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271

The Brontë Sisters

Jun 14, 2022
Literature
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24
minutes

They have been called the most talented family in literary history, and Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Brontė were all revolutionary authors.

In this episode, we'll learn about their tragic lives, and see how they overcame great sorrow to produce greats such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about three women, the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, authors of novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

[00:00:34] This is actually part three of a three-part mini-series on great authors of the Victorian era. In case you haven’t listened to the first two, in part one we looked at the woman often called the queen of Victorian literature, Jane Austen, and in part two we looked at the great social and urban writer, Charles Dickens.

[00:00:57] The subjects of today’s episode, the Brontë sisters, come from a similar period, but developed their own very different and hugely important literary style.

[00:01:09] Indeed, these three women arguably make up the most extraordinary family of literary geniuses in European history. 

[00:01:18] So, let’s not waste a minute, and get started with the Brontë sisters.

[00:01:23] As we did in the previous episodes, we’ll look at four major themes. The novelists’ life and upbringing, the works that they wrote, the impact of these books, and their legacy.

[00:01:37] In this episode we do have three authors, not just the one, so we’ll focus a little more on the lives and shared upbringing of the women, but, as you’ll see, their early lives and childhood tragedy will be instrumental for an understanding of their work.

[00:01:54] First, let me set the scene, to provide you with the location both for the Brontë sisters’ lives, and for their novels.

[00:02:04] The location is rural Yorkshire, in the north of England, in a small village called Haworth. 

[00:02:11] Specifically, the Parsonage at Haworth. 

[00:02:14] A parsonage is the name for a house given to a clergyman, a Church of England priest. The Brontës lived in the parsonage because the girls’ father, Patrick, was the village priest.

[00:02:27] As a side note, if you remember Jane Austen, you’ll remember that her father also was a priest, but, as you’ll see, the Brontës were very different people, and writers, compared to Jane Austen.

[00:02:41] OK, back to Haworth.

[00:02:43] If you visit Haworth now, you will find a small village surrounded by wild beauty, by big empty spaces known as the Yorkshire moors – a moor is a big expanse of land that cannot be cultivated and usually is left in a natural state, covered with bogs, bushes and heather

[00:03:06] In the first half of the 19th century, however, it wasn’t quite so isolated

[00:03:11] It would have been surrounded by small factories and workshops involved in the industries of weaving and cloth making. 

[00:03:20] It was a poor, hillside village. 41% of children died before they were six months old, and life expectancy was a miserable 25 years.

[00:03:32] Although the Brontës were not rich, say compared to the factory owners, they were in a relatively comfortable position financially, as their mother, Maria, had a small amount of money of her own which supplemented her husband’s modest salary as a minister or vicar of the Church of England.

[00:03:52] Patrick Brontë, the girls’ father, was clearly an extraordinary man. 

[00:03:57] He had been born into a poor peasant family in Ireland. 

[00:04:01] Through his own intelligence, enterprise and determination he had managed to secure a place at Cambridge University, graduating with a first class honours degree and securing access to the Church of England as a vicar

[00:04:17] This was an amazingly socially upwardly mobile thing for the time, social classes were still pretty fixed, and to go from a peasant family to the most prestigious university in the country was astounding

[00:04:32] His wife, Maria, was from a much wealthier family. 

[00:04:36] Both parents were highly cultured people. At the Parsonage they had a very good library, were engaged politically and raised their family in what must have been a highly stimulating environment.

[00:04:50] They had six children, all born between 1814 and 1820. Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne.

[00:05:00] The most famous are Emily, who wrote Wuthering Heights, and Charlotte, who wrote Jane Eyre.

[00:05:07] Sadly, by 1855 the only surviving member of the Brontë family was the father, Patrick. 

[00:05:16] All six children and the mother would be dead. 

[00:05:19] So, let’s rewind a bit, back to the early 1800s, to the sisters’ upbringing

[00:05:26] We now need to dive into the tempestuous, traumatic and colourful story of these six Brontë children, so that you can get an idea of their shared experiences growing up.

[00:05:38] Disease and death will, I'm sorry to say, feature prominently, we’ll come across a lot of this. 

[00:05:45] As you’ll know, in this era, even for families like the Brontës who were able to afford such luxuries as servants, early death through disease was just a fact of life.

[00:05:58] The first to die was the wife and mother, Maria, who suffered a short illness before dying of cancer aged only 38 in 1821, the year after the birth of her youngest daughter, Anne.

[00:06:12] As you might imagine, the children’s father was distraught, he was incredibly sad and desperate. 

[00:06:19] By all accounts it had been a happy marriage, but the man was now left widowed and with 6 young children to look after.

[00:06:27] His wife’s sister, the children's aunt, came to live with them and help raise the children, but Patrick felt that he needed to find a boarding school for the older girls. 

[00:06:39] A boarding school is a school where children are sent to live, in effect, for weeks or even months at a time.

[00:06:47] The problem was that the Brontës didn’t have much money, and boarding schools weren't cheap.

[00:06:53] Patrick managed to find one where the fees were reduced for members of the clergy, for children of priests. It was called Cowan Bridge School, and the four older Brontë sisters were sent there to study.

[00:07:07] The school was a living hell, it sounded terrible.

[00:07:11] Children had to share beds, there was no warm water, they were only given burnt toast, and were often beaten and punished terribly.

[00:07:21] As if this wasn’t bad enough, the two older girls, Maria and Elizabeth, contracted tuberculosis at their boarding school

[00:07:30] They returned home, but both died in quick succession, aged 11 and 10. 

[00:07:37] Charlotte and Emily were quickly taken away from this unhealthy and cruel school, but clearly chilling memories of it would stay with them for life.

[00:07:47] If you read Jane Eyre, Charlotte’s most famous novel, there’s a terrible, cruel school called Lowood school which has striking similarities with Cowan Bridge School.

[00:07:59] So much so, in fact, that the real school threatened to sue the publishers of Jane Eyre for their portrayal of the school in the novel.

[00:08:09] So, we now have four remaining children after the death of the oldest two. Charlotte, Branwell – who was the only son, the only male child – Emily and Anne. 

[00:08:21] The rest of our story will deal with these four surviving siblings.

[00:08:27] From a young age, perhaps as a way to escape the misery of the real world, the surviving Brontë children came up with their own, highly detailed, imaginary worlds.

[00:08:39] Of course, there’s nothing particularly unusual about children creating their own imaginary worlds, and every novelist, to a certain degree, creates their own stories with their own worlds, their own characters, they create their own reality.

