UPDATE : 2017.11.16 목 11:07

[Vol. 74] Secret Lives of the Brontes

황경림 기자l승인2015.12.10

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  If you are a huge fan of English costume dramas or Jane Austen, there is another name that you would and should never miss-"Brontes." Literary works of three sisters from the Bronte family, Charlotte, Emily and Anne are still beloved and recognized by many people, but looking closely at their lives and traces, you would find something more dramatic in them. Now, imagine the girls whose hearts were full of ambition and desire, but could not leave their town nor their houses even after their deaths. The sisters didn't just let the flame burn in their hearts, but also made people behold what were in their minds behind the papers.
 
Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre

  “Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal — as we are!” 
 

  Jane Eyre, who became an orphan at an early age, grows up in the abuse and scorn of her aunt and cousins. She is sent to Lowood Institution, a charity school for girls, where they are severely maltreated from cold, poor meals, and epidemics. Jane stays there for eight years and after she left Lowood Jane starts her career as a governess in Thornfield Hall owned by a mean, peculiar man named Edward Rochester. They soon find each other's company very enjoyable and spend many evenings together falling in love. However, on the day of their marriage Jane becomes aware of Rochester's secret which leads their marriage to be in vain and leaves Thornfield. Wandering the wilderness, she is rescued by St. John Rivers and his sisters who later turned out to be her cousins. St. John proposes that Jane be his wife and leave together for India, but she refuses for she knew that it was not a proposal made out of love. Jane goes back to Thornfield and finds Rochester left with nothing but a hurt body from a fire accident. They realize that they still love each other and get married.
  It is no coincidence that readers feel Jane Eyre more like an autobiography rather than a novel. The life of Jane resembles that of Charlotte. Charlotte fabricated Lowood Institution in Jane Eyre based on her experiences in Clergy Daughters' School, where she loses two of her elder sisters because of poor conditions there. Meanwhile, Charlotte's unfulfilled love toward Constantin Héger, who was the headmaster of a boarding school she worked for, was reflected through Edward Rochester who Jane falls in love with.
  With the book Jane Eyre, Charlotte has two other identities. One is, as you expect, Jane and the other is "Currer Bell." When she wanted her books to be published, she always had to hide behind a man's name "Currer Bell" because the period she was living in was highly patriarchal and restricted women's active social participation. What would have Charlotte wanted to say through the mouth of her other selves?
 
Emily Bronte and Wuthering Heights

  “He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” 
 
  “If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.”
 
  “She burned too bright for this world.” 
 

  Wuthering Heights starts with a wealthy man, whose name is Lockwood, visiting Wuthering Heights by seeking for peace and calm. There he meets a landlord, Heathcliff, who seems to be quite gentle, but at the same time, very twisted. He asks the housekeeper, Nelly, about the family and history of Wuthering Heights, and she tells him the tale.
  When Nelly finished the story, Lockwood must have felt like a storm had swept his mind. And, so would have readers. This astonishing power that Wuthering Heights possesses once became the reason many critics criticized it by saying that it was extremely disagreeable and immoral. One magazine even wrote, "How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors." However, it is certain that none of those harsh criticisms could deny the passion and energy the book had. The tragic love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw is so intense that readers would never be able to forget.
 
 “Nelly, I am Heathcliff - he's always, always in my mind - not as a pleasure, any more then I am always a pleasure to myself - but, as my own being.” 
 
“And I pray one prayer--I repeat it till my tongue stiffens--Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you--haunt me, then!...Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!” 

 
  Those two sentences said by Catherine and Heathcliff, respectively, show how a passionate woman, Emily Bronte, actually was. She must have thought about what the essence of love is over and over again in her small place. She suggests the sense of oneness from love with rhetorical and intense sentences. Thinking about the fact that she was often described as an extremely shy and introvert person who barely goes out of her room, it would not be difficult to picture a girl who secretly kept a fire inside her mind. The utterance Constantin Héger made about Emily leaves more room for imagination: "She should have been a man – a great navigator. Her powerful reason would have deduced new spheres of discovery from the knowledge of the old; and her strong imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty, never have given way but with life. She had a head for logic, and a capability of argument unusual in a man and rarer indeed in a woman... impairing this gift was her stubborn tenacity of will which rendered her obtuse to all reasoning where her own wishes, or her own sense of right, was concerned."
 
  People who faithfully read through such works of female writers who had bore the age of irrationality where women were secluded from the world often hear faint sounds of them saying: The soul of women, just like men's, is not something that can be trapped immortally under the name of "Pride (of men) and Prejudice (from convention).". Past society kept the Bronte sisters hidden behind nom du plumes and labeled Virginia Wolf as a heretic, but to them, true insanity lied in the society they were living in, not inside them. And, it is time for us to think about if the insanity really has gone. 


황경림 기자  hdslkr03@blue.ac.kr
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