Victorian Female Novelists
The Brontë sisters and George Eliot
The three Brontë sisters
“Jane Eyre” (1847) is Charlotte Brontë’s most successful novel.
It is still one of the most famous novels about a woman.
Jane starts as a parentless poor child and goes through many sufferings.
She later meets Mr. Rochester, who has locked his wife in a room because she is mad.
The novel examines many circumstances of women.
Jane’s words at the end, “Reader, I married him” show a new move towards freedom and equality.
Jane controls her own life and, through all the difficulties and problems, becomes more independent.
This is a great difference from the role given to women such Pamela or Clarissa in the novels of Richardson a century before.
Here, the woman is independent of men.
“Wuthering Heights” (1847) by Emily Brontë is quite different.
It is a novel of passion, and an early psychological novel.
The central characters, Cathy and Heathcliff, live out their passion in the windy, rough countryside of Yorkshire.
The landscape is as wild as their relationship.
The novel is very original in the way it is written:
It moves backward and forward in time and in and out of the minds of the characters.
“Wuthering Heights” presents a new view of women and their emotions.
Read Cathy’s words as she reveals her feelings for Heathciff to the housekeeper, Nellie. And she compares that to her feelings to Edgar Linton whom she marries:
My love for Linton is like the foliage [paper] in the woods. Time will change it. I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath—a course of little delight, but necessary, Nellie, I am Heathcliff—he’s always, always in my mind… as my own being…
The youngest Brontë, Anne, wrote “The Tenant Wildfell Hall” also with an unusual central female character and involving complex relations and problems.
The three sisters faced these problems with unusual courage and directness.
Together they changed the way the novel could present women characters.
After the Brontës, female characters were more realistic and less idealised and their struggles became the subject of a great many novels later on.
George Eliot aka Mary Ann Evans
Perhaps the greatest woman novelist is one who used a man’s name: George Eliot.
George Eliot was born Mary Ann Evans and worked as a translator and then as a fiction writer.
Her first novel is “Adam Bede” (1859).
George Eliot was already writing about controversial women’s themes such as having a drunk husband, and being an unmarried mother.
In her later novels, she writes about the whole society.
George Eliot: “MiddleMarch”
“Middlemarch” (1871-2) is considered by many to be the greatest novel in the English language.
The novel is set in 1832 in a fictional town in England.
Its themes are immense: from the changes in the voting system to medicine; from the coming of rail transport to the roles of women.
It considers the importance of the ‘dead hand’ of the past.
It ends with the untraditional heroine Dorothea finding her own independence and happiness.
Eliot’s philosophy in life is called Positivism: humanity continues to move forward although progress is slow sometimes.