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Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre

Question:

Discuss about the Comparative Study of the Literary Works of Brone Sisters.

The following report is a discussion on the study of literature of the Victorian era. The varied themes like styles, genres and lifestyles of the Victorian era is well reflected in the literary works of the Bronte sisters’. The below report will encompass a comparative study on the literary works of the two Bronte sisters’- Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte. The two literary works that will be debated in the report will be Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Even though it might appear that both the novels encircle the same genre of literature, there are quite a few distinctive differences in the two novels. The report will highlight both the similarities and the dissimilarities that are there in the two novels. The report will compare and contrast the theme of love, betrayal and revenge in the two novels and will highlight the differences in the setting of the plot of the story. Apart from that the report will furnish the major differences that are identified in the screen adaptations of the two novel.

Jane Eyre is one of the finest works of Charlotte Bronte who was mainly concerned with the judgement of her work (Eyre). The chief concern that bothered her was that her writings must be judged on the basis of their own merits and not on her gender. This is the reason why Charlotte Bronte published all her book under the pseudonym Currer Bell. Jane Eyre, the first novel published by Charlotte Bronte was vehemently criticized as a Feminist novel because of it romanticism and feminist emotions of the heroine who is the main narrator of the novel (Charlotte). The then Victorian critic GH Lewes called it “a naughty book” due to the strange subjective representation in the book. Many critics were of the opinion that Currer Bell must be a woman and hence attacked the book by calling it “coarse” and immoral. The novel was called so as it presented a female character, a heroine who completely contradicts the then contemporary societal values who always stands up for the righteousness. Currel Bell was criticized as “moral Jacobinism” by the conservative Quarterly Review as they state that the author of the novel is trying to start a revolution. With the gradual success of the novel the pseudonym of the author was exposed which allowed the novel to attain a further level of importance in the then society by driving the public to breach their sexist perception of feminine authorship (Wootton).

Emily Bronte and Wuthering Heights

The novel Jane Eyre composed in a first-person narrative, depicts the life of Jane Eyre, a simple humble girl who grew up to an intelligent lady recovering herself from her traumatic childhood. In the course of the novel, Bronte showed five stages of Jane’s development- her childhood that she spent with her tyrannical aunt and cousins; her student life which she had spent in the Lowood school, her life as a governess at Thornfield Manor, the time that she spent with her cousins at Marsh’s End and lastly, her last life that shows her return to Thornfield Manor where she married Mr. Rochester (Kroeber). It is believed that the novel Jane Eyre is a portrayal of Charlotte Bronte’s own life and hence Jane Eyre is her autobiography. The novel is in a form of Germanic Bildungsroman that presents a struggle that a girl faces throughout her life to build her own identity. While assessing her own work Charlotte Bronte said that her contemporaries’ works and particularly in the works of Jane Austen there were lack of emphasize on the human eyes, hands, mouth and feet as Austen emphasized more on the human heart. According to Bronte, the writings must not contain coldness, unnecessary analysis, detachment and critical distance. In her opinion, the article must encompass the main subject and must be an inspirational one and not necessarily explain the rational logic behind it. This feature is most prominent in the gothic novel of the era and hence the novel is regarded as a gothic novel of the period.

The novel written from a first person point of view is entirely told through the eyes of the heroine and is a deliberate attempt of Charlotte Bronte to intensify the plot of the events with passion, feelings and judgements of the heroine.  The novel which is written in a tragic and subdued form reflects the personal experiences of Bronte in a more generalized way. Although Jane Eyre falls under many categories like Romance, Mystery and Gothic Fiction, the novel can be considered as a classic romantic novel as the novel represented the passionate relationship that Jane had with Mr. Rochester. The novel is called gothic because of its infusion of supernatural activities and fantasy throughout the novel (Bernard). The entire novel revolves around an eerie and unnatural atmosphere where we encounter characters like Mr. Rochester, a typical Byronic hero, his wife Bertha, a mad woman locked in an attic and other characters whose appearances are not at all clear.

