Study of Noses, pencil drawing. - Charlotte Brontë (1816–1855), Study of Noses, pencil drawing, ca. February 1831. Brontë Parsonage Museum.
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In August 1849, Charlotte Brontë wrote a letter to her publisher, W. S. Williams, in response to a review of her wildly successful novel, “Jane Eyre.” Like her sisters, Emily and Anne — both of whom, along with their alcoholic brother, Branwell, Charlotte had just lost to tuberculosis over the course of one terrible year — the eldest Brontë sister published her work under a gender-ambiguous pseudonym. The runaway success of “Jane Eyre” — published the same year as Emily’s and Anne’s novels “Wuthering Heights” and “Agnes Grey” — had sparked a broad debate about the identities of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Were they one individual writing under several names — a rumor that was, at one point, deliberately circulated by Emily and Anne’s publisher in an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of their sister’s best seller? Most of all, speculation raged about the Bells’ gender. One smitten woman wrote Brontë’s publisher wishing to know if Currer Bell was a man — if so, she confessed, she must surely be in love with him.The Albany Democrat-Herald reports that
“Much of the article is clever,” Brontë writes of an essay on “Jane Eyre” in the North British Review, “and yet there are remarks which — for me — rob it of importance. . . . He says, ‘if “Jane Eyre” be the production of a woman — she must be a woman unsexed.’ ” This conditional objection to the novel’s bewitching narrative power — if a woman wrote this, then either she, the book or both must be somehow unnatural — stands as an invaluable example of Victorian-era mansplaining. But in their presupposition that male writing and female writing occupy two separate and circumscribable domains, Brontë’s indignant critics also betray an essentialist logic that’s arguably still present today (if reversed) in the rationale for gender-specific prizes like the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
I don’t mean to sound flippant about either women writers or gynocentric literary prizes — I am one of the former, and would have a hard time saying no to one of the latter, especially if cash and Baileys were involved. But if I were to be lucky enough to receive such an honor (and doesn’t the power of prizes persist in part because of the appeal of such acceptance-speech fantasies?), a tiny part of me would want to take the podium and say something like Charlotte Brontë’s reply to her critics in that righteous yet humble letter: “To you I am neither Man nor Woman — I come before you as an Author only — it is the sole standard by which you have a right to judge me — the sole ground on which I accept your judgment.”
We are still many moors away from the egalitarian future of literary judgment that Brontë imagined 166 years ago, where authors might make their debut behind a gender-neutral curtain and be evaluated on their writing alone. Maybe for a century or more to come, we’ll continue to need cultural spaces in which “women’s writing” is protected and encouraged to flourish as something separate from “men’s.” But that same small part of me fears that the gated-off arena can too easily become a prison. There’s something ironic, and a little depressing, in the fact that the digital archive of a major American university now displays the poems of the boldly gender-ambiguous, literary-drag-wearing Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell under the festively decorated but irredeemably patronizing heading “A Celebration of Women Writers.”
A committee organized to review the use of a dystopian novel in a West Albany High School English class has recommended the book stay in the classroom.Onto more interesting students now, as My San Antonio features the district's seniors who are going to be Gates Millennium Scholars. One of them is
Jason Hay, the director of curriculum for secondary schools and the representative of the committee, forwarded his recommendation about Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" to the Democrat-Herald on Tuesday.
The novel depicts a grim future controlled by a misogynistic religious sect that sets aside select women as "handmaids;" breeders for the powerful men who control the society.
Katrina Montgomery, whose son is a senior in the AP English class using the novel, said her son reviewed the notes on the book and said he felt it would be too disturbing to read. Montgomery researched the title and spoke with friends who are educators and librarians and said she agreed. She filed her complaint earlier this month. [...]
Montgomery said she wouldn't restrict the book from general use but doesn't feel it should be assigned reading. She acknowledged that teacher Blain Willard had provided "Jane Eyre" as an alternative but said she didn't feel Willard weighted the two books fairly when presenting them as a choice.
Nine students chose "Jane Eyre" and 71 chose "The Handmaid's Tale." (Jennifer Moody)
Jessica Redmon, 18, from Sam Houston High School [...], who’s set on UT-Austin and wants to become a poet or screenwriter, said she found a safe haven in literature as a kid.A bad boys fangirl in the Democrat and Chronicle:
“My mother’s drug addiction affected me. I had to live with my grandmother in Galveston as a kid,” she said. “My grandmother raised me, gave me strength…and every week she would go to Goodwill, buy any books that looked interesting.
“I was reading Jane Eyre, ‘The Secret Garden,’ not knowing these were classics. That reading turned into short stories, poetry, (the Japanese comic book genre) manga, and eventually my writing.” (Jeremy T Gerlach)
I have a confession. I'm in love with an amazingly hot guy who isn't my husband. Actually, a bunch of hot guys. Their names are Heathcliff. And Rhett. And even Dracula (for my bad-boy moods).Finally, the Brontë Parsonage Facebook page invites people in the area to today's half-term activities:
Of course, they're not real men. They're better, because they live forever and unchanged in some of my favorite books ever. (Pam Sherman)
Join our drop-in art workshop between 11am and 3.30pm tomorrow (Wednesday) and create a Brontë Bird with artist Julia Ogden. We've also got a short 'Brontës for Beginners' talk at 2pm.Absolutely Gothic posts about Wuthering Heights.