Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Talented & Ignored Youngest Sister

All my life I have been an avid reader. Never satisfied with what I learned in school, I would read book after book on my own to learn more. At some point this turned into a desire to be “well-read,” a goal I feel I shall always pursue, but never actually realize. Throughout the years my book choices have moved through different phases, my favorite of which is nineteenth century British literature. It is a phase I never quite moved out of, though it now coincides with others.

I started with Jane Eyre, followed by Wuthering Heights, then every single Jane Austen book except Lady Susan and her unfinished works, which I am currently in the process of reading. Knowing my love of Jane Austen, my aunt gave me a book recommended to her as something a Jane Austen-addict may enjoy. The book was The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontё, the least well-known and least-celebrated of the Brontё sisters.

I had previously read Agnes Grey, Anne’s first novel celebrated as a social commentary on the life of a governess. After reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I was enthralled by Anne’s writing style and highly disappointed to discover it was her second and last novel. Having to date read every Brontё novel except Charlotte’s Shirley, I feel my opinion is well-formed. I do not understand Anne’s relative lack of celebration in comparison to her sisters.

I would not argue with someone who said that Charlotte deserves the most attention for her novels, but Emily’s relative fame to Anne I do not understand at all. My recollection of Wuthering Heights is lackluster, to be honest. When I read a book that truly impresses me, I can look back on the book with clear memories of numerous scenes, sometimes seemingly unimportant ones, but my memory of Wuthering Heights has no such impressions. Wuthering Heights pales in comparison to Jane Eyre, The Professor (a work that was rejected by publishing houses and only published after Charlotte’s death), and Villette. Furthermore, Wuthering Heights becomes pathetic in the shadow of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, a powerful story that is both a social commentary, mystery and love story (although the love story is the least well-accomplished of these themes). Why, then, does Anne not get more attention?

I would not advocate less celebration of Emily Brontё, but rather more celebration of Anne. I have spoken to people who actually did not know Anne existed. They speak of the Brontё sisters thinking there are only 5 novels to be read, written by only two sisters. The overlooking of Anne is a great loss to the world, as was her premature death at the age of 29. Any book or reading collection would and should be enriched by Anne Brontё’s novels.

I have yet to turn this one in. I figured I'd save it in case I can't come up with anything to write about.

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