Comparison of Themes - Love, Betrayal and Revenge

The novel when published under masculine pseudonym received a strong opposition and criticisms from its contemporary society. Lady Eastlake being conservative opined that if the book was composed by a woman then “she had long forfeited the society of her own sex”. The rattle views of Jane Eyre as to how women should behave and act in a society suggesting in Lady Eastlake’s views is almost overthrowing a social order (Ingham). Jane Eyre is a novel that chiefly focuses on the better aspects of life of a woman in spite of depicting their plight and struggles in life compared with the other contemporary novels of the time.  The character Jane as presented in the novel is not a traditional heroine with her charm and charismatic behavior unlike the other Victorian heroines. Charlotte made her heroine simple and plain who contradicts the women of her era. Jane is a character who is not less significant than a male character in terms of her maturity and emotional strengths. Gao opines that this depiction of the heroine went against the beliefs of the society.

One of the significant aspect that Charlotte Bronte has incorporated in her novel is the fascination with health that the Victorians had during the 19th century. This feature of the novel is illustrated through the character of Bertha, the insane wife of Rochester. In the Victorian era at times health was given much more importance than that of politics, religion and Darwinism. In the opinion of Sonja Mayer, the Victorians believed that there was an interdependency of the mind and body and it helps in gaining strength. Besides there were people as opined by Mayer who believed that there is an interrelation between the physical and mental health. Charlotte infused all these attitudes in the character of Bertha who suffers from mental illness and threatens her husband to death by putting the house on fire (Franklin). The novel illustrated these two characters who are totally contrasting to each other as Bertha is displayed as a monster to the readers. This is evident from Rochester’s description of Bertha as a lady with “red balls of eyes” always putting up a “mask” in her face and “bulk” and is called “gone mad” by her own husband. The Victorians would interpret this as a lack of mental stability.  On the contrary, Jane is mentally strong who struggles throughout her life to become successful even after encountering various difficulties at each stage of her life. Thus, it can be said that Bronte has recognized explicit disparities between Jane and Bertha but at the same time indicated that there are underpinning matches between these two fanatical forms of womanhood.

Differences in Setting of the Plot

Genre lifts art when it contributes somewhat valuable to the storyline. It converts pastiche and is rendered hopeless if it only incorporates artistic concern for the spectator. The Bronte sisters were experts of utilizing this device of genre to enrich their writing while contributing advanced modifications to the English gothic novel. The childhood of the Bronte sisters was afflicted by death, isolation and abusive or negligent relationships with adults just like their protagonists. The death of their mother at an early age and then their boarding life at the impoverished, slack and abusive Cowan Bridge School contributed prominently to the plot of their novels. In both of these novels the theme of child abuse is quite common as the novels highlighted the real struggle that the two sisters have faced in their childhood.

The childhood represented in the novel Jane Eyre reflected the life of children in the contemporary Victorian era. The children in the Victorian era were considered as characters who are innocent, honest and unaware of intellectual opinion. However, when the novel Jane Eyre was published in the year 1847, it presented a different fresh voice to the world as the novel introduced an obsessive, angry and insolent child. In the 19th century there were many instances of such passionate and stubborn child where the readers saw how the behavior of the child is mended by undergoing a severe terrible fate. However, in case of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte clearly articulated to her readers that her rebellious child would not tolerate the oppression of the adults as she will protest against all the adult tyranny. Charlotte Bronte focused her attention on the emotions of agony and plight that Jane experienced in her childhood as she undertakes her journey from Gateshead and into the mysterious struggling for an enhanced future.