[00:08:55] What was splendidly bizarre and unusual with the Brontës was that these imaginary worlds not only were incredibly detailed and developed, but that they continued through into adulthood, and they would go on to form the basis for the sisters’ novels. 

[00:09:13] We know from family letters how, for example, Emily and Anne would pass the time on a railway journey discussing the various things that happened in their own imaginary world. 

[00:09:26] These imaginary places inspired much of the early writing that allowed all the Brontë children to develop their own craft, their own skills, as writers. 

[00:09:36] The Brontë sisters would set poems, plays and short stories in these self-contained, imaginary worlds, and discuss what the inhabitants of these worlds would get up to

[00:09:49] The most influential of these imaginary, mythical landscapes was the one which Emily, helped by her younger sister Anne, created, which went by the name of Gondal. 

[00:10:00] This was a place inhabited by men and women with high passions who did extreme and wild things – violent romances and extreme actions took place in this exotic land of the mind. 

[00:10:15] Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gondal, would become an essential part of the inspiration for Emily's only novel, the magnificent “Wuthering Heights”.

[00:10:25] Now, moving on to the education and early careers of the four surviving Brontë children, I need to emphasise that most of their education was through the fertile, creative atmosphere of the Parsonage, their family home. 

[00:10:41] It is perhaps not surprising that their formal education was relatively brief, given the terrible experience that had resulted in the early deaths of the two older sisters. There was some formal schooling, but it played a relatively small part. 

[00:10:57] Perhaps the person for whom it was most important was Charlotte, whose unusual experience attending a school in the capital of Belgium, Brussels, was formative in two ways. 

[00:11:10] Firstly, she had an inspirational literature teacher, who taught her how to put much more discipline into her writing and also ensured that she had an excellent facility with French. 

[00:11:22] The other reason why her time in the school was so important was sentimental or having to do with the emotions.

[00:11:31] She fell in love with her teacher, Monsieur Constantin Heger, who was the husband of the headmistress

[00:11:38] She believed that he was the first man to have taken her seriously on an intellectual level, and after she left the school she wrote him letters where she hinted at her true feelings for him, hoping that he would respond favourably.

[00:11:54] But, at least from the letters that have remained, he seemed to have got scared, and he stopped writing back to her.

[00:12:01] This theme of unreturned, or as it’s called, “unrequited” love, would be a recurrent one in Charlotte’s novels. 

[00:12:10] What about the young boy, young Branwell? 

[00:12:13] This episode is about the sisters, so what happened to their brother? 

[00:12:17] Well, he was thought to be a talented painter and pursued the life of a portrait painter for some time. He was also considered to be a talented writer and had hopes and dreams of writing for serious journals

[00:12:33] Unfortunately, Branwell proved to be a massive disappointment to everyone, in particular to himself. 

[00:12:40] He tried various jobs, then started working as a tutor to a young boy in a house called Thorp Green, where his sister Anne was tutoring the daughters of the house. 

[00:12:51] Here Branwell found himself in serious trouble. 

[00:12:55] He started an affair with the mistress of the house, a woman almost 20 years his senior, 20 years older than him. It seems that her marriage with her husband was an unhappy one, and the two struck up a relationship.

[00:13:11] Their affair was discovered, and Branwell was sacked in disgrace.

[00:13:16] In love with Mrs Robinson, the mistress, and ordered not to have anything to do with her, he was desperately unhappy. 

[00:13:24] He sunk deeper into depression and became heavily addicted both to alcohol and morphine. These twin addictions would lead him to an early grave, aged just 31.

[00:13:37] So, let’s get back to the Brontë sisters, the surviving three: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.

[00:13:44] They are most famous for their novels, but all three of them worked as something called governesses.

[00:13:50] A governess was a blend between being a private tutor and a babysitter or childminder

[00:13:58] See, for all the talents of the sisters, the era in which they were living meant that the potential careers open to women were extremely limited. 

[00:14:08] The so-called “ideal” situation, as we explored in the Jane Austen episode, was for a woman to have enough money from her family so that another wealthy man would want to marry her, and she could live in suitable style with her money and her husband's money funding the family’s comfortable life, without ever needing to do a day’s work. 

[00:14:30] This was simply not possible for the Brontës, as they were not rich, therefore their marriage prospects were not good.

[00:14:39] So they prepared for the only respectable career available to them, which was being a governess, this strange mix of private tutor and childminder.

[00:14:49] Governesses would usually live in the large houses of their wealthy employers. 

[00:14:55] They would be in charge of anywhere between one and five children. 

[00:15:00] As well as being poorly paid, their status in the home was not high, and slightly strange. 

[00:15:07] Although they would be highly educated and, in effect, private tutors, they would be treated no better than the higher-ranking family servants. 

[00:15:16] However they would be seen by the servants of the house as being of a superior education and social class and would therefore have none of the friendship, the camaraderie, that those servants would have with each other. 

[00:15:31] It's not surprising that the miserable condition of the governess features so often in Brontë novels, and that the Brontë sisters continued to be very close as adults, with their shared “status” as governesses.

[00:15:45] So, to recap, we have these three sisters: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. They have grown up creating their own imaginary worlds, they have known great tragedy, and their prospects in life are limited.

[00:15:59] They had written some poetry from a young age, but when they tried to publish a collection of their poems the collection sold a grand total of three copies.

[00:16:10] They decided to try to each publish a novel, and so it was that in 1847 they published three books, two of which would go down as some of the finest novels ever written in English.

[00:16:24] Charlotte published Jane Eyre, Emily published Wuthering Heights, and Anne published Agnes Grey. 

[00:16:30] When the novels were published, however, the surname Brontë was nowhere to be seen.

[00:16:36] They published their books under pen-names - taking the identity of male authors. 

[00:16:43] Charlotte adopted the name Currer Bell. Emily, the name Ellis Bell, and Anne, Acton Bell. 

[00:16:50] So when the three novels had been published, by Christmas of 1847, they were known as the Bells. 

[00:16:58] Although there was considerable speculation as to who the Bells were – and some questioning as to whether they were actually male – their identity remained hidden. 

[00:17:09] Of the three novels published in this extraordinary year, the most successful in terms of the reading public and the critics was Charlotte's extraordinary work, Jane Eyre. 

[00:17:21] This remarkable piece, narrated by a governess, Jane Eyre, has become for many readers across the globe one of the finest examples of the romantic novel - the romantic novel par excellence

[00:17:34] It has all the necessary ingredients – frustrated love, betrayal, imprisonment, physical danger, trials and separation. 

