Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë, by their brother Branwell, ca. 1834. (National Portrait Gallery, London)
Why did the Bronte sisters go to such extraordinary lengths to keep the authorship of their celebrated novels, Jane Eyre (1847) and Wuthering Heights (1848), a secret? Certainly, female writers in Victorian England were not highly regarded, but the real reason for the pseudonyms had more to do with the novels being shocking works of rebellion in an age of conformity.
This rule-breaking, it turns out, is also self-revelatory. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre is so like her creator: She, too, passionately desired a married man and dreamt of living in a community of self-supporting women. Emily’s desire for vigorous independence led her to portray, in the characters of Cathy and Heathcliff, a tormenting passion that could only be sublimated in death.
Although the sisters were living in a small, isolated family home in an English village, far from literary circles, their writings were deeply informed by such issues as gender, morality, and social injustice. John Pfordresher, author of The Secret History of Jane Eyre, explores who these women were and how their novels became literary masterpieces.
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