On the other hand, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, revolves around two central characters Catherine and Heathcliff who were brought up together and the novel narrates their struggle that they had faced in order to be together. The novel although initially highlighted the theme of child abuse, Emily Bronte in the course of the novel infused concepts of violence, domination, revenge, betrayal and desire to intensify the plot of the story. While the theme of childhood in Jane Eyre outlines Jane’s fight for morality, the theme of childhood in Wuthering Heights is presented with acts of violence. This is the reason why Wuthering Heights is often called a destructive one. As the story progresses the readers find that the relationship that Cathy and Heathcliff shares is full of fierce craving and rather violent rows. Their meetings appeared to be animal-like to a certain extent. In the same way, the relationship of Heathcliff with Isabella and Catherine are similarly depicted with roughness and brutality.

Screen Adaptations of the Novels

The theme that was common in both the novels is the theme of orphanage. In both the novels it is observed that the children spent their early life either in their relative’s house or in boarding where they experienced adult exploitation and. In the novel Jane Eyre, Jane from an early age knew that she was physically inferior to Eliza, John and Georgiana, her cousins (Allott). They recognized themselves hierarchically depending on their status of abilities possessed by them such as power, domination and wealth. Jane belonged to the bottom of the hierarchy as she possessed no qualities as such. Mrs. Reeds, aunt of Jane and mother of the three cousins although pretended to be a woman who is equally affectionate towards all the members of the family is in real a rich woman who is hollow and arrogant. Her children are no less than their mother as they are also spoiled, unkind and impolite (Henson). Similarly, in the novel Wuthering Heights the story highlighted the living and the surviving of two children under the abusive treatment of their older brother. Indeed, Catherine Earnshaw or Cathy, the heroine of the story expires at an age of 18 during childbirth, an age that is not even reaching adulthood.  The book depicted how violence can act as hindrance in the path of growth.

In the year 1847, when Wuthering Heights was published feminism or gender equality was just at its beginning and the theme seemed to be a radical one for many people (Chitham). When the story was published the public had a notion that a woman in order to survive in her life must depend on a man. Emily Bronte through her depiction of the woman characters tried to eradicate this social concept (Emily).

Catherine Earnshaw, the leading female character of the novel Wuthering Heights is a remarkably strong and self-confident girl who is not an orthodox Victorian “angel of the house” personality (Wootton). Catherine, a narcissistic character can easily be portrayed as a childish and stubborn whose free spirit of independence is one of the progressive nature of women that were not found in the contemporary ages. Although Catherine’s marriage to Edgar was mostly for wealth and security for her future, she was much ahead of the women of that era. In comparison with the context of today’s world, it might seem to be a drawback and may not be considered strong, at that phase of time it was the only means of a protective future for the women (Shachar). In the course of the novel, the readers get to know that the marriage of Catherine to Edgar is actually a deliberate attempt of Catherine to help Heathcliff to come out from her brother’s domination (Levine). Heathcliff who suffers torture from Catherine’s elder brother told her servant Nelly that if she married Heathcliff, then would have become beggars and so her marriage to Linton is actually to save Heathcliff from her brother’s power. In the opinion of Catherine, it can be thus said that her marriage to Linton is actually a sacrifice of herself to make situations better for Heathcliff (Lee).

Conclusion

On the other hand, the character Isabella is depicted as an immature, ruined and stupid. Although Isabella in her childhood never protested against the wrong in times of need, she stood up for the immoral as soon as she married Heathcliff and reaches Wuthering Heights. Isabella on her very first night at Wuthering Heights killed Hindley, when Hindley showed Catherine his gun which he hoped to use for killing Heathcliff. This is for the first time Isabella started to consider the possibility that she is not a prey and she can protect herself (Herawati). Even after this, Isabella still keeps a notion of a violent passionate romanticism towards Heathcliff. However, in their relationship there is less passion and more violence. Isabella comes out from this abusive relationship and left Heathcliff and settled in London all by herself. This decision of Isabella conveyed a strong message for the women of her age and presented that women can also endure on their own as she not only cared for herself but also for her brother Linton and the child that she gave birth a few days before leaving Wuthering Heights (Ansari et al).

