Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Things that Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë had in Common

  • They were daughters of clergymen.
  • As children, they attended unsanitary boarding schools where they almost died. (Two of Brontë's sisters did die. Austen and her sister got very sick but survived.)
  • They started writing quite young. Austen seems to have started at twelve, Brontë at about thirteen.
  • They died tragically young also, Brontë at 39 (having outlived all of her siblings) and Austen at 42. They overlapped for only one year, Brontë arriving in 1816 and Austen departing in 1817.
  • During their lifetimes, none of their books were published under their own names. They used pseudonyms, remained anonymous, or were billed as "The Author of . . . " their previous novel.
This is somewhat speculative, but they seem to have had one more thing in common: they were more daring in their books than in real life. People spoke of them as being kind and gentle, good clergymen's daughters in fact. They seem to have saved all their rebelliousness and sharp wit for their books.

Or perhaps people spoke of them that way because it was the polite thing to do. It's hard to imagine that Austen, for example, could have kept all her cynical observations to herself, or that nobody noticed that all the Brontës were a little strange.

I suppose that's the other thing they have in common: nobody knows what they were really like. We imagine that their books reveal their personalities, but is that really true?

(Incidentally, Shirley is my favorite of Brontë's books.)

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