Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish, How could I seek the empty world again?
-- Emily Brontë, “Remembrance” (1846)
In 1847, two new novels appeared in England, published under pseudonyms that masked the true identities of their authors. It was an event that would mark a turning point in the history of the English novel. With Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Brontë (or Currer Bell, according to the novel's title page) and Emily Brontë (Ellis Bell) emerged as the authors of two of the greatest novels ever written in the English language. Almost simultaneously, their younger sister Anne (Acton Bell) brought out her two novels, Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), which would be even more famous were they not overshadowed by the prodigious accomplishments of her sisters. Yet just one year later, in 1848, both Anne and Emily would be dead, and Charlotte would die just seven years later. Within less than a decade, these three remarkable, talented young women would erupt on the literary scene, leave their indelible mark on English literature, and then pass away. How can one understand such a phenomenon? What inspired such extraordinary productivity within a single family, and how was it possible for three young women from the isolated world of West Yorkshire to emerge at a time when women novelists were the rare exception?
In this Alumni College program, we'll study the World of the Brontës, focusing particularly on the stunning achievements of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. In addition to exploring the literary accomplishments of the Brontë sisters, we'll examine the history, culture, and issues of their time and place. We'll view and discuss some of the great film versions of their work and also hear about the importance of politics and landscape in the shaping of their imaginations. From the passionate and wild heaths that define the outlawed love of Catherine and Heathcliff, to the isolated mansion in which Jane and Rochester struggle to achieve their love, the novels of the Brontës reveal as much about the nature of love as they do about the lives of their authors.
The World of the Brontës faculty will feature Marc Conner and Laura Brodie from the W&L English department and art historian Lucinda Hawksley from England.