The most prominent genre that dominates in the writings of Emily Bronte is probably the gothic. The novel Wuthering Heights with its eerie settings, typical mysterious atmospheric conditions, multiple narrations, inhuman characters and motifs of sadism, revenge and betrayal are ideal for the gothic structure of the novel (Haque). Various researches have proved that Emily Bronte portrayed her creativity by incorporating gothic materials in her writings that at the end not only remained a mere gothic work but a literary work more than that. The heroines in Wuthering Heights have in them an essential positivity which empowers them to fight against Heathcliff and all others negative forces (Reichbart). Their negative sides are reflected through the image of Heathcliff whereas their positive individual strength are depicted through the stereotypical gothic image. They come out from their negative role and started living their lives on their own terms. Although this is the common aspect of all the heroines of the novel there are certain differences among themselves and are almost opposite to each other. Each of the women had some unique features among them and as a result their images were not enough cleared for themselves too. In other words, the female characters in Wuthering Heights offered a counterpoise together and depicted an overall picture of women together. This is another instance of the gothic novel as they do not individually fuse into one, but as a group they create a unity (ALBAN).

References

Revenge is one of the pre-dominant issue in the novel Wuthering Heights. In the novel, there are many causes for the emergent of revenge within the characters. The protagonist of the novel Catherine is a real representation of the Victorian women as she betrayed Heathcliff even after loving him but married Edgar for her financial support (Schwartz). Catherine’s marriage to Edgar is the main reason for the rise of revenge and automatically this led to the death of many lives in the course of the novel. The behavior of Edgar, Catherine and Hindley towards Heathcliff appeared to be coldhearted and impolite and this contributed to the rise of hurtful nature within Heathcliff. Heathcliff demonstrated that extreme of love is equally injurious as extreme of hate. Here comes the role of revenge as his love for Catherine made him determined to seek revenge by killing many innocent souls. The novel thus showed destructive relationships between characters as the novel pre-dominantly depicted the theme of jealousy, revenge and strong desire for harming people (Shachar).

In both the literary works, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, setting plays a significant role. The term setting can be defined as time and place at which the events are taking place. The settings of the novel are constructed in such a way that it completely merges with the characters of the novel. In the novel Wuthering Heights, the setting symbolizes the nature or characteristics of the character, while in Jane Eyre the setting is used to develop the plot of the story (ALBAN). The tone in both the novels are submissive and suspicious and the readers are introduced in an atmosphere of eerie and unknown. The unusual creepiness in both the novels draws attention of the readers to the mental tension that is created within the characters of the novels. The wild, uncivilized and the untamed nature of the Wuthering Heights contributed to the violence of the novel. The chaos that is prevalent in the novels represents the mental pressure that the characters’ experiences in the novel. Both the novelists utilized nature and weather conditions to reciprocate the feelings of the central characters of the novels (Birkhead).

The primary difference from the script to the screen in the case of the famous literary pieces, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, are that the film adaptations portray the routine old-fashioned romance and temperamental mystery (Wootton). In the film world, conventional tropes of romance, sorrow and melodrama fetches audiences in large number to the movie halls. People find the above emotions to be easily comprehensible and enjoyable. Left with no other option, the film directors and the producers feel the compulsion to implement rock-bottom themes in their movie adaptations. As a result, the movie adaptations of literary masterpieces are also no exception. The beautiful and intriguing scripts of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights consist of themes pertaining to childhood exploitations, anguish and isolation. These themes were standard to be found in the writings of the renowned Bronte sisters as they specialized in providing dark themed novels to their loyal readers (Shachar).  However, since the original scripts of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights would not prove to be bankable for the movie production units, therefore they were completely omitted from their respective movie portrayals. Therefore, this is one the difference between the script to the screen of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The second difference between the script and the screen of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights pertains to the voice of narrations and the characterization of the main characters. In the literary pieces, the main characters were depicted to be in the age bracket of ten to eighteen (Shachar). Due to this, the literary pieces reflected the various upheavals in a child’s life such as the emergence of adolescence, romantic involvements, and inappropriate advances and strong emotional transitions and more. However, in the movie adaptations, the main characters were not casted as children due to the apprehension of public displeasure and disapproval. This ultimately, made the audience to miss the captivating and soul wrenching element of the stupendous novels. This is therefore a difference between the screen and the script of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The third difference between the script and the screen of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights is the erroneous portrayal of the psychological suffering and agony of the main characters. The Bronte sisters spend a magnificent amount of time in demonstrating to the readers the disheartening pain and affliction which the main characters have experienced in their childhood phase (Wootton). The untimely demises of the guardians in the life cycle of the main characters and the feelings of torment and scorn faced by the main characters were found to be astonishingly missing in the movie adaptations. In the movie adaptations, the main characters were casted as two aspiring and dreaming romantic partners, with complete ignorance about the real life world (Shachar). Whereas in the novel the main emphasis was given on the struggle and the mental tension that the characters suffered to survive peacefully. Therefore, these are some major differences between the script and the screen adaptation of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Conclusion

