Wednesday 18 August 2010

The Bronte Paradox - Wuthering Heights VS Jane Eyre

Three writers largely influenced the course of English literature in the middle of the 19th century. The three of them happened to be sisters. I give you Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte, or using their pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.

From my modest literary experience I found a trend, which I will call The Bronte Paradox. Despite the family connection and the similar time period, Charlotte and Emily have a different writing style and distinct themes. I judge this by comparing Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Emily's Wuthering Heights. If I didn't knew they were sisters, I would have never guessed by simply reading these two novels.

Wuthering Heights is the grim love story of the rich daddy's girl Catherine and the violent and primitive Heathcliff. Their love is predestined to a tragic end due to the difference in social class. After Catherine's death Emily depicts with a great imagination Heathcliff's physical and mental cruelty. I enjoyed this gothic novel because it is very far from the traditional love story. Catherine is capricious and inconsistent; she marries Edgar, her cousin, because of his social status, but she remains in love with Heathcliff throughout her whole life. Heathcliff, on the other hand, is not the typical white knight. Quite the opposite - he is brutal, cruel, morose, and ill-mannered. Surprisingly, the novel doesn't end with Catherine's death but continues to explore Heathcliff's change afterwards and the destiny of their children. Without unnecessary sugar-coating, Emily Bronte gives us a non-conventional love story, which is highly influential.

The more popular sister, Charlotte Bronte, creates the typical happy ending love story. Jane Eyre very much reminded me of a worse version of Cinderella. Jane is an orphan, tormented by an aunt and cousins, who hate her. She spends her childhood in an orphanage, where her individuality is suppressed, and she finds a job in a rich house as a governess. Of course, Jane falls in love with the owner of the house, Edward Rochester, who happens to have a hidden crazy wife. For that reason Jane and Edward separate, only to reunite in several years and live happily ever after. Not only that, but Jane becomes very rich, when a distant relative of hers dies in the right moment and leaves her the only heiress. Trivial, banal, and absolutely boring.

Critics claim that Jane Eyre is one of the best English novels, far better than Emily's Wuthering Heights. I, however, find Charlotte's story too shallow and simple. We have heard a million times the story of the poor and tortured girl, who falls in love with a rich and handsome man, who doesn't care about social norms. Unlike her sister Emily, Charlotte depicts the white knight and pulls out of her ass the happy ending. Not only Jane and Edward meet again by very strange (and absolutely impossible in real life) circumstances, but Jane becomes rich agan by very impossible circumstances. Personally,Jane Eyre was an absolute loss of time.

To conclude, I would just mention that Jane Eyre is the 2nd most favorite English book. I can't imagine why. Yes, one of my favorite novels shares a similar plot - Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The latter, however, impresses with Austen's great use of irony and satire to humour the norms and morals in 19th century England. Charlotte Bronte's novel lacks even powerful language and imagination.  Even I could come up with a better story.

If you still want to get a sense of the Bronte literature, I strongly suggest you read Wuthering Heights and then watch the movie. As for Jane Eyre, it is the longest version of Cinderella. Largely sugar-coated, extremely insubstantial, and overwhelmingly trivial.


  1. Hi! First of all I have to say that I like both books but I prefer Jane Eyre, which is a book that you could underestimate about its storyline, but instead you end up admiring and loving its heroine and the progress she makes despite oppositions. Why it didn't work for you this way I don't know. Most people fail to empathize with the heroes of Wuthering Heights.

    I could also comment - as you too noticed - that the Cinderella story has been repeated only too often, but Jane Eyre continues to be inimitable. But you wouldn't be able to esteem that because you absolutely failed to notice the unique poetry and beautiful language, far more superior than Jane Austen even Dickens some people think. So when you actually say that it lacks powerful language and imagination I start to wonder if you have read the right book.

    As for being insubstantial and trivial, Jane Eyre is a fairytale which however examines how a maltreated girl turns to an independent woman, how are we supposed to treat injustice, how sometimes life does not feel right unless you combine seemingly conflicting things like love and independence (because love can be very tyrannical but sheer independence can make you feel lonely), let alone questions on ethics and whether they are things that depend on our needs at the time.

    Sorry about the lecture and I mean no harm by making these comments (which I really wouldn't do, had I not been provoked by that little sentence about lack of powerful language and imagination). I just wanted to give a fairer - I deem - personal opinion about this book without mentioning other famous people favorable opinion's about this book as Jane Eyre is academically acclaimed as well.

  2. I appreciate the honest response, but I have to disagree. Indeed, Jane Eyre is a fairytale but I do not see neither the charm, nor the moral in the way she turns into an independent woman. Yes, she has some difficulties in her life but by the end of the story she become a rich heiress out of the blue. Without actually having done anything to deserve it. I call that pure luck.

    In addition, the love story is trivial and unrealistic. Even after years they reunite and she devotes to taking care of her blind beloved, who at the end even starts seeing again. Enough with the sugar-coating, OK?

