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The Bronte Sisters
Various aspects of Charlotte and Emily Bronte s background greatly influenced them to write the novels Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The death of their mother influenced them as young children when she died of a lingering illness, and this loss drove the Bronte children into an intense and private intimacy (Dunleavy 239). But their father remained, and he directed their education at home, letting his children read freely and treating them as intellectual equals (Stabenau 179). Similarly, both of the main characters, Jane Eyre and Catherine Earnshaw, lose their mothers to illnesses as young children and the remaining parent or relative must raise the child. Both stories make use of the popular nineteenth century motif of the orphaned child who must make his or her own way in an antagonistic world (Dunleavy 242). Besides the absence of a mother figure, both sisters spent most of their lives in isolation on the Yorkshire moors, another important influence on the novels (Abbey and Mullane 414). Rebecca Fraser, a biographer of the Bronte family, believes that they clearly preferred a reclusive lifestyle admist the primitive beauty of the moors (23). By comparison, the bleak, lonely moors of Yorkshire serve as the same setting for two of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights ( Bronte CD-ROM). According to an essay written in The Eclectic Review in 1851, Charlotte and Emily Bronte were at home amongst the moors; therefore, a vividness and graphic power in their sketches present them before the reader (108). The Bronte s work was shaped by the wild and lonely moors where they spent most of their lives. Although quiet and withdrawn women, they possessed a mystical streak that responded to the natural environment around them ( Heights 1). Many unique individuals in both sisters lives also influenced their novels since they base many of the main characters in the stories on these individuals. Vividness, cogency, plausibility these attributes of exceptional writing result from characters in both stories exhibiting personalities exactly like ones in the novelists lives. In order to create these characters, Charlotte and Emily Bronte selected an actual living person they knew, collected traits from his or her personality, and modified this person to make another (Roscoe 51). This background, together with a Gothic setting, convincing characterization, and important literary devices enables Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre and Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights to develop the theme of exploration into different kinds of love.
The combination of literary elements from both novels constitute them as Gothic romances. To be considered as such, a story must present a stormy love affair within a violent brooding atmosphere often entwined with supernatural occurrences. The stormy love affair in Jane Eyre exists between Jane and Rochester and, in Wuthering Heights, between Catherine and Heathcliff. Literary critic, David Cecil, observes that love is indeed the central theme of Charlotte and Emily s stories, for it is inevitably the main preoccupation of such passionate temperaments. Characteristically, the Brontes describe frustrated love, but the fact that it is frustrated does not make the love of their heroines less intense; indeed, it makes it more of an obsession (66). And although this love, which devours life itself, devastates the present, and desolates the future, may seem violent and turbulent, it contains nothing less pure in it than flame or sunshine (Tucker 137). The hero or heroine must also counter threatening circumstances for the story to be classified under the genre of Gothic romance. Under an atmospheric dome of brooding unpredictability as such, Emily Bronte explores the violent and unpredictable elements of human passion in her novel (Dunleavy 251). Cecil describes her sister s methods similarly: Charlotte Bronte s plots are full of sinister secrets and inexplicable happenings. The lurid light of her vision does invest these with a weirdness beyond that of ordinary mundane horror (Cecil 66). The combined atmosphere of both novels seems charged with suppressed electricity and bound in with blackness of tempest and desolation (Tucker 137). An environment of mystery and supernatural happenings constitute the final ingredients typical of a Gothic romance. Charlotte Bronte s power of creating a scene directly relates to her power of suggesting the eerie although she never actually brings in the supernatural (Cecil 66). Gweneth Dunleavy describes much of the supernatural in Emily s Wuthering Heights as the lack of established borders between life and death because the main characters communicate as ghosts and in dreams through the veil of time, in a setting that simultaneously assumes supernatural qualities (250). The author also heightens the experience of supernatural imagery with descriptions of characters as angels and devils living in heaven and hell ( Heights 2). The romantic tendency to invent and delight in monsters, the love of violence in speech and action, and the abnormal in situation–of all these are abundant examples in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (Draper 419).
When analyzing characterization in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, many other comparisons can be made since all the main characters of both stories are placed into similar typecasts and circumstances concerning theme. The central figure of the authors themes involve a strong-willed, passionate young heroine who must decide between the wild, unpredictable man whom she loves, or the honest, Christian gentleman who would be the most suitable for matrimony. Such a description perfectly embodies Charlotte Bronte s heroine, Jane Eyre, whose best recommendations are her tranquil devotion and perfect virtue (The Times 46). In 1847, G.H. Lewes describes her in his essay when he states:
We never lose sight of her plainness, no effort is made to throw romance about her– no extraordinary goodness or cleverness appeals to your admiration; but you admire, you love her– love her for the strong will, honest mind, loving heart, and peculiar but fascinating person (44).
Edward Rochester is the character that opposes everything that Jane knows to be morally correct and socially acceptable. He is strong and yet weak, a very thunderbolt for strength and exploisiveness and yet a bundle of ordinary human weaknesses (Smith 55). The most that can be said for Rochester is that he truly loves and values Jane. This trait is his sole defense in his attempt to marry her while he still has a wife living under his own roof (Tucker 138). The foil to Rochester is the clergyman, St. John Rivers. He is the medium through which Charlotte represents her father, a symbol of everything she has learned to be the adequate amount of discipline and devotion required of a Christian (Draper 408). Charlotte s goal is to balance one kind of temptation with its reverse. If Rochester is all romantic passion, urging her to give in to emotional desire, St. John Rivers is all Christian ambition, urging her to attempt a spiritual asceticism of which she knows herself incapable (Oates viii). Emily Bronte s heroine is Catherine Earnshaw. W. Somerset Maugham, English dramatist, short story writer, and novelist known best for his autobiographical novel Of Human Bondage believes that her consuming, obsessive passion differs greatly from the more conservative personality of Jane (117). Catherine vibrates with passions that fictional conventions only partly construct or gloss over. Within her exists an almost violent devotion that has a fire of independence, a spiritual energy and vivid sexual responsiveness. This is enhanced by her self-righteousness, a sense of power, sometimes self-pity, and enviable competitiveness (Draper 69). Catherine s heart undoubtedly belongs to Heathcliff, a representative of natural man and pure passion (Abbey and Mullane 415). His appeal comes from his unwavering passion as inexplicable and terrible as it is unalterable. It is a passion that makes him and his beloved believe that the two of them are one life, one soul (Shaeffer vii). Heathcliff s rival is Edgar Linton, whom Catherine believes to be more socially inclined for marriage. Through her marriage to Edgar, she yields to that destiny, but her yielding is uneasy, her resistance tormented, and she finds her way out of it by death (Draper 425). Edgar s refinement and delicate beauty stand in stark contrast to the degraded, unkempt Heathcliff whom Catherine describes as an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone (Cerrito and Keppos 107). We obtain from the Bronte novels no multitude of characters, but those we do get, we become closely familiar with, and one being of veritable flesh and blood is worth a thousand imitations (G.B. Smith 55).
Besides characterization, literary devices are another contributing factor to the theme of the novels. Symbolism, pathetic fallacy, and realism…
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