For my final term at university I’m reading every Literature student’s favourite sisters: the Brontes. Their novels, handed to me first by my mother and then my teachers, told me I would fall in love with Heathcliff and wish I were plain Jane Eyre. These Victorian romances, set on the rugged, desolate, wild Yorkshire moors, remain both widely read and popular. The lives of the Bronte family were fascinating, and have enthralled the general public eye from the very beginning. But now, it appears fan fiction has taken obsessiveness to the next level. So where do we draw the line between genuine interest and over the top fixation?
After a few searches on google you can find all sorts of whacky, tacky Bronte memorabilia for the modern day consumer. From perfume, promising to make you smell like Charlotte, to Calligraphy nib sets, that allude to make you write like Emily, there is a wealth of gifts (and junk) for avid fans. However, a statement pin badge with ‘Jane Eyre is my homegirl’ or a pillow with the words ‘What would Cathy do?’ embroidered across the front seem a little embarrassing. Have these people actually read the novels? And what exactly are they supposed to achieve?
Their house has become a tourist attraction. Their novels have been made into countless films and television adaptations. In fact, it is more than likely that in a world where books can be downloaded within seconds and reputations made overnight, that the majority of these ‘so called fans’ probably first came into contact with the Brontes through either film or television, that is, through the romanticised version of them.
The biggest question is: are these fans obsessed with the stories or the actual lives of the authors? From the offset, there was speculation and interest surrounding the Bronte’s identity and use of pseudonyms. It has been argued that this infatuation with the Bronte sisters’ lives has damaged any critical appreciation of the books themselves. Instead, modern day readers are drawn into the Bronte Myth, captivated by the story of their loneliness, poverty and dreary lives upon the moors.
Perhaps, it’s because Bronte story remains unfinished; they may have been dead for more than a century and a half, but new discoveries are still being made. Either way, the novels written by Charlotte, Emily and Anne, remain timeless. Elizabeth Gaskell, novelist and friend of Charlotte Bronte, notes a memorable image of the three girls circling the Parsonage dining table, reading and talking about their work. Whilst they themselves stopped writing a century and a half ago, the discussion and reading of the Brontes will never stop.
One thought on “Bronte Memorabilia: fascination or fixation?”
I agree, I hate how people claim to know the Bronte’s novels after watching a tv adaptation, and the way it has been commercialised is very sad. I suspect Charlotte would have turned her nose up at us all, but sadly that is the way of our society these days. As for the house being a tourist attraction, that isn’t exactly a bad thing, Haworth is a beautiful area and we should encourage people to visit and be inspired in a similar way to the Bronte family all those years ago. I come from Bradford and I’m enormously proud to live so close to a family of literary greats.
In terms of our inability to separate the author from the text, I agree, I hate that tv/film adaptations dress Jane in almost identical clothing to what Charlotte wore, however, the Bronte novels are heavily influenced by their own attitudes and opinions (on slavery, the role of women etc), indeed once could argue Jane Eyre is semi-autobiographical, if you look into Charlotte’s rather sorry love life you can draw some similarities from it.
Anyway, a lovely post all the same!