[00:17:43] Although the journey to eventual happiness for the narrator and heroine, Jane, is a dangerous one, it does reach a happy conclusion when Jane gets her man. 

[00:17:54] Emily’s extraordinary work, Wuthering Heights, which was based on this imaginary world of Gondal we mentioned earlier, was a similarly extreme tale of violent passion, murder, revenge and ghosts. 

[00:18:09] Now, we could spend hours or days talking about Wuthering Heights, but there’s one point I really want to stress about this novel, and its importance.

[00:18:18] And that is because it was one of the first novels in English that really dealt with the spectrum of human emotions, and showed that both men and women were capable of the same kind of feeling and passion. 

[00:18:33] To compare it to the work of Jane Austen, for example, Jane Austen’s works typically deal with love and marriage, whereas the themes in Wuthering Heights range from race to class, morality to religion, really addressing deep, fundamental questions about what it is to be human.

[00:18:54] And as a reminder, this is all set in this imaginary world that Emily has been developing, in collaboration with her sisters, from a very young age.

[00:19:05] Anne’s first novel, Agnes Grey, was much more restrained and deals with a less extreme world. 

[00:19:12] Her second book, incidentally, a book called The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, was considered to be so "coarse", so rough and rude, that it was barely sold or read for almost 150 years because the material, which included domestic abuse, alcoholism and adultery, was considered to be too extreme for the public audience. 

[00:19:35] It really started to be read and analysed again in the late 20th century, and it is now widely considered to be the first “feminist” novel, with Anne considered by many critics to be equally talented and brilliant as her far more famous older sisters.

[00:19:52] These three novels – Jane Eyre especially - were a sensation - they took the London-based readership and literary critics by storm

[00:20:02] Critics made connections between the three novels of the Bells. They referred to the "painful and exceptional subjects", and the "eccentricities of woman's fantasy" and overall the "coarseness" of emotions displayed. 

[00:20:18] However, notably, as one commented "we are spellbound, we cannot choose but read…”. 

[00:20:24] Famously, the highly respected and established novelist William Thackeray missed his day's appointments because he simply could not stop reading Jane Eyre and was in tears when reading the love scenes.

[00:20:38] And in case you haven’t read them, let me simply say that they are great, extraordinary and highly unusual books, written by three sisters who had suffered greatly. 

[00:20:49] Unfortunately, two of the sisters, Emily and Anne, were both dead within two years of their publication, aged 30 and 29 respectively. 

[00:21:00] After the death of her sisters, the true identity of the Bells was revealed, and the surviving sister, Charlotte, became a literary sensation, visiting London a number of times and becoming a favourite guest amongst London literary people. 

[00:21:16] She did manage to find some happiness in marriage, but sadly she too died young, aged only 38 and several months pregnant.

[00:21:27] By 1855, poor Patrick Brontë, the father, who had already lost his wife, then his eldest two daughters in quick succession, then three of his remaining children within a nine month period, finally had to bury his last remaining daughter. 

[00:21:43] It's quite something to think about.

[00:21:46] Although none of the sisters lived a long life, the long term legacy of these three women’s works has been extraordinary. 

[00:21:55] Charlotte and Emily wrote books which defined the idea of the romantic novel and created some of the best known characters and scenes in fiction.

[00:22:04] They redefined what was thought possible for women to write about, and paved the way for a new generation of novelists.

[00:22:13] It's particularly powerful to think about when you know that two of the sisters had died within 2 years of the books being published, both before their 31st birthday, and the final sister didn’t live much longer. 

[00:22:26] One can only guess how many more works of genius might have been written if all five of the Brontë sisters had lived to old age.

[00:22:37] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Brontë sisters.

[00:22:41] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and perhaps this episode might have inspired you to pick up a copy of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, either in English or in translation, and jump into these wonderful books.

[00:22:55] And with this episode comes the end of our three-part mini-series on great Victorian novelists

[00:23:02] In case you haven’t yet listened to parts one and two, we covered Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

[00:23:08] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series in general.

[00:23:14] Can you think of a more talented literary family than the Brontës?

[00:23:18] Of the three subjects we covered, Austen, Dickens, and the Brontës, do you have a favourite? 

[00:23:24] Have you ever tried reading any of them in the original, English version? Or have you seen any of the film adaptations?

[00:23:31] If not, what is stopping you?

[00:23:33] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:23:37] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:46] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:51] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about three women, the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, authors of novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

[00:00:34] This is actually part three of a three-part mini-series on great authors of the Victorian era. In case you haven’t listened to the first two, in part one we looked at the woman often called the queen of Victorian literature, Jane Austen, and in part two we looked at the great social and urban writer, Charles Dickens.

[00:00:57] The subjects of today’s episode, the Brontë sisters, come from a similar period, but developed their own very different and hugely important literary style.

[00:01:09] Indeed, these three women arguably make up the most extraordinary family of literary geniuses in European history. 

[00:01:18] So, let’s not waste a minute, and get started with the Brontë sisters.

[00:01:23] As we did in the previous episodes, we’ll look at four major themes. The novelists’ life and upbringing, the works that they wrote, the impact of these books, and their legacy.

[00:01:37] In this episode we do have three authors, not just the one, so we’ll focus a little more on the lives and shared upbringing of the women, but, as you’ll see, their early lives and childhood tragedy will be instrumental for an understanding of their work.

[00:01:54] First, let me set the scene, to provide you with the location both for the Brontë sisters’ lives, and for their novels.

[00:02:04] The location is rural Yorkshire, in the north of England, in a small village called Haworth. 

[00:02:11] Specifically, the Parsonage at Haworth. 

[00:02:14] A parsonage is the name for a house given to a clergyman, a Church of England priest. The Brontës lived in the parsonage because the girls’ father, Patrick, was the village priest.

[00:02:27] As a side note, if you remember Jane Austen, you’ll remember that her father also was a priest, but, as you’ll see, the Brontës were very different people, and writers, compared to Jane Austen.

[00:02:41] OK, back to Haworth.

[00:02:43] If you visit Haworth now, you will find a small village surrounded by wild beauty, by big empty spaces known as the Yorkshire moors – a moor is a big expanse of land that cannot be cultivated and usually is left in a natural state, covered with bogs, bushes and heather

[00:03:06] In the first half of the 19th century, however, it wasn’t quite so isolated

[00:03:11] It would have been surrounded by small factories and workshops involved in the industries of weaving and cloth making. 

