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Archive for April, 2018

I am sorry to say that I never got around to reading any of Anne Brontë’s work. Of course, I knew of her, but her books were not on the family bookshelf, as was Jane Eyre, which I read with avidity, yet some slight distaste (I can’t explain it, but there is a lingering disaffection with the work, a sense of something lurid and overwrought. That said, I admit its greatness and liked Villette quite a bit.) Wuthering Heights I read later and still appreciate for its wild strangeness and bursting of literary bonds.  Yet, I am an Austen fan, and prefer the comic subtleties of human behavior in which Austen excels, and perhaps I resent a bit Charlotte’s belittlement of Austen, likening her writing to a “carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden.” My awareness of Anne grew with the screening on PBS of “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” and then by a cartoon by Kate Beaton wherein the two older sisters are admiring brooding, rude men whom Anne calls out as arrogant dirt bags (paraphrasing here). They say to her “no wonder no one buys your books.” I guess I fell for the tall, dark and scornful type through literature (and, it must be said, trashy romances), but was saved by Austen’s real men – kind, generous, humorous and dutiful. Even Darcy who appears to be the former turns out to be the latter. Now, upon reading Agnes Grey, I find it delightfully Austenesque in the well-drawn character studies, amusing interchanges, the earnest schooling of self-interest and inclinations to the demands of duty by the main character, and the sardonic observations of the socially elevated circles with whom Agnes comes in contact while working as a governess. That said, all of the Brontës share with Austen a striking intellectual and moral rigor that seems old-fashioned, but painfully relevant to any person who aspires to a well-lived life. Austen and Anne have a touch that is lighter than that of the older Brontë sisters, but at the same time more steely (more age-of-reason than romantic). I think the morality of Anne Brontë and Austen is more brave and beautiful precisely because it exists among the humdrum of daily cares, of petty slights, of dullness and loneliness– like that of Anne Eliot or Elinor Dashwood.

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