Jane Austen & Charlotte Brontë: Alike or Different?

Cassandra Austen's portrait of Jane Austen (ac.1810)

Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë might be linked by their early 19th-century British backgrounds and legions of devotees, but, according to James Edward Austen-Leigh, nephew of the former, “No two writers could be more unlike each other than Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë; so much so that the latter was unable to understand why the former was admired, and confessed that she herself ‘should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.’”

A distinct talent
Born in 1775 in Hampshire, England, Jane Austen was part of a convivial middle-class family consisting of five brothers and an elder sister, Cassandra, with whom she was very close. The Austens valued education; the two girls briefly attended boarding school and continued to receive further education at home.

Jane’s talent was recognized early on, and male members of her family, particularly her father (George Austen, a country rector), played key roles in getting her works published.  Six exquisite novels—crafted with compassion, humor, and insight into the travails of the sexes and social classes assured her lofty position in literary history.

Brontë’s Beginnings
Similarly, Charlotte Brontë, born in 1816 in a small Yorkshire village, was part of a clerical family that valued education for their boys as well as their girls. All five of her siblings’ lives were tragically short. She and her sisters Emily (whose masterwork, Wuthering Heights, is often considered a greater achievement than Charlotte’s own Jane Eyre) and Anne (best known for Agnes Grey) formed a tight circle of literary endeavor and mutual support.

Both Austen and Brontë wrote profusely in their youths, cementing their literary aspirations early on (a good thing, considering their abbreviated life spans; Austen died at 42, Brontë at 38). According to Austen-Leigh, “each writer equally resisted interference with her own natural style of composition.”

Great influences on others
Though both Austen and Brontë were loathe to find influence in any other authors’ voices and styles, both authors have aided countless others find theirs. Countless spin-offs, imitations (pale and otherwise), and homages to their work have been published, from Daphne DuMaurier’s  Jane Eyre-inspired modern gothic, Rebecca, to Seth Grahame-Smith’s bizarre mash-up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

A generation apart, both determined to be heard
Separated by a generation, both lived in an era when writing, let alone publication, was a challenging (yet not unheard of) occupation for genteel women to pursue. Yet both of these beloved authors possessed the inner conviction that they deserved to be heard.

— Adapted from The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas

Jane Austen quote on being an author

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