    As for the language, you might be right. I didn't read Jane Eyre in original (I read its translation in Bulgarian) so may be some of the unique poetry and beautiful language has been lost in translation. This is the only thing I admit to may be being wrong in my review.

    As for Jane Austen, I have read some of her novels in English as well and I find her use of language and metaphors, her irony and satire, absolutely admirable.

  3. Hi again :). Charlotte Bronte had clearly declared that she would not write a book about its moral and in fact most Victorian reviewers were at a loss to classify the book according to it, something that Charlotte Bronte made fun of at the ending of "Shirley" saying that she would not offend the reader pointing the moral out (implying that there clearly wasn't any).

    Anyway Jane is always a quite independent woman and that shows in her courage to retort to her superiors and value herself no matter what and even surpass herself refusing what she values more (love) in order to be true to herself. She does not succumb. I feel that you are talking about financial independence. Well she does work most of her life in order to be independent from others and when she turns rich it is not so very out blue. She doesn't win the lottery (although coincidence happens to some people, it is part of our lives), but she had always had rich relatives. However, the point you are missing here is that the important thing is not what happens to Jane Eyre but how she handles it. And what it shows and how it changes her character. Do you know why Jane ends being rich and with family near the end? Not because Charlotte liked sugary things (in fact her life was most bitter), but because this brings out even stronger her feelings for Rochester. It would be easy at the beginning of their acquaintance to see Jane as a young poor girl that was infatuated with its rich powerful master, but now that she has all he could offer her (money, position and family) we can clearly see that she still needs him in order to be happy because she truly loves him. She would be with him even if he were penniless and cripple. Do you see her point?

    And what do you mean with "without having done nothing to deserve it"? Do you think that what happens to you or any other person is just and fair? Coincidence does not count? That is a great part of existentialism. You happen to be born with the specific sex, the specific form, the specific family, the specific wealth, in the specific era. You don't choose a thing. Or in case you have an opposite opinion, then Jane Eyre is a very good person that has worked hard and suffered much in her life so in a way she "deserves" to become happy just because for once it is nice to think that life is just and good people are rewarded.

    About the vision thing Charlotte doesn't say about Rochester that another eye grows in the place of the plucked one, but that his vision ameliorates (which could symbolize that his will to live has come back and that being with Jane has invigorated him, that he had to turn blind to really "see") but if you don't like metaphors at all, the fact of its happening isn't too far-fetched. Charlotte's father was becoming blind and recovered his sight by surgery so she had this experience herself. Anyway it's a bitter sweet ending. Not many people would consider marrying a person with disabilities very fortunate and this is the truth.

  4. Second part :)

    If you like Jane Austen for her realism and her admiration for social order then it is very understandable why you don't like Charlotte Bronte who felt she would suffocate in the society that Austen describes. Her novels may not be the clever meticulous tales of Austen but there is much more meaning and rage and rebellion in her books and clearer images of the human condition than humor and clever observation. Emotionally I have gained many things from Charlotte Bronte and her books have made me think far more possibilities than Austen's portraits of society because I don't expect literature to be nearer to documentation but to imagination as well. Anyway it is a matter of taste. I see you don't like Gabriel Garcia Marques much as well, while he is a favorite of mine :). So no magic realism for you.

    I know what you mean about translations. I am not satisfied with the Greek ones too and I can understand how that can get in the way of enjoying a book, but in this particular novel if you don't like or sympathize with Jane I find it impossible to understand its charm at all.

    Still I don't find it...(not wise nor prudent...what is the word?) lets say smart to call "largely sugar-coated, extremely insubstantial, and overwhelmingly trivial" a book that comes second in the preference of the audience and is 160 years old. Because it seems that according to the majority you don't see something that is very clear to many many others. Of course you have every right to differ, but when you do that, it is better to use milder words than these, because you may happen to offend other people's feelings who really admire what you belittle. There is a difference between saying that you don't like or even hate something and between saying that that something is shallow and insubstantial. It's like depreciating other people's opinions.

  5. really are passionate about Charlotte Bronte and her novels. Indeed, I do not wish to continue arguing as we obviously have very different opinions. Just to mention...Jane Austen doesn't admire the social order; quite the opposite - she ridicules the norms, morals, and prejudices of 19th century England. Her characters are strong and independent, not bound by prejudice, who condemn and laugh at every form of stupidity and shallowness. In that sense, I love her novels. I do admit, sometimes they are a bit naive and largely optimistic, but they give me a big pleasure and I always end up satisfied and positive.

    As for my opinion, I do run my own blog and I do not engage anyone with my opinion. I do not mean to be offensive but I largely disagree that since this book comes second in preference of the audience, this signifies its value. Come on, Bulgarians rated The Lord of the Rings as their most favorite book and I doubt even half of the people have read it; they just voted for it because of the movie. I have never been a conformist and I hate to like something just because the rest of the world says it is good.

