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Life Lessons From the Brontë Sisters

19 March 2016

From The Daily Beast:

Every so often, a new discovery comes along that reignites the question: what is there possibly left to say about the Brontës?

In 2015, the discovery took the form of an unpublished short story by young Charlotte Brontë, found romantically tucked away in her late mother’s book. It was a story that set ablaze an insatiable and happily reawakened audience: the Brontë fanbase.

The million-dollar question is why the Brontës and their novels are still so popular, while so many of their contemporaries have fizzled and died in our collective memories. Public interest often begins with the Brontës themselves—three impossibly tiny sisters secluded on the Moors, pretending to be men, writing epic fiction that defied the parameter of their own experiences. Yet much of our collective obsession has to do with what we don’t know. Despite exhaustive research over the last one hundred and fifty years, there are still enough holes in our knowledge to breed myths and fantasy. The picturesque romance of the Brontës depends on the incomplete picture we have; as in real life, romance and mystery go hand in hand.

My own obsession with the Brontë legacy was unhealthy enough to inspire me to write a novel on the subject. I hoped, in part, to unlock the secret of the Brontë’s spectacular immortality, even if only to satiate my own curiosity. My research left me with something I was not anticipating: a deep admiration of how well the Brontës and their novels can teach us how to live today. I believe they survived for a century and a half because both the sisters and their characters are excellent teachers, with lessons that are still applicable to every generation of readers.

. . . .

1) You know more than you think you know

Read Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, or Mark Twain, and it can seem like writing epic fiction requires epic life experiences. (Hemingway, for one, survived two plane crashes, went on safaris, and used his fishing boat to hunt down German U-Boats in World War II.) And yet another literary giant, Emily Brontë, rarely left her house. She had few friends and seemed to prefer the company of animals to humans.

Despite her isolation, Emily managed to produce a novel that was sweeping in its scale and depth. Wuthering Heights encompasses a full spectrum of human emotion—love, cruelty, infidelity, jealousy, fear, loyalty—and explores the eternal puzzle of death and the afterlife. How did she pull it off?

Emily teaches us that fiction is not defined by what an author has done, but what an author has felt. To write is often to observe, not necessarily to experience. It is possible to be strong, independent, and still be at home; there is nothing limiting or weak about the “domestic” life. Daily life is not to be avoided—in fact, it can be our most fruitful source of truth.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

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4 Comments to “Life Lessons From the Brontë Sisters”

  1. P.G.

    For many regarded as Charlotte Bronte’s finest novel, “Villette,” is available for 52 cents at Audible, very competently read by Davina Porter.



  2. Thanks for the tip – price is definitely right for a nearly 23 hours audio book that has shamefully been on my want to read list for far too long.

  3. “Villette” is a brilliant book, one I wish people would read more.

  4. Love Villette! This article gives me chills! So good.

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