Sunday, January 30, 2005

Charlotte vs. Emily...And Anne, Too!

Although it took me a while, I finally finished Here On Earth by Alice Hoffman. The last time I wrote about this book, I'd only just started it, and was annoyed that the main character had a peculiar first name (March). When I finally got back to it and kept reading, I realized that it was a retelling of Wuthering Heights. At the time, I hadn't read Emily Bronte's famous novel, but I'd seen the 1939 movie, and was familiar with the plot.

Hoffman's book has a twist though: Here On Earth answers these questions: What if Cathy hadn't died? What if she'd left Edgar and gone back to Heathcliff? I don't want to spoil the book for anyone, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed it so much that I was compelled to plug yet another embarassing gap in my literary history and go read Wuthering Heights.

I was on fire to begin the novel right-this-damn-minute, but I didn't have a copy! Taking the bus downtown (30 minutes) to the train station then hopping on the train (30 minutes) then walking 3 blocks to the bookstore just for one novel seemed excessive even to someone like me, who spends her life committing one craziness after another in the name of book lust.

Minor problem easily solved: I hopped on the computer instead and began to read the book online, a slightly strange experience, but really quite enjoyable. I finished the book in a couple of days, feeling as if I'd been wrenched from life in the Yorkshire moors amongst crazy people. Reader, I loved that book!!! I'm a little glad I didn't read it when I was younger, or I might have taken it completely to heart! As it was, I was impressed with the structure/narration of the novel and the vivid characters, especially the antihero, Heathcliff.

This was my second experience with a Bronte novel. I read Jane Eyre when I was a kid, and that book is memorable to me because it stands out as the first visceral reaction I ever had to literature. In the first couple of chapters, when Jane is a child and her relatives are being cruel to her, I burst out crying and angrily threw the book across the room as hard as I could. I was frustrated because I couldn't go into the book and beat the hell out of the whole Reed clan!

After Wuthering Heights, I felt drained and my nerves were jangly, but I craved *more* Emily Bronte. (This sounds like a caffeine addiction!) Unfortunately, Emily Bronte died when she was 30 years old and never wrote another novel. (I already knew this, but facing the knowledge afresh was just as bitter as finding it out for the first time.) On the bright side, the Bronte family was knee-deep in novelists! Would any Bronte novel do? The way I was feeling, I really wasn't sure.

I comforted myself by finding websites that discussed the Brontes. I saw on one that Charlotte Bronte considered herself "the talented one" among the three sisters. I bristled on behalf of Emily, then decided to see for myself who could kick whose literary ass! A short trip back to Project Gutenberg showed that I could read all of Charlotte's novels online. I began reading "Villette", which was much quieter in tone than either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, but still quite readable.

Discussing my current reading at the "Book Talk" forum on, I posed the question to other booklovers: Who reigned: Charlotte or Emily? Some of the answers were surprising: Neither -- It was Anne Bronte!

Reader, I really was surprised. Since I am an English major, I do know a lot of useless literary information, some of which is along the lines of: As far as claims of literary genius in the Bronte family, Charlotte and Emily are still duking it out via their creations, while Anne is regarded as a much lesser novelist. But these readers at were earnestly chiming in on Anne's behalf and strongly praising her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Sigh. I've got to do it. Now. This year. I've got to read the whole Bronte canon and report my findings. I want to be fair, although in my secret heart, I've crowned Emily the winner and fear that reading lesser-known works by the others is going to turn out to be a letdown.

No comments: