- Introduction:The Brontës and Critical Interventions in Victorian Studies
It has been two hundred years since Charlotte Brontë's birth, and all three Brontë sisters have been dead and gone for more than a hundred and sixty. Nonetheless, you can still write a Brontë novel! Thanks to www.plot-generator.org.uk, any fan can devise names for a male or female "rich, well to-do hero," a "poor, lower class hero," and a "habitable building (e.g., house)"; select "two roles (e.g., girl, teacher, child)"; enter an "adjective for the weather (e.g., windy)"; provide four "positive adjectives to describe somebody's character"; and voila—a new Brontë plot is born. The very idea, even in jest, that a Brontë novel could be manufactured according to a formula suggests that, despite the differences in the Brontë sisters' individual styles, all of their work is distinguished by a formal and thematic character—a rich dose of what Garrett Stewart names in this issue the "Brontëesque" (234). At the same time, the pervasive and lasting importance of the Brontës' writing springs from its power to generate innovative fictions and theoretical paradigms, addressing changing historical circumstances across multiple genres and media with each new generation of readers. This phenomenon has characterized literary and critical responses to the Brontës since the novels of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell burst onto the scene in 1847 with the publication of Charlotte's Jane Eyre, closely followed in the same year by Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey.
Although the Brontës published only six novels and one volume of poetry during their lives, authors have been writing on and rewriting the Brontës from their era to our own, with little sign of slowing. In her essay for this issue, Patsy Stoneman notes that when she needed an archive of "famous texts that would provide many examples, over an extended period, of literary criticism and of reproductions of all kinds," she determined that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were the most "extravagantly famous" nineteenth-century novels she "could wish for" (230; emphasis in original). As Lucasta Miller famously chronicles in The Brontë Myth (2001), biographers and novelists from Elizabeth Gaskell to Jasper Fforde have recreated the Brontës as well as adapted their plots and characters to make a variety of claims. Fictional treatments of the sisters themselves by contemporary novelists such as Jude Morgan, Eve Sinclair, Jane Urquhart, Stevie Davies, and Denise Giardina intersect with research on the lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, from Juliet Barker's The Brontës (1994) to Deborah Lutz's recent The Brontë Cabinet (2015), [End Page 205] revealing an enduring investment in the sisters' lives in popular culture as well as in Brontë studies. At the same time, fictional responses to their work include novels such as Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca (1938) and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), while critical responses range from early assessments by Algernon Swinburne and Virginia Woolf to transformative scholarship in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The Brontës have in fact been fundamental to a diverse array of major theoretical shifts and landmark critical studies, including Terry Eagleton's Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontës (1975), Elaine Showalter's A Literature of Their Own (1977), Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979), John Maynard's Charlotte Brontë and Sexuality (1984), Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" (1985), Margaret Homans's Bearing the Word: Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women's Writing (1986), Nancy Armstrong's Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (1987), John Kucich's Repression in Victorian Fiction: Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Charles Dickens (1987), and Mary Poovey's Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England (1988), as well as the spate of seminal scholarship published in 1996, a banner year in Brontë studies, in which Sally Shuttleworth's Charlotte Brontë and Victorian...