Charlotte Brontë Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The nineteen poems selected by Charlotte Brontë (BRAHNT-ee) to print with her sister Anne’s work in Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846) were her only other works published during her lifetime. The juvenilia produced by the four Brontë children—Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell—between 1824 and 1839 are scattered in libraries and private collections. Some of Charlotte’s contributions have been published in The Twelve Adventurers, and Other Stories (1925), Legends of Angria (1933), The Search After Happiness (1969), Five Novelettes (1971), and The Secret and Lily Hart (1979). A fragment of a novel written during the last year of Brontë’s life was published as Emma in the Cornhill Magazine in 1860 and is often reprinted in editions of The Professor. The Complete Poems of Charlotte Brontë appeared in 1923. Other brief selections, fragments, and ephemera have been printed in Transactions and Other Publications of the Brontë Society. The nineteen-volume Shakespeare Head Brontë (1931-1938), edited by T. J. Wise and J. A. Symington, contains all of the novels, four volumes of life and letters, two volumes of miscellaneous writings, and two volumes of poems.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Charlotte Brontë brought to English fiction an intensely personal voice. Her books show the moral and emotional growth of herprotagonists almost entirely by self-revelation. Her novels focus on individual self-fulfillment; they express the subjective interior world not only in thoughts, dreams, visions, and symbols but also by projecting inner states through external objects, secondary characters, places, events, and weather. Brontë’s own experiences and emotions inform thenarrative presence. “Perhaps no other writer of her time,” wrote Margaret Oliphant in 1855, “has impressed her mark so clearly on contemporary literature, or drawn so many followers into her own peculiar path.”

The personal voice, which blurs the distances separating novelist, protagonist, and reader, accounts for much of the critical ambivalence toward Brontë’s work. Generations of unsophisticated readers have identified with Jane Eyre; thousands of romances and modern gothics have used Brontë’s situations and invited readers to step into the fantasy. Brontë’s novels, however, are much more than simply the common reader’s daydreams. They are rich enough to allow a variety of critical approaches. They have been studied in relation to traditions (gothic, provincial, realistic, Romantic); read for psychological, linguistic, Christian, social, economic, and personal interpretations; and analyzed in terms of symbolism, imagery, metaphor, viewpoint, narrative distance, and prose style. Because the novels are so clearly wrought from the materials of their author’s life, psychoanalytic andfeminist criticism has proved rewarding. In Brontë’s work, a woman author makes significant statements about issues central to women’s lives. Most of her heroines are working women; each feels the pull of individual self-development against the wish for emotional fulfillment, the tension between sexual energies and social realities, the almost unresolvable conflict between love and independence.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Does Charlotte Brontë’s father or his children themselves deserve more credit for their creativity as youngsters?

How do major characters in Brontë’s novels mirror the author’s extraordinary ability to overcome obstacles to her creative achievements?

Explain Brontë’s knowledge of Romantic poets and her keenness for art as bases for her depiction of nature in her novels.

What combination of personal traits makes Jane Eyre such a successful heroine?

Discuss whether Villette deserves a higher rank in English fiction than it has received.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Barker, Juliet. The Brontës. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. This massive study of the entire Brontë family sometimes overwhelms with detail, but it presents a complete picture of one of English literature’s most intriguing and productive families. Barker’s analysis of the juvenilia, in particular, constitutes a major contribution to Brontë scholarship. Not surprisingly, the author has more to say about Charlotte than about other members of the family.

Edwards, Mike. Charlotte Brontë: The Novels. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Extracts sections from Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Villette to analyze the layers of meaning and the combination of realism and fantasy in these texts.

Fraser, Rebecca. The Brontës: Charlotte Brontë and Her Family. New York: Crown, 1988. Thorough and engrossing biography of Charlotte Brontë and the rest of the Brontë family is carefully researched and annotated and offers a vividly written portrait of the Brontës and their world. Makes use of letters, published and unpublished manuscripts, and contemporary news sources to examine this complex literary family.

Gaskell, Elizabeth C. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. 1857. Reprint. London: Penguin Books, 1975. Still an indispensable source for any student of Charlotte Brontë’s life, this biography offers the insights that Gaskell gained through her long friendship with Brontë. Herself a popular novelist of the time, Gaskell creates a memorable picture of Brontë both as a writer and as a woman.

Gates, Barbara Timm. Critical Essays on Charlotte Brontë. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. The collection...

(The entire section is 741 words.)