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Monday, April 25, 2016

Charlotte Bronte on Artistic Suppression

A couple admire the Bronte Parsonage Museum
in Haworth, England

The similarities detailed in the previous post between Charlotte's novel Shirley, and her sister's Anne's novels Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, are as unarguable as they are inescapable. What is less clear is why, a year after Anne's death, Charlotte elected to suppress Anne's second novel. When Charlotte refused to allow the publishers to reprint The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne's second novel fell into obscurity for years. Was Charlotte jealous of her sister's success? Or did she not wish her readers to discover the similarities between the three novels?

Perhaps Charlotte suppressed her sister's second novel because it brought her too much pain. Anne's novels drew largely on her life, and the people close to her. As such, they speak truthfully to the characters, situations, and social issues she described. And by the time the publishers requested the reprint, Charlotte had endured great pain. 

Just like Charlotte's character James Helstone, Anne died too early in life, as did her sister Emily. Their brother Branwell, a young man known for his good looks and character, had also passed away. Unlike her sister's however, Charlotte's brother underwent a disturbing change before his death. While Branwell retained his good looks, addictions to alcohol and opium took their toll on his character. He fathered a child out of wedlock, and it has been alleged that he grew similarly cruel and depraved to Anne's character Arthur Huntington in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Regardless of Charlotte's reasoning, we can all be thankful that her suppression of her sister's second novel failed. Ultimately, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall proved too powerful to be lost or ignored. It survives not only as popular entertainment, but an important historical novel. 

Still, with regard to Anne's novels, I side with Charlotte Bronte. While I liked The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I enjoyed Agnes Grey more. But then, we all prefer some novels to others, even if they were both written by a favorite author, don't we?

Dragon Dave

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