hero, your Mr. Rochester and have your own reward.

He is not tender and handsome, maybe, but impetuous, fascinating, authoritative, mysterious, restless. Anyhow, he doesn’t trample on you, he doesn’t make you feel a nobody, he treats you as his equal and trusts you. Last but not least, he desires you passionately.

What if you discover on your wedding day that he has a mad wife in the attic and can’t marry you? No panic, hold on, you can make it. You’ll have to endure the awesome shock, run away and give up your dreams for a while, live among strangers you’ll  learn to love for about a year, but be sure,  at last,  you’ll have your reward, you’ll have your happy ending. Read More→

Success and Failure for Writers: an Intertwined Pair

Vita Sackville-West

In a 1928 letter to her friend Virginia Woolf, British author Vita Sackville-West pondered, “Is it better to be extremely ambitious, or rather modest? Probably the latter is safer; but I hate safety, and would rather fail gloriously than dingily succeed.”

Most of us would rather not fail at all, gloriously or otherwise. That’s why we’re content to settle for modest success, instead of taking bold steps needed for resounding success. To fail at that which we most long for seems like a terrible fate.

Truth be told, I’ve been hedging my bets in the failure and success department. I’ve scrupulously avoided the more risky path of narrative writing in favor of more sure forms of writing for which I knew I’d be paid (I know, not a small thing).  But the writing lives of many classic authors demonstrate that failure isn’t the flip side of success, but its occasional, and often necessary companion. Read More→

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf (1920)

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

The Voyage Out  was Virginia Woolf’s first novel, published in Britain in 1915 and in the U.S. in 1920. Written at a point when Woolf was suffering from an acute period of mental illness during which there was a suicide attempt, the novel proceeded painfully slowly. Nevertheless, it showed all the promise of her later work that would include stream of consciousness writing and themes of sexuality and death. The final work was over-edited; her publisher felt that her commentary on British politics was too pointed and that it could nip her career in the bud. Later, Louise de Salvo, a Woolf scholar reconstructed the novel from earlier drafts and released it as Melymbrosia (Woolf’s original title)  in 1981

The plot, such as it is, centers on Rachel Vinrace, who voyages to  South America on her father’s ship in a quest for self-discovery. Rachel’s shipmates allow Woolf an opportunity to satirize British society in the Edwardian era. We first meet Clarissa Dalloway, who readers will encounter later in Mrs. Dalloway, one of Woolf’s most popular and accessible novels.  Read More→

Are women authors held to different standards than men?

Charlotte Bronte Portrait

Dear Literary Ladies, Do you think women writers are (or should be) judged by different standards than men?

To value praise or stand in awe of blame we must respect the source whence the praise and blame proceed, and I do not respect an inconsistent critic. He says, “If Jane Eyre be the production of a woman, she must be a woman unsexed.’

In that case the book is an unredeemed error and should be unreservedly condemned. Jane Eyre is a woman’s autobiography, by a woman it is professedly written. If it is written as no woman would write, condemn it with spirit and decision—say it is bad, but do not eulogise and then detract. I am reminded of The Economist. The literary critic of that paper praised the book if written by a man, and pronounced it ‘odious’ if the work of a woman. Read More→

Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp (1944)

Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

Possibly the best-known novel for adults by Margery Sharp (her lasting legacy seems more to be for The Rescuers series for children) Cluny Brown is a comic novel following the title heroine’s quest for love, freedom, and experience. She works as a parlour maid in a country inn called Friars Carmel and there encounters a motley cast of characters. Here’s a description from the 1944 edition of Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp:

Cluny Brown has as much sense as most girls, she’s a willing, good-tempered, tall, not “a Lovely.” Occasionally someone says: “The trouble with her is she doesn’t know her place.” Cook says she always looks “pro tem.” Betty Cream says she looks like “someone.” Reactions may come from the fact that she once had tea at the Ritz and once stayed in bed all day Sunday, eating oranges to relax the nerves. Read More→

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