[00:03:20] It was a poor, hillside village. 41% of children died before they were six months old, and life expectancy was a miserable 25 years.

[00:03:32] Although the Brontës were not rich, say compared to the factory owners, they were in a relatively comfortable position financially, as their mother, Maria, had a small amount of money of her own which supplemented her husband’s modest salary as a minister or vicar of the Church of England.

[00:03:52] Patrick Brontë, the girls’ father, was clearly an extraordinary man. 

[00:03:57] He had been born into a poor peasant family in Ireland. 

[00:04:01] Through his own intelligence, enterprise and determination he had managed to secure a place at Cambridge University, graduating with a first class honours degree and securing access to the Church of England as a vicar

[00:04:17] This was an amazingly socially upwardly mobile thing for the time, social classes were still pretty fixed, and to go from a peasant family to the most prestigious university in the country was astounding

[00:04:32] His wife, Maria, was from a much wealthier family. 

[00:04:36] Both parents were highly cultured people. At the Parsonage they had a very good library, were engaged politically and raised their family in what must have been a highly stimulating environment.

[00:04:50] They had six children, all born between 1814 and 1820. Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne.

[00:05:00] The most famous are Emily, who wrote Wuthering Heights, and Charlotte, who wrote Jane Eyre.

[00:05:07] Sadly, by 1855 the only surviving member of the Brontë family was the father, Patrick. 

[00:05:16] All six children and the mother would be dead. 

[00:05:19] So, let’s rewind a bit, back to the early 1800s, to the sisters’ upbringing

[00:05:26] We now need to dive into the tempestuous, traumatic and colourful story of these six Brontë children, so that you can get an idea of their shared experiences growing up.

[00:05:38] Disease and death will, I'm sorry to say, feature prominently, we’ll come across a lot of this. 

[00:05:45] As you’ll know, in this era, even for families like the Brontës who were able to afford such luxuries as servants, early death through disease was just a fact of life.

[00:05:58] The first to die was the wife and mother, Maria, who suffered a short illness before dying of cancer aged only 38 in 1821, the year after the birth of her youngest daughter, Anne.

[00:06:12] As you might imagine, the children’s father was distraught, he was incredibly sad and desperate. 

[00:06:19] By all accounts it had been a happy marriage, but the man was now left widowed and with 6 young children to look after.

[00:06:27] His wife’s sister, the children's aunt, came to live with them and help raise the children, but Patrick felt that he needed to find a boarding school for the older girls. 

[00:06:39] A boarding school is a school where children are sent to live, in effect, for weeks or even months at a time.

[00:06:47] The problem was that the Brontës didn’t have much money, and boarding schools weren't cheap.

[00:06:53] Patrick managed to find one where the fees were reduced for members of the clergy, for children of priests. It was called Cowan Bridge School, and the four older Brontë sisters were sent there to study.

[00:07:07] The school was a living hell, it sounded terrible.

[00:07:11] Children had to share beds, there was no warm water, they were only given burnt toast, and were often beaten and punished terribly.

[00:07:21] As if this wasn’t bad enough, the two older girls, Maria and Elizabeth, contracted tuberculosis at their boarding school

[00:07:30] They returned home, but both died in quick succession, aged 11 and 10. 

[00:07:37] Charlotte and Emily were quickly taken away from this unhealthy and cruel school, but clearly chilling memories of it would stay with them for life.

[00:07:47] If you read Jane Eyre, Charlotte’s most famous novel, there’s a terrible, cruel school called Lowood school which has striking similarities with Cowan Bridge School.

[00:07:59] So much so, in fact, that the real school threatened to sue the publishers of Jane Eyre for their portrayal of the school in the novel.

[00:08:09] So, we now have four remaining children after the death of the oldest two. Charlotte, Branwell – who was the only son, the only male child – Emily and Anne. 

[00:08:21] The rest of our story will deal with these four surviving siblings.

[00:08:27] From a young age, perhaps as a way to escape the misery of the real world, the surviving Brontë children came up with their own, highly detailed, imaginary worlds.

[00:08:39] Of course, there’s nothing particularly unusual about children creating their own imaginary worlds, and every novelist, to a certain degree, creates their own stories with their own worlds, their own characters, they create their own reality.

[00:08:55] What was splendidly bizarre and unusual with the Brontës was that these imaginary worlds not only were incredibly detailed and developed, but that they continued through into adulthood, and they would go on to form the basis for the sisters’ novels. 

[00:09:13] We know from family letters how, for example, Emily and Anne would pass the time on a railway journey discussing the various things that happened in their own imaginary world. 

[00:09:26] These imaginary places inspired much of the early writing that allowed all the Brontë children to develop their own craft, their own skills, as writers. 

[00:09:36] The Brontë sisters would set poems, plays and short stories in these self-contained, imaginary worlds, and discuss what the inhabitants of these worlds would get up to

[00:09:49] The most influential of these imaginary, mythical landscapes was the one which Emily, helped by her younger sister Anne, created, which went by the name of Gondal. 

[00:10:00] This was a place inhabited by men and women with high passions who did extreme and wild things – violent romances and extreme actions took place in this exotic land of the mind. 

[00:10:15] Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gondal, would become an essential part of the inspiration for Emily's only novel, the magnificent “Wuthering Heights”.

[00:10:25] Now, moving on to the education and early careers of the four surviving Brontë children, I need to emphasise that most of their education was through the fertile, creative atmosphere of the Parsonage, their family home. 

[00:10:41] It is perhaps not surprising that their formal education was relatively brief, given the terrible experience that had resulted in the early deaths of the two older sisters. There was some formal schooling, but it played a relatively small part. 

[00:10:57] Perhaps the person for whom it was most important was Charlotte, whose unusual experience attending a school in the capital of Belgium, Brussels, was formative in two ways. 

[00:11:10] Firstly, she had an inspirational literature teacher, who taught her how to put much more discipline into her writing and also ensured that she had an excellent facility with French. 

[00:11:22] The other reason why her time in the school was so important was sentimental or having to do with the emotions.

[00:11:31] She fell in love with her teacher, Monsieur Constantin Heger, who was the husband of the headmistress

[00:11:38] She believed that he was the first man to have taken her seriously on an intellectual level, and after she left the school she wrote him letters where she hinted at her true feelings for him, hoping that he would respond favourably.

[00:11:54] But, at least from the letters that have remained, he seemed to have got scared, and he stopped writing back to her.

