Charlotte Bronte (specifically, Jane Eyre)
vs. Jane Austen (probably more specifically, Pride & Prejudice)
Many people feel a stronger affinity for one or the other of the Janes, and do not care as much for the other. Bronte fans complain that they just can’t “get into” Austen, and Austen fans say the same about Bronte.
It is true that Austen and Bronte have quite different styles, and very different heroines (though both have strong female protagonists).
People tend to gravitate toward either the darker tone of the gothic-esque Jane Eyre, or they prefer the lighter tone of Pride and Prejudice (and the other Austen novels). Are you more drawn in by the passionate emotions of Jane Eyre, or by the wit and sparkle of Elizabeth Bennet?
Personally, I love both Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, and have loved them both since I read them in high school. I love them for different reasons, but I generally hear of people connecting with one and not the other.
Some think that comparing the two authors is like comparing apples to oranges. While I agree that they are different, I think certainly some comparisons can be made, and of course, some room will have to be left for personal taste. I think a commenter on a Goodreads thread put it well:
“I always say that they’re like Bach and Beethoven. Jane Austen’s the better prose stylist, but Bronte has the power and passion.”
I too like them for different reasons, and appreciate them in different moods, just as I do with Bach and Beethoven. Bronte is able to capture emotion and drama and the wild passion and sometimes the creepy (what is the deal with Grace Poole??). Austen has more lightness and order, an understated style (for example, this gem: “Emma was not required, by any subsequent discovery, to retract her ill opinion of Mrs. Elton.”), and is able to capture a portrait of society and paints hilarious caricatures of people living in that society. In some ways, Bronte appeals to emotion and Austen to reason, though that is too simplistic; both have elements of each.
Austen has moments of passion (read Sense and Sensibility for its characterization of Marianne Dashwood; or read closely into the actions of Lydia Bennet). Nor is Bronte only wild, dark, and humorless (in one chapter of Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester dresses up like a gypsy woman – while it’s slightly…offensive, he uses his disguise to poke fun at everyone). There are distinct differences between the two authors though, and there are generalities to make about their works. Art needs both of these ends of the spectrum (and others besides).
My goal here is to try to persuade those who only love one or the other of these great literary ladies to give the other a chance. And if you want a cheerleader for one of them, come talk to me. I’m happy to discuss their merits any time.
This post is getting too long, so I’ll save my suggestions for optimal reading conditions for another time. But I do think when and where you read makes a difference. More on that later….
Photos by Val used under Flickr Creative Commons license.