A potent blend of romance and realism changed ‘the novel’ forever
Like sister Emily, Charlotte Brontë alluded to the Gothic in her work, and was seemingly inspired by the pioneering Ann Radcliffe. In both Jane Eyre (1847) and Villette (1857), Charlotte depicted buildings seemingly in thrall to supernatural forces, with episodes including Jane sighting an apparition in Thornfield Hall. But in line with Radcliffe’s ‘explained supernatural’, these happenings are given logical explanations, though much fear is stirred along the way. It has been argued that Charlotte’s mix of romance and realism in Jane Eyre was her crowning success.
She also demonstrated her fierce ambition, and consideration of women’s position in society, in much of her work. Confronted by the realisation that women writers were looked down on – and critique such as the claim
(by a female reviewer) that if Jane Eyre was written by a woman, it was the work of one who has “long forfeited the society of her own sex” – Charlotte strove to highlight the realities of life for 19th century women, and to also champion their rights and talents.
This commitment to the cause shaped Charlotte into a feminist heroine for modern women, and has helped to secure her glowing reputation, already kindled by her iconic stories.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” Jane Eyre
In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë is credited with inventing the ‘mad woman in the attic’ trope