[00:12:01] This theme of unreturned, or as it’s called, “unrequited” love, would be a recurrent one in Charlotte’s novels. 

[00:12:10] What about the young boy, young Branwell? 

[00:12:13] This episode is about the sisters, so what happened to their brother? 

[00:12:17] Well, he was thought to be a talented painter and pursued the life of a portrait painter for some time. He was also considered to be a talented writer and had hopes and dreams of writing for serious journals

[00:12:33] Unfortunately, Branwell proved to be a massive disappointment to everyone, in particular to himself. 

[00:12:40] He tried various jobs, then started working as a tutor to a young boy in a house called Thorp Green, where his sister Anne was tutoring the daughters of the house. 

[00:12:51] Here Branwell found himself in serious trouble. 

[00:12:55] He started an affair with the mistress of the house, a woman almost 20 years his senior, 20 years older than him. It seems that her marriage with her husband was an unhappy one, and the two struck up a relationship.

[00:13:11] Their affair was discovered, and Branwell was sacked in disgrace.

[00:13:16] In love with Mrs Robinson, the mistress, and ordered not to have anything to do with her, he was desperately unhappy. 

[00:13:24] He sunk deeper into depression and became heavily addicted both to alcohol and morphine. These twin addictions would lead him to an early grave, aged just 31.

[00:13:37] So, let’s get back to the Brontë sisters, the surviving three: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.

[00:13:44] They are most famous for their novels, but all three of them worked as something called governesses.

[00:13:50] A governess was a blend between being a private tutor and a babysitter or childminder

[00:13:58] See, for all the talents of the sisters, the era in which they were living meant that the potential careers open to women were extremely limited. 

[00:14:08] The so-called “ideal” situation, as we explored in the Jane Austen episode, was for a woman to have enough money from her family so that another wealthy man would want to marry her, and she could live in suitable style with her money and her husband's money funding the family’s comfortable life, without ever needing to do a day’s work. 

[00:14:30] This was simply not possible for the Brontës, as they were not rich, therefore their marriage prospects were not good.

[00:14:39] So they prepared for the only respectable career available to them, which was being a governess, this strange mix of private tutor and childminder.

[00:14:49] Governesses would usually live in the large houses of their wealthy employers. 

[00:14:55] They would be in charge of anywhere between one and five children. 

[00:15:00] As well as being poorly paid, their status in the home was not high, and slightly strange. 

[00:15:07] Although they would be highly educated and, in effect, private tutors, they would be treated no better than the higher-ranking family servants. 

[00:15:16] However they would be seen by the servants of the house as being of a superior education and social class and would therefore have none of the friendship, the camaraderie, that those servants would have with each other. 

[00:15:31] It's not surprising that the miserable condition of the governess features so often in Brontë novels, and that the Brontë sisters continued to be very close as adults, with their shared “status” as governesses.

[00:15:45] So, to recap, we have these three sisters: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. They have grown up creating their own imaginary worlds, they have known great tragedy, and their prospects in life are limited.

[00:15:59] They had written some poetry from a young age, but when they tried to publish a collection of their poems the collection sold a grand total of three copies.

[00:16:10] They decided to try to each publish a novel, and so it was that in 1847 they published three books, two of which would go down as some of the finest novels ever written in English.

[00:16:24] Charlotte published Jane Eyre, Emily published Wuthering Heights, and Anne published Agnes Grey. 

[00:16:30] When the novels were published, however, the surname Brontë was nowhere to be seen.

[00:16:36] They published their books under pen-names - taking the identity of male authors. 

[00:16:43] Charlotte adopted the name Currer Bell. Emily, the name Ellis Bell, and Anne, Acton Bell. 

[00:16:50] So when the three novels had been published, by Christmas of 1847, they were known as the Bells. 

[00:16:58] Although there was considerable speculation as to who the Bells were – and some questioning as to whether they were actually male – their identity remained hidden. 

[00:17:09] Of the three novels published in this extraordinary year, the most successful in terms of the reading public and the critics was Charlotte's extraordinary work, Jane Eyre. 

[00:17:21] This remarkable piece, narrated by a governess, Jane Eyre, has become for many readers across the globe one of the finest examples of the romantic novel - the romantic novel par excellence

[00:17:34] It has all the necessary ingredients – frustrated love, betrayal, imprisonment, physical danger, trials and separation. 

[00:17:43] Although the journey to eventual happiness for the narrator and heroine, Jane, is a dangerous one, it does reach a happy conclusion when Jane gets her man. 

[00:17:54] Emily’s extraordinary work, Wuthering Heights, which was based on this imaginary world of Gondal we mentioned earlier, was a similarly extreme tale of violent passion, murder, revenge and ghosts. 

[00:18:09] Now, we could spend hours or days talking about Wuthering Heights, but there’s one point I really want to stress about this novel, and its importance.

[00:18:18] And that is because it was one of the first novels in English that really dealt with the spectrum of human emotions, and showed that both men and women were capable of the same kind of feeling and passion. 

[00:18:33] To compare it to the work of Jane Austen, for example, Jane Austen’s works typically deal with love and marriage, whereas the themes in Wuthering Heights range from race to class, morality to religion, really addressing deep, fundamental questions about what it is to be human.

[00:18:54] And as a reminder, this is all set in this imaginary world that Emily has been developing, in collaboration with her sisters, from a very young age.

[00:19:05] Anne’s first novel, Agnes Grey, was much more restrained and deals with a less extreme world. 

[00:19:12] Her second book, incidentally, a book called The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, was considered to be so "coarse", so rough and rude, that it was barely sold or read for almost 150 years because the material, which included domestic abuse, alcoholism and adultery, was considered to be too extreme for the public audience. 

[00:19:35] It really started to be read and analysed again in the late 20th century, and it is now widely considered to be the first “feminist” novel, with Anne considered by many critics to be equally talented and brilliant as her far more famous older sisters.

[00:19:52] These three novels – Jane Eyre especially - were a sensation - they took the London-based readership and literary critics by storm

[00:20:02] Critics made connections between the three novels of the Bells. They referred to the "painful and exceptional subjects", and the "eccentricities of woman's fantasy" and overall the "coarseness" of emotions displayed. 

[00:20:18] However, notably, as one commented "we are spellbound, we cannot choose but read…”. 

[00:20:24] Famously, the highly respected and established novelist William Thackeray missed his day's appointments because he simply could not stop reading Jane Eyre and was in tears when reading the love scenes.

