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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bronte's Writing Style

You will see that 'Villette' touches on no matter of public interest. I cannot write books handling the topics of the day; it is of no use trying. Nor can I write a book for its moral. Nor can I take up a philanthropic scheme, though I honour philanthropy; and voluntarily and sincerely veil my face before such a mighty subject as that handled in Mrs. Beecher Stowe's work, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' To manage these great matters rightly, they must be long and practically studied--their bearings known intimately, and their evils felt genuinely; they must not be taken up as a business matter, and a trading speculation. I doubt not, Mrs. Stowe had felt the iron of slavery enter into her heart, from childhood upwards, long before she ever thought of writing books. (Charlotte Bronte, letter to George Smith, her publisher, Oct. 30, 1852)

Charlotte Bronte recognized her inability to tackle issue of the day in the mode of Dickens.  In Victorian Novelists:  Essays in Revaluation, David Cecil writes "Her books are not about men like Dickens', nor about man like Thackeray's, but about an individual man."  Bronte writes about individual experiences with strong feelings of evocative images.  Bronte's strength is her ability to describe and make the reader feel what is happening.  Cecil calls her the "first subjective novelist;" as such, her heroines are highly reflective of herself:  when Lucy Snowe in Villette speaks, it is truly Charlotte speaking.  Cecil states:

Fundamentally, her principal characters are all the same person; and that person is Charlotte Bronte.  Her range is confined, not only to a direct expression of an individual's emotions and impressions, but to a direct expression of Charlotte Bronte's emotions and impressions.

However, her ability to provide subjective portraits of her heroines limits the portrayal of her secondary characters.  Only through the heroine is the reader given a portrait of the other characters.  For example, in Villette the reader sees everything through the eyes of Lucy Snowe; every character is depicted as he is perceived through her vision, "the barest sketches compared with the elaborately finished portrait of the character through whose eyes we look at [him]." 

Technically, Bronte has many flaws.  As M. Heger pointed out to her, she has a literary clumsiness in which her imagination can lead to a turbid flow of words clouding her meaning.  She is also susceptible to implausible plots devoid of verisimilitude, such as is the case with Villette, in which Cecil says she "stretches the long arm of coincidence till it becomes positively dislocated."  Her leading male characters, such as Dr. John, are unrealistic, nothing more than "tedious aggregations of good qualities," with the exception of M. Paul Emanuel, who is presented in unheroic terms throughout most the book. 

Nevertheless, Bronte is a gifted storyteller, displaying "an exceptional mastery of the art of awaking suspense."  She will introduce an incident and leave it unexplained until a few pages later, such as when Lucy stares at Dr. John only to reveal later that she recognizes him as her childhood friend Graham.  It is an engaging style that adds twists to the plot.


  1. teri ma ki chut me mera loda

  2. I liked the article, but busy background made it a bit hard to read at points.



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