I know, I know, this is a blog about books, and I’m supposed to be widening my repertoire in preparation for teacher’s training commencing in July. But I would be a poor literature enthusiast if I didn’t pause here, among my slowly increasing piles of curriculum texts, academic texts and reading for fun texts, to celebrate this beautiful, well crafted and honest piece of drama.
Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte are pillars of British literary history. I was lucky enough to visit their house in Haworth a few years back, and I wish that I had been able to watch this before I went, because it does a phenomenal job of bringing the sisters, and their lives in the vicarage, to life.
These were brave, determined and downright stubborn young women. The actresses must be heralded here for their performances. There was no sugar coating their characters. Charlotte was single minded, focussed and determined. Emily was feisty, loyal and awkward. Anne was kind, gentle and passionate. They were not forced to be beautiful or placed on a pedestal, and this made the drama all the more gripping.
I always struggled to understand why the Bronte sisters made such a fuss about publishing under pseudonyms when Jane Austen had previously had great success as an author in the years before their writing. It’s not like they were the first women to be published. But if we consider Austen the ‘chick lit’ of her time, the Bronte sisters are the passionate lovers, the social commentators and the boundary pushers. This show clearly demonstrates that they were unable to be taken seriously as women, and as a result their literature would never have been able to be received without bias. Their dedication and perseverance is well portrayed, especially Charlotte who was rejected even when Emily and Anne received publication success.
Their relationship with their brother, Bramley, is a key contributor to the performances. You can see where Hindley comes from, in Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and why, in all their novels, there is a strong aversion to drink. I didn’t realise that writing was his passion and dream, and that part of why they remained so secretive for so long was to protect him. You can see their different styles of love: Anne, kind and soft, feels responsible. Emily, harsh, angry and honest, cannot walk past Bramley without trying to help him. Charlotte, logical and distant, cannot condone his behaviour but still mourns his loss. They all wanted him to recover, but his love of the drink overcame his will and desire to live.
I feel like I know the Bronte sisters much better now; that I can see more of them in their writing and understand more about the struggle that they had in getting published. If you’ve ever wondered about them as the people outside their novels, this is a must see programme.