Published in October 1847 under the pseudonym Currer Bell, Jane Eyre was Charlotte Bronte’s first and most successful novel. The plot follows the fortunes of the eponymous lead character as she... More > grows into adulthood, meets the man she falls in love with, loses him and then finds him once again. While those bare bones are conventional enough, the way Jane’s fortunes are internalised to give words to her feelings as all this unfolds is not.
In diverting the attentions from the plot towards Jane’s reactions to it, the novel follows the bildungsroman genre also used by Charlotte’s sister Anne in her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. It is thought that Jane represents the kind of austere, moralising protestant women prevalent in the town near to Haworth and it’s interesting that the narrative records just as much reactions to this character as lessons drawn from it. Equally, however, Jane makes efforts to separate her morals from a strict religious orthodoxy.< Less
Published in 1849 under the pseudonym Currer Bell, Shirley was Charlotte Bronte’s second novel. In a break from the usual scenery depicted by other Bronte novels, Shirley is centred on the... More > textile industry of Yorkshire during the Napoleonic Wars, dealing with the plight of those laid off and the subsequent breaking of machinery in the Luddite movement. While the scenery differs, the normal sweep of plot development remains intact with an eponymous female lead character making strong decisions for her own benefit rather than what might be expected by an over-demanding social set.
There are certain autobiographical elements in the novel though for the most part these are restricted to associations of the characters with Charlotte’s sisters, Anne and Emily, both of whom had died during the writing process. Following close behind Jane Eyre, Charlotte might have been expecting another best seller, but this time the reception was more muted.< Less
Published in 1843, four years after Shirley, Villette was Charlotte Bronte’s last novel and arguably the most autobiographic. Essentially a re-write of her first, unpublished story, The... More > Professor, it details the progress of the main protagonist, Lucy Snowe through an impressionable teenage period and then onto seeking employment in a fictional country that is based on Belgium. Securing a job in a boarding school a series of narrative developments and a plot twist kept hidden leads to a love interest in the shape of M. Paul Emanuel. Interestingly, whether this resolves into marriage at the end is left ambiguous.
Given what it followed, hindsight is sufficient to know that Villette could never have reached the heights of other Bronte novels and though there are familiar motifs and new additions such as Lucy’s difficulties in learning French – certainly drawn from real-life parallels – the themes are by now well worn.< Less