[00:20:38] And in case you haven’t read them, let me simply say that they are great, extraordinary and highly unusual books, written by three sisters who had suffered greatly. 

[00:20:49] Unfortunately, two of the sisters, Emily and Anne, were both dead within two years of their publication, aged 30 and 29 respectively. 

[00:21:00] After the death of her sisters, the true identity of the Bells was revealed, and the surviving sister, Charlotte, became a literary sensation, visiting London a number of times and becoming a favourite guest amongst London literary people. 

[00:21:16] She did manage to find some happiness in marriage, but sadly she too died young, aged only 38 and several months pregnant.

[00:21:27] By 1855, poor Patrick Brontë, the father, who had already lost his wife, then his eldest two daughters in quick succession, then three of his remaining children within a nine month period, finally had to bury his last remaining daughter. 

[00:21:43] It's quite something to think about.

[00:21:46] Although none of the sisters lived a long life, the long term legacy of these three women’s works has been extraordinary. 

[00:21:55] Charlotte and Emily wrote books which defined the idea of the romantic novel and created some of the best known characters and scenes in fiction.

[00:22:04] They redefined what was thought possible for women to write about, and paved the way for a new generation of novelists.

[00:22:13] It's particularly powerful to think about when you know that two of the sisters had died within 2 years of the books being published, both before their 31st birthday, and the final sister didn’t live much longer. 

[00:22:26] One can only guess how many more works of genius might have been written if all five of the Brontë sisters had lived to old age.

[00:22:37] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Brontë sisters.

[00:22:41] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and perhaps this episode might have inspired you to pick up a copy of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, either in English or in translation, and jump into these wonderful books.

[00:22:55] And with this episode comes the end of our three-part mini-series on great Victorian novelists

[00:23:02] In case you haven’t yet listened to parts one and two, we covered Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

[00:23:08] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series in general.

[00:23:14] Can you think of a more talented literary family than the Brontës?

[00:23:18] Of the three subjects we covered, Austen, Dickens, and the Brontës, do you have a favourite? 

[00:23:24] Have you ever tried reading any of them in the original, English version? Or have you seen any of the film adaptations?

[00:23:31] If not, what is stopping you?

[00:23:33] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:23:37] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:46] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:51] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about three women, the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, authors of novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

[00:00:34] This is actually part three of a three-part mini-series on great authors of the Victorian era. In case you haven’t listened to the first two, in part one we looked at the woman often called the queen of Victorian literature, Jane Austen, and in part two we looked at the great social and urban writer, Charles Dickens.

[00:00:57] The subjects of today’s episode, the Brontë sisters, come from a similar period, but developed their own very different and hugely important literary style.

[00:01:09] Indeed, these three women arguably make up the most extraordinary family of literary geniuses in European history. 

[00:01:18] So, let’s not waste a minute, and get started with the Brontë sisters.

[00:01:23] As we did in the previous episodes, we’ll look at four major themes. The novelists’ life and upbringing, the works that they wrote, the impact of these books, and their legacy.

[00:01:37] In this episode we do have three authors, not just the one, so we’ll focus a little more on the lives and shared upbringing of the women, but, as you’ll see, their early lives and childhood tragedy will be instrumental for an understanding of their work.

[00:01:54] First, let me set the scene, to provide you with the location both for the Brontë sisters’ lives, and for their novels.

[00:02:04] The location is rural Yorkshire, in the north of England, in a small village called Haworth. 

[00:02:11] Specifically, the Parsonage at Haworth. 

[00:02:14] A parsonage is the name for a house given to a clergyman, a Church of England priest. The Brontës lived in the parsonage because the girls’ father, Patrick, was the village priest.

[00:02:27] As a side note, if you remember Jane Austen, you’ll remember that her father also was a priest, but, as you’ll see, the Brontës were very different people, and writers, compared to Jane Austen.

[00:02:41] OK, back to Haworth.

[00:02:43] If you visit Haworth now, you will find a small village surrounded by wild beauty, by big empty spaces known as the Yorkshire moors – a moor is a big expanse of land that cannot be cultivated and usually is left in a natural state, covered with bogs, bushes and heather

[00:03:06] In the first half of the 19th century, however, it wasn’t quite so isolated

[00:03:11] It would have been surrounded by small factories and workshops involved in the industries of weaving and cloth making. 

[00:03:20] It was a poor, hillside village. 41% of children died before they were six months old, and life expectancy was a miserable 25 years.

[00:03:32] Although the Brontës were not rich, say compared to the factory owners, they were in a relatively comfortable position financially, as their mother, Maria, had a small amount of money of her own which supplemented her husband’s modest salary as a minister or vicar of the Church of England.

[00:03:52] Patrick Brontë, the girls’ father, was clearly an extraordinary man. 

[00:03:57] He had been born into a poor peasant family in Ireland. 

[00:04:01] Through his own intelligence, enterprise and determination he had managed to secure a place at Cambridge University, graduating with a first class honours degree and securing access to the Church of England as a vicar

[00:04:17] This was an amazingly socially upwardly mobile thing for the time, social classes were still pretty fixed, and to go from a peasant family to the most prestigious university in the country was astounding

[00:04:32] His wife, Maria, was from a much wealthier family. 

[00:04:36] Both parents were highly cultured people. At the Parsonage they had a very good library, were engaged politically and raised their family in what must have been a highly stimulating environment.

[00:04:50] They had six children, all born between 1814 and 1820. Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne.

[00:05:00] The most famous are Emily, who wrote Wuthering Heights, and Charlotte, who wrote Jane Eyre.

[00:05:07] Sadly, by 1855 the only surviving member of the Brontë family was the father, Patrick. 

[00:05:16] All six children and the mother would be dead. 

[00:05:19] So, let’s rewind a bit, back to the early 1800s, to the sisters’ upbringing

[00:05:26] We now need to dive into the tempestuous, traumatic and colourful story of these six Brontë children, so that you can get an idea of their shared experiences growing up.

[00:05:38] Disease and death will, I'm sorry to say, feature prominently, we’ll come across a lot of this. 

[00:05:45] As you’ll know, in this era, even for families like the Brontës who were able to afford such luxuries as servants, early death through disease was just a fact of life.

[00:05:58] The first to die was the wife and mother, Maria, who suffered a short illness before dying of cancer aged only 38 in 1821, the year after the birth of her youngest daughter, Anne.

[00:06:12] As you might imagine, the children’s father was distraught, he was incredibly sad and desperate. 

