Literary Analyses

Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans (1925)

In 1925, Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress was published, though the author had finished it many years earlier. It was quite a task to find a publisher for it, and so it languished until the inscrutable author had her first major commercial success with The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas — a memoir that Gertrude Stein (1874 – 1946) not Alice, had actually written.

The Making of Americans is considered a modernist novel covering the history, progress, and genealogy of the fictional Herlsand and Dehning families. It’s written in Stein’s inimitable and experimental style, one that requires much patience, as it is steeped in excruciating detail and heavy repetition. In a March 1934 review of The Making of Americans in The Capital Times, the critic captures the difficulties and pleasures of the novel: Read More→


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Shirley by Charlotte Brontë (1849): A plot summary

Shirley was the second published novel by Charlotte Brontë. Published in 1849 under the pseudonym Currer Bell, the author had already become famous with the success of Jane Eyre (1847). While Charlotte was at work on this book, her remaining siblings died. The first to go was her troubled brother Branwell, followed by sisters Emily and Anne, who would also come to be celebrated for their literary accomplishments.

The lengthy novel has two female protagonists — the eponymous Shirley Keeldar, as well as Caroline Helstone. Set in Charlotte’s native Yorkshire, it takes place against the background of the textile industry’s Luddite uprisings of 1811 and 1812.

Shirley: A Tale, as it was originally titled, is considered an example of the mid-19th century “social novel.” The social novels that emerged from that period were works of fiction dealing with themes like labor injustice, bias against women, and poverty. Read More→


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The Professor by Charlotte Brontë: A 19th Century Analysis

Though Jane Eyre was Charlotte Brontë‘s first published novel, The Professor was actually the first novel she completed. It wasn’t published until 1857, two years after her death, with her literary reputation secured.

The resounding failure of a book of poems she produced with sisters Emily and Anne in 1846 didn’t stop Charlotte from spearheading an effort to find a publisher for the novels that they had been working on. They continued to use the assumed masculine names that appeared on their book of poetry. They  styled themselves as Currer Bell (Charlotte), Ellis Bell (Emily), and Acton Bell (Anne). Read More→


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Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: A 19th-Century Synopsis

Writing as “Ellis Bell,” Emily Brontë‘s only novel,Wuthering Heights, was published in December 1847. The brooding and complex story follows the intersection of two families — the Earnshaws and the Lintons. Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff have sparked romantic imaginations as star-crossed lovers whose dramas and tragedies reverberate into the next generation.

Reviewers in Emily’s time were rather perplexed by the novel. Charlotte Brontë felt that her sister Emily’s magnum opus was poorly understood and supplied her own preface to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights. By this time, Emily (1818 – 1848) had already died at the age of thirty, and Charlotte had become something of a literary celebrity for the far more successful reception of Jane Eyre. She wrote: Read More→


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Was Charlotte Brontë’s “Shirley” an Idealized Portrait of Her Sister Emily?

Shirley, the second published novel by Charlotte Brontë, came out in 1849 while she was still using the pseudonym Currer Bell. Charlotte had already achieved fame and notoriety with the wildly successful Jane Eyre under her ambiguous nom de plume. The question we’ll be exploring here is how much of Shirley’s character did Charlotte draw from her sister Emily.

A more challenging novel to read than Jane Eyre, Shirley: A Tale is now considered a prime example of the mid-19th century “social novel.” The social novels that emerged from that period were works of fiction dealing with themes like labor injustice, abuse of and bias against women, and poverty. Read More→


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