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Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Full Bronte

That is the title of this article from The Sunday Herald, examining the eternal question of how the Brontes wrote their novels (why, with ink of course...).

TH AT Charlotte and Emily Bronte produced two of the greatest romantic novels ever written without – to anyone’s knowledge – ever having had sex is a fact that has astonished and titillated onlookers for a very long time. Back in 1853, the novelist William Thackeray patronisingly surmised that Charlotte was a “naive” woman so eaten up with frustration that she would have preferred sex to literary success, only she was too ugly to get a man. “Rather than have fame,” he wrote, “she wants some Tomkins or another to love her and be in love with. But you see she is a little bit of a creature without a penny worth of good looks, 30 years old I should think, buried in the country, and eating her own heart up there, and no Tomkins will come.”

[...]

All of the Bronte sisters shocked Victorian society with their very different novels, but did it matter that they were virgins when they wrote them? Interestingly, during the 19th and early 20th centuries not only misogynists like Thackeray but feminists too seem to have had an undue interest in the Brontes’ non-existent sex lives. Where Thackeray looked down on Charlotte as a sex-starved spinster , the feminist writer May Sinclair worshipped her as a “virgin priestess of art”, and was devastated to discover that her idol had fallen, all too humanly, in love with a married man.

This is all par for the course but still interesting. However, I was amused by the description of Jane Eyre being 'set in the Regency period'! It looks like we still can't agree on this.

Incidentally, this has nothing to do with the article but everything to do with the title: 'the Full Bronte' has a special meaning for anyone who has taken a look at the articles written about the Gordon/Caird musical of Jane Eyre. At the end of one fateful interview with their leading man, in a comically desperate moment to get those modern folk interested in the story (which we see is still the dominant motivation for today's adaptations), the actor added: "I don't want to sound wrong but there's a lot of beautiful women in this show. And we all get naked at the end. No one seems to know that. Yeah, the Full Bronte!"

6 comments:

ChrisV said...

I don't see why their lack of a sex life should preclude the Brontes from having the ability to write great *romantic* novels. They still had fruitful imaginations and must have had some vivid fantasies. Aren't the critics confusing sex with romance?

Now if they were commenting on the Bronte porn collection, I would think that it would have more relevance to its quality.

(I know that I'm preaching to the choir here)

mysticgypsy said...

“she wants some Tomkins or another to love her and be in love with. But you see she is a little bit of a creature without a penny worth of good looks, 30 years old I should think, buried in the country, and eating her own heart up there, and no Tomkins will come.”

Well, Mr. Thackeray, you certainly weren't Tomkin enough for her!

Brontëana said...

to chrisv:

Too true. Funny, I have never heard of a male author provoking the same kind of speculation.

Brontëana said...

to mysticgypsy:

In one of the Baker biographies of Charlotte the chapter about her marriage is called 'Tomkins Triumphant' :D

mysticgypsy said...

"Funny, I have never heard of a male author provoking the same kind of speculation. "

Are there far fewer male writers who are virgins? Also, maybe is assumed that male writers would have found means to satisfy their sexual appetites one way or another.

kayxyz said...

Haworth parsonage: the inside is pleasant enough. The outside contains a short parth into a vast graveyard, turn left, then you walk into the back of the church. Gloomy, morbid view from the doorstep, imho. No wonder the Brontes lived in their imaginations.