[00:06:19] By all accounts it had been a happy marriage, but the man was now left widowed and with 6 young children to look after.

[00:06:27] His wife’s sister, the children's aunt, came to live with them and help raise the children, but Patrick felt that he needed to find a boarding school for the older girls. 

[00:06:39] A boarding school is a school where children are sent to live, in effect, for weeks or even months at a time.

[00:06:47] The problem was that the Brontës didn’t have much money, and boarding schools weren't cheap.

[00:06:53] Patrick managed to find one where the fees were reduced for members of the clergy, for children of priests. It was called Cowan Bridge School, and the four older Brontë sisters were sent there to study.

[00:07:07] The school was a living hell, it sounded terrible.

[00:07:11] Children had to share beds, there was no warm water, they were only given burnt toast, and were often beaten and punished terribly.

[00:07:21] As if this wasn’t bad enough, the two older girls, Maria and Elizabeth, contracted tuberculosis at their boarding school

[00:07:30] They returned home, but both died in quick succession, aged 11 and 10. 

[00:07:37] Charlotte and Emily were quickly taken away from this unhealthy and cruel school, but clearly chilling memories of it would stay with them for life.

[00:07:47] If you read Jane Eyre, Charlotte’s most famous novel, there’s a terrible, cruel school called Lowood school which has striking similarities with Cowan Bridge School.

[00:07:59] So much so, in fact, that the real school threatened to sue the publishers of Jane Eyre for their portrayal of the school in the novel.

[00:08:09] So, we now have four remaining children after the death of the oldest two. Charlotte, Branwell – who was the only son, the only male child – Emily and Anne. 

[00:08:21] The rest of our story will deal with these four surviving siblings.

[00:08:27] From a young age, perhaps as a way to escape the misery of the real world, the surviving Brontë children came up with their own, highly detailed, imaginary worlds.

[00:08:39] Of course, there’s nothing particularly unusual about children creating their own imaginary worlds, and every novelist, to a certain degree, creates their own stories with their own worlds, their own characters, they create their own reality.

[00:08:55] What was splendidly bizarre and unusual with the Brontës was that these imaginary worlds not only were incredibly detailed and developed, but that they continued through into adulthood, and they would go on to form the basis for the sisters’ novels. 

[00:09:13] We know from family letters how, for example, Emily and Anne would pass the time on a railway journey discussing the various things that happened in their own imaginary world. 

[00:09:26] These imaginary places inspired much of the early writing that allowed all the Brontë children to develop their own craft, their own skills, as writers. 

[00:09:36] The Brontë sisters would set poems, plays and short stories in these self-contained, imaginary worlds, and discuss what the inhabitants of these worlds would get up to

[00:09:49] The most influential of these imaginary, mythical landscapes was the one which Emily, helped by her younger sister Anne, created, which went by the name of Gondal. 

[00:10:00] This was a place inhabited by men and women with high passions who did extreme and wild things – violent romances and extreme actions took place in this exotic land of the mind. 

[00:10:15] Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gondal, would become an essential part of the inspiration for Emily's only novel, the magnificent “Wuthering Heights”.

[00:10:25] Now, moving on to the education and early careers of the four surviving Brontë children, I need to emphasise that most of their education was through the fertile, creative atmosphere of the Parsonage, their family home. 

[00:10:41] It is perhaps not surprising that their formal education was relatively brief, given the terrible experience that had resulted in the early deaths of the two older sisters. There was some formal schooling, but it played a relatively small part. 

[00:10:57] Perhaps the person for whom it was most important was Charlotte, whose unusual experience attending a school in the capital of Belgium, Brussels, was formative in two ways. 

[00:11:10] Firstly, she had an inspirational literature teacher, who taught her how to put much more discipline into her writing and also ensured that she had an excellent facility with French. 

[00:11:22] The other reason why her time in the school was so important was sentimental or having to do with the emotions.

[00:11:31] She fell in love with her teacher, Monsieur Constantin Heger, who was the husband of the headmistress

[00:11:38] She believed that he was the first man to have taken her seriously on an intellectual level, and after she left the school she wrote him letters where she hinted at her true feelings for him, hoping that he would respond favourably.

[00:11:54] But, at least from the letters that have remained, he seemed to have got scared, and he stopped writing back to her.

[00:12:01] This theme of unreturned, or as it’s called, “unrequited” love, would be a recurrent one in Charlotte’s novels. 

[00:12:10] What about the young boy, young Branwell? 

[00:12:13] This episode is about the sisters, so what happened to their brother? 

[00:12:17] Well, he was thought to be a talented painter and pursued the life of a portrait painter for some time. He was also considered to be a talented writer and had hopes and dreams of writing for serious journals

[00:12:33] Unfortunately, Branwell proved to be a massive disappointment to everyone, in particular to himself. 

[00:12:40] He tried various jobs, then started working as a tutor to a young boy in a house called Thorp Green, where his sister Anne was tutoring the daughters of the house. 

[00:12:51] Here Branwell found himself in serious trouble. 

[00:12:55] He started an affair with the mistress of the house, a woman almost 20 years his senior, 20 years older than him. It seems that her marriage with her husband was an unhappy one, and the two struck up a relationship.

[00:13:11] Their affair was discovered, and Branwell was sacked in disgrace.

[00:13:16] In love with Mrs Robinson, the mistress, and ordered not to have anything to do with her, he was desperately unhappy. 

[00:13:24] He sunk deeper into depression and became heavily addicted both to alcohol and morphine. These twin addictions would lead him to an early grave, aged just 31.

[00:13:37] So, let’s get back to the Brontë sisters, the surviving three: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.

[00:13:44] They are most famous for their novels, but all three of them worked as something called governesses.

[00:13:50] A governess was a blend between being a private tutor and a babysitter or childminder

[00:13:58] See, for all the talents of the sisters, the era in which they were living meant that the potential careers open to women were extremely limited. 

[00:14:08] The so-called “ideal” situation, as we explored in the Jane Austen episode, was for a woman to have enough money from her family so that another wealthy man would want to marry her, and she could live in suitable style with her money and her husband's money funding the family’s comfortable life, without ever needing to do a day’s work. 

[00:14:30] This was simply not possible for the Brontës, as they were not rich, therefore their marriage prospects were not good.

[00:14:39] So they prepared for the only respectable career available to them, which was being a governess, this strange mix of private tutor and childminder.

[00:14:49] Governesses would usually live in the large houses of their wealthy employers. 