Thus the report furnishes the major contrasts that the two novels have even though they are considered to be of the same genre. The two novels written by two sisters are actual representation of their own life and they reflect the drawbacks that the contemporary women in the society faced. The assignment thus proves that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights highlighted the two different social aspects that were prevalent in the then Victorian society- Revenge and Betrayal. The novels also highlighted that women can equally compete with the men and at times they are capable of sustaining their own livelihood.

References

ALBAN, Gillian ME. "Women Torn Between Thwarted Oppression and Aggressive Self-Expression in the Writings of Atwood, Carter, Byatt and Winterson." INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MEDIA, CULTURE AND LITERATURE: 103.

Allott, Miriam, ed. The Brontës: the critical heritage. Routledge, 2013.

Ansari, Sanaullah, et al. "The Themes of Evil and Revenge in “Wuthering Heights” a Novel by Emily Bronte."

Bernard, Robert. The accents of persuasion: Charlotte Bronte's novels. Faber & Faber, 2013.

Birkhead, Edith. The tale of terror: a study of the gothic romance. The Floating Press, 2012.

Charlotte, Bronte. Jane Eyre. Leda, 2016.

Chitham, Edward. The Birth of Wuthering Heights: Emily BrontÎ at Work. Springer, 2016.

Emily, Bronte. Wuthering Heights. ????? ???????, 2017.

Eyre, Jane. "“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë."

Franklin, Caroline. The female romantics: nineteenth-century women novelists and Byronism. Vol. 18. Routledge, 2012.

Gao, Haiyan. "Reflection on feminism in Jane Eyre." Theory and Practice in Language Studies 3.6 (2013): 926.

Haque, Salma. "ISABELLA LINTON’S COURAGE IN WUTHERING HEIGHTS: A STUDY."

Henson, Eithne. Landscape and gender in the novels of Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy: the body of nature. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2013.

Herawati, Septian. BOOK REVIEW OF WUTHERING HEIGHTS WRITTEN BY EMILY BRONTË. Diss. Diponegoro University, 2015.

Ingham, Patricia. The Brontës. Routledge, 2014.

Kroeber, Karl. Styles in Fictional Structure: Studies in the Art of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Lee, Louise. "Wuthering Heights." A Companion to the Brontes 96 (2016): 81.

Levine, George. Boundaries of Fiction. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Reichbart, Richard. "REVENGE: NARCISSISTIC INJURY, RAGE, AND RETALIATION. Edited by Salman Akhtar and Henri Parens." (2015): 806-813.

Schwartz, Laura. Infidel Feminism: Secularism, Religion and Women's Emancipation, England 1830-1914. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2013.

Shachar, Hila. Cultural Afterlives and Screen Adaptations of Classic Literature: Wuthering Heights and Company. Springer, 2012.

Wootton, Sarah. "Introduction." Byronic Heroes in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing and Screen Adaptation. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2016. 1-29.

Wootton, Sarah. "Introduction." Byronic Heroes in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing and Screen Adaptation. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2016. 1-29.

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