    I hope I do not sound offensive to you. I admire your criticism and comments because, after all, that is the purpose of my blog. In one of my articles I claimed I longed to discuss and argue about the books I have read because this makes me think more about them. Thank you for being so critical and consistent. Keep posting!

  6. About Jane Austen and the social order what I mean really is that although her characters may make fun of the stupidity and shallowness of the world they do follow its rules by the letter and misbehaving is always treated as a foolishness. This way Fanny could never act like Jane Eyre, saying her opinion openly no matter how right she is. Sisters sometimes do not confide to each other important things that cause misunderstandings. So they may be critical in their thoughts but they still keep up the appearances and have to speak and listen with civility to every Miss Bates and Mr Collins about every trivial matter. So the society rules come above persons while Charlotte Bronte examines how a person can feel alienated while still forced to live in a society and how can somebody fulfill his desires when the society is totally against it. Her heroines must learn to live in it in a way that life should still have some meaning for them.

    I was glad when you said that you find Austen's books sometimes naive or too optimistic. In a way her heroines always get their man (except for poor Marianne, although she ended up with a better man in my opinion) and sometimes considering Austen's personal life I wonder if she didn't feel a little sad that life was not like literature. In Charlotte's books there is much more grief and loss and loneliness so a greater dose of reality. I wonder what would you have made out of her Villette. It is her most mature and clever book but I must warn you that it has very little plot. It is all based in gradual psychological change.

    I know what you mean with the example of the Lord of the rings. In my country this happens with Wuthering Heights. The title of this book has been translated so strikingly (and funny - in a good way - at the same time) that mostly everybody know the title even as a joke, but not the book (it is much more famous that Jane Eyre as a title at least). However when we talk about classics and the years that have endured is a different thing. To give you an example, I am not too crazy about Dickens. I find him too wordy and some characters are not very dimensional (I spent ages trying to find out why I could not pity more Oliver Twist or David Copperfield. Thankfully Jane Eyre with her rage and reactions showed me why. They were not realistic kids but just romanticized images of children). But I can't altogether reject Dickens. I know he was a great storyteller and a great mind if you think that he wrote most stories in excerpts for newspapers, but as the English say "he is not exactly my cup of tea". That is what I mean about not condemning too strongly something that has lasted one and a half century. If Jane Eyre was such a trash she would have been displaced by the next Cinderella story.

    And last I am glad that you are not a conformist and thank you for not misunderstanding totally my meaning :) It is not your opinion so much towards which I am against, but the manner of expressing it. I send you my greetings :)

  7. V momenta imam seminar tochno na tazi tema - Jane Eyre vs Wuthering Heights ;) Shte ti kaja kak e minal :*

  8. Hahahah, az sum napravo za lecturer rodena. Napishi posle tuk PLS do kakvi zaklu4enia ste stignali :)

  9. I do not wish to comment on the book, merely to say that I am a relative of the Bronte sisters and feel their books and writings have a timeless quality which, with a change into modern language, can still be found entirely accurate for today's girls/women dreaming the fairytale. We'll never stop dreaming, if we did the whole world would stop evolving.

    That is all I wanted to say on the matter.

  10. Absolutely agree with you. I can't stand the hypocrisy and subtle self-superiority in Jane Eyre. On the other hand, both Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice are among my favorites.

  11. I will completely agree with you here. I feel like Jane Eyre, while being a great novel, simply cannot compete with Wuthering Heights on a basic original level. Never have I read anything even somewhat replicating the love between Heathcliff and Cathy, althought I have heard comparisons such as Twilight, which is pitiful. Healthcliff is a much more complex character than any I have read or watched in movies. I have never read a book and felt the same turmoil I felt reading Wuthering Heights; never have I felt so confused, disturbed, sympathetic, or in touch with ANY fictional character! This book, plot, these characters left me feeling happy, sad, empty, at any particular time! No other book has surprised me and made me feel that way. Hats off to Emily Bronte, because in my opinion - any deep emotion emulated which really hits home, whether it be a happy ending or sad, is a job well done. She had some complex story lines and characters for her time. I will be forever impressed with this novel. My all time favorite :)

  12. Aaaahaha boooks am I riight? I mean, words and pages and stuff.. yep.. readinggg

  13. They are both iconic novels. I prefer the 'happy ending' of Jane Eyre, yet love the complexity and sheer passion that Wuthering Heights contains in it's pages. I think Emily's novel makes you feel more,let it be empathy, disgust, Evan hatred of the characters. But that is not to say Charlotte's characters does not have depth. Wuthering Heights was Emily's first novel ( albeit her only one ) whereas The Professor was Charlotte's. Can you imagine the genius works Emily would have perhaps further produced if she had lived longer? Charlotte is iconic and renowned in literature for a reason... she was an amazing storyteller. Emily has a mystique about her... a totally unique way of imagination that makes you think, feel and wonder that bit more.