The prolific and puzzling Bronte family are right out of a Gothic novel. Writers all but for the talented dilettante Branwell, the sisters supported the family with their updating of the Gothic genre. Their lives were not unlike the novels they wrote: though not as far-ranging, they all lived with great intensity and even violence. Anne, Charlotte, and Emily all wrote of intense, cruel men, Gothic heroes all; many scholars feel they based these characters on their brother Branwell, the unwilling pet of all the family. They were strong heroines, however: Elizabeth Gaskell wrote of Emily's cauterizing her own wound, inflicted by a mad dog, with a hot pair of tongs. Anne and Emily died of tuberculosis, and Charlotte, the most Gothic of all, desperate and married to a man she despised, starved herself to death while pregnant.


Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. Edited by Currer Bell. By Charlotte Bronte. London: Smith, Elder, and Company, 1847. First edition. The McGregor Collection. Note the original purple cloth and the label of the binders Westley's and Company, London. This novel both uses and questions the Gothic conventions of mysterious parentage, a dark and tortured antihero, and a dangerous, almost monstrous person of another culture. The orphaned Jane Eyre, mistreated by her cruel guardian and brutalized at a boarding school, accepts a position as a governess at an isolated mansion. Jane falls madly in love with her tortured employer, Rochester, who possesses a secret of his own. He is later blinded and maimed by his mad wife from Barbados as she burns down the mansion. Jane finally can be with her Gothic hero, who has been all but destroyed by these Gothic conventions.



Jane Eyre By Charlotte Bronte. With wood engravings by Fritz Eichenberg. New York: Random House, 1943. The Special Collections Department. In this illustration, the English Jane Eyre comes face to face with the Barbados-born Bertha, Rochester's first wife. Rochester, after being foiled by Bertha's brother in attempting to marry Jane while Bertha still lives, exclaims, "'*This* is what I wished to have . . . this young girl, who stands so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of a demon."

Villette.By Currer Bell. By Charlotte Bronte. London: Smith, Elder, and Company, 1853. First edition. Special Collections Department. Lucy Snowe, the narrator of Villette, is perhaps the first female outsider and anti-hero. She is described as being plain and is excessively pragmatic as compared to the ethereality of the traditional heroine. She teaches English at a former convent, which is haunted by a gray nun. The supernatural element and Lucy's anti-Catholic stance and disapproval of the Belgians are the only remnants of Gothic conventions in the novel. Lucy's prickliness offers Victorians a new sort of Gothic heroine, though notably she is as unable to control her fate as was any tortured chapbook heroine.

Wuthering Heights; by Ellis Bell; and Agnes Grey. By Acton Bell. By Emily and Anne Bronte, respectively. London: Smith, Elder, 1858. Special Collections Department. This edition features a memoir of both writers by older sister Charlotte, writing as Currier Bell. Wuthering Heights is Victorian Gothic at its finest: featuring a quest for heredity (in Heathcliff's case, rewarded only with frustration; in the case of the young Cathy, rewarded only by disaster), hinted incest, violence, and a dark and damned antihero.

Gondal Poems. By Emily Bronte. Ed. from the autographed mss in the British Museum by Helen Brown and Joan Mott. Oxford: Shakespeare Head Press, 1938. The Special Collections Department. The existing fragments of the world Emily and Anne created (they didn't like having the boring parts assigned to them in games created by the elder Charlotte and Branwell) are gathered here for the first time. The lament of the heroine here reflects the deep reading the Brontes did in the Gothic genre.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. London: T. C. Newby, 1848. By Acton Bell. By Anne Bronte. First edition. The Special Collections Department. The tenant of the title, Helen Graham, marries Arthur Huntington against the wishes of her family. Huntington turns out to live a debauched life, coarsened by drink, and who wounds her with his cruelty and infidelity. Charlotte Bronte suggested that Huntington was a portrait of Branwell. The novel came under much critical fire for its portrait of Huntington: he is a Gothic antihero, but here Helen Graham is no long-suffering heroine: she leaves Huntington and is eventually set free from him.




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