Monday, 3 December 2018

Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë

These ladies are two of my favourite authors. I have now read everything (except the Juvenilia) they have written. It really was a fight at the end. The two novels left to read were Mansfield Park and Shirley. Have I struggled? Indeed I have. It was a heavy road uphills. They are classics, I like the authors so I really wanted to read them. In the end I had to use my method of reading a chapter a day to be able to finish them.

Both novels are "much ado about nothing" as Shakespeare put it. The stories are boring, the characters are boring, ok, they are little better in Shirley than in Mansfield Park. The first book contains 572 pages and the second 330 pages. Rather long and thick in other words. They could both have been written in 100 pages if the authors had restrained themselves a little bit. There are so many stories about nothing interesting, nothing that takes the story further, descriptions of nature and for Shirley thoughts about circumstances that is probably more of an interest to Charlotte Brontë than to the characters in the book. I know that it was the way they published novels in those days; often a series of three. Although I kind of like Charlotte's heroines Caroline and Shirley, I have no mercy with Jane's heroine Fanny Price. She has not much to recommend her and is afraid of her own shadow. How this timid, anxious grey mouse can attract all the feelings she does, is a mystery to me.

Well, there was some harsh words to come from me. I usually don't dislike books this much, and if I do, I just don't finish them. But, as I said earlier, they were written by Austen and Brontë and therefor I felt I had to read them. Charlotte Brontë has a wonderful prose and this comes through in Shirley as well. She builds up her characters and they become vivid and realistic in her hands. Charlotte sometimes uses the technique to turn to speak to the reader. I can accept it in the end of Jane Eyre, when she says: "Reader, I married him", but I don't particularly like this feature in a novel. It somehow takes away the illusion you have to be part of the story. What do you think? Do you mind?

Shirley is set against the Luddite uprisings in Yorkshire during 1811-12. An interesting fact I found on Wikipedia, is that Shirley became a popular woman's name. Before the publication it was distinctly a male name. Today we would only consider it a female name.

Mansfield Park is written in Austen's style and is therefor also quite readable. However, I think she lingers too long on the dining here and there, walking in the park with endless descriptions of uninteresting features in nature. Not to talk of the setting up of a theatre play, with the endless planning, which in the end leads to nothing.  Mansfield Park as such is a portrait of the countryside gentry and their lives.

Charlotte Brontë's novels are more critical on how society works. This is not so clear in Jane Austens novels. However, especially Mansfield Park, has been used to analyse colonialism and slavery in England at the time. Edward Said, for example, has written an interesting analyse on  "Jane Austen and Empire". So much more can be read into this novel, but this is not anything I venture into with this rather negative overall impression. I leave the stories behind as well.

Have you read any of the books. Please let me know what you think.


  1. I reread MP recently to only discover how wonderful it is second time around. After my first read about 30 yrs ago I thought I’d never venture there again. It was only an Austen in August readalong that convinced me try again. I’m so glad I did. The structure of the bookcsn only be fully realised with a reread, like do many of the Austen’s repeat reading brings forth more pleasure & joy 😊

    I haven’t read shirley yet, but it sounds like I will need to be in the right mood.

    1. You might be right, but I just cannot think of entering it again. Maybe later on, like you did. Well, Shirley has grown on me a little bit since finishing it. Charlotte has a way with words so I enjoyed this more than Mansfield Park.

  2. Everything you say is true, Lisbeth, though I'm a little more charitable about the Fanny Price novel than you are! (My review of MP is here: I'll struggle on with the Brontë and eventually post my thoughts about it too!