[00:14:55] They would be in charge of anywhere between one and five children. 

[00:15:00] As well as being poorly paid, their status in the home was not high, and slightly strange. 

[00:15:07] Although they would be highly educated and, in effect, private tutors, they would be treated no better than the higher-ranking family servants. 

[00:15:16] However they would be seen by the servants of the house as being of a superior education and social class and would therefore have none of the friendship, the camaraderie, that those servants would have with each other. 

[00:15:31] It's not surprising that the miserable condition of the governess features so often in Brontë novels, and that the Brontë sisters continued to be very close as adults, with their shared “status” as governesses.

[00:15:45] So, to recap, we have these three sisters: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. They have grown up creating their own imaginary worlds, they have known great tragedy, and their prospects in life are limited.

[00:15:59] They had written some poetry from a young age, but when they tried to publish a collection of their poems the collection sold a grand total of three copies.

[00:16:10] They decided to try to each publish a novel, and so it was that in 1847 they published three books, two of which would go down as some of the finest novels ever written in English.

[00:16:24] Charlotte published Jane Eyre, Emily published Wuthering Heights, and Anne published Agnes Grey. 

[00:16:30] When the novels were published, however, the surname Brontë was nowhere to be seen.

[00:16:36] They published their books under pen-names - taking the identity of male authors. 

[00:16:43] Charlotte adopted the name Currer Bell. Emily, the name Ellis Bell, and Anne, Acton Bell. 

[00:16:50] So when the three novels had been published, by Christmas of 1847, they were known as the Bells. 

[00:16:58] Although there was considerable speculation as to who the Bells were – and some questioning as to whether they were actually male – their identity remained hidden. 

[00:17:09] Of the three novels published in this extraordinary year, the most successful in terms of the reading public and the critics was Charlotte's extraordinary work, Jane Eyre. 

[00:17:21] This remarkable piece, narrated by a governess, Jane Eyre, has become for many readers across the globe one of the finest examples of the romantic novel - the romantic novel par excellence

[00:17:34] It has all the necessary ingredients – frustrated love, betrayal, imprisonment, physical danger, trials and separation. 

[00:17:43] Although the journey to eventual happiness for the narrator and heroine, Jane, is a dangerous one, it does reach a happy conclusion when Jane gets her man. 

[00:17:54] Emily’s extraordinary work, Wuthering Heights, which was based on this imaginary world of Gondal we mentioned earlier, was a similarly extreme tale of violent passion, murder, revenge and ghosts. 

[00:18:09] Now, we could spend hours or days talking about Wuthering Heights, but there’s one point I really want to stress about this novel, and its importance.

[00:18:18] And that is because it was one of the first novels in English that really dealt with the spectrum of human emotions, and showed that both men and women were capable of the same kind of feeling and passion. 

[00:18:33] To compare it to the work of Jane Austen, for example, Jane Austen’s works typically deal with love and marriage, whereas the themes in Wuthering Heights range from race to class, morality to religion, really addressing deep, fundamental questions about what it is to be human.

[00:18:54] And as a reminder, this is all set in this imaginary world that Emily has been developing, in collaboration with her sisters, from a very young age.

[00:19:05] Anne’s first novel, Agnes Grey, was much more restrained and deals with a less extreme world. 

[00:19:12] Her second book, incidentally, a book called The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, was considered to be so "coarse", so rough and rude, that it was barely sold or read for almost 150 years because the material, which included domestic abuse, alcoholism and adultery, was considered to be too extreme for the public audience. 

[00:19:35] It really started to be read and analysed again in the late 20th century, and it is now widely considered to be the first “feminist” novel, with Anne considered by many critics to be equally talented and brilliant as her far more famous older sisters.

[00:19:52] These three novels – Jane Eyre especially - were a sensation - they took the London-based readership and literary critics by storm

[00:20:02] Critics made connections between the three novels of the Bells. They referred to the "painful and exceptional subjects", and the "eccentricities of woman's fantasy" and overall the "coarseness" of emotions displayed. 

[00:20:18] However, notably, as one commented "we are spellbound, we cannot choose but read…”. 

[00:20:24] Famously, the highly respected and established novelist William Thackeray missed his day's appointments because he simply could not stop reading Jane Eyre and was in tears when reading the love scenes.

[00:20:38] And in case you haven’t read them, let me simply say that they are great, extraordinary and highly unusual books, written by three sisters who had suffered greatly. 

[00:20:49] Unfortunately, two of the sisters, Emily and Anne, were both dead within two years of their publication, aged 30 and 29 respectively. 

[00:21:00] After the death of her sisters, the true identity of the Bells was revealed, and the surviving sister, Charlotte, became a literary sensation, visiting London a number of times and becoming a favourite guest amongst London literary people. 

[00:21:16] She did manage to find some happiness in marriage, but sadly she too died young, aged only 38 and several months pregnant.

[00:21:27] By 1855, poor Patrick Brontë, the father, who had already lost his wife, then his eldest two daughters in quick succession, then three of his remaining children within a nine month period, finally had to bury his last remaining daughter. 

[00:21:43] It's quite something to think about.

[00:21:46] Although none of the sisters lived a long life, the long term legacy of these three women’s works has been extraordinary. 

[00:21:55] Charlotte and Emily wrote books which defined the idea of the romantic novel and created some of the best known characters and scenes in fiction.

[00:22:04] They redefined what was thought possible for women to write about, and paved the way for a new generation of novelists.

[00:22:13] It's particularly powerful to think about when you know that two of the sisters had died within 2 years of the books being published, both before their 31st birthday, and the final sister didn’t live much longer. 

[00:22:26] One can only guess how many more works of genius might have been written if all five of the Brontë sisters had lived to old age.

[00:22:37] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Brontë sisters.

[00:22:41] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and perhaps this episode might have inspired you to pick up a copy of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, either in English or in translation, and jump into these wonderful books.

[00:22:55] And with this episode comes the end of our three-part mini-series on great Victorian novelists

[00:23:02] In case you haven’t yet listened to parts one and two, we covered Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

[00:23:08] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and of this mini-series in general.

[00:23:14] Can you think of a more talented literary family than the Brontës?

[00:23:18] Of the three subjects we covered, Austen, Dickens, and the Brontës, do you have a favourite? 

[00:23:24] Have you ever tried reading any of them in the original, English version? Or have you seen any of the film adaptations?

[00:23:31] If not, what is stopping you?

[00:23:33] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:23:37] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:46] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:51] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]