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A Matter of Perspective...

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The Author Jane Austen is known for her masterful skill at conveying characters observed and portrayed to perfection, both genteel and somewhat rarefied and if her home which is now the Museum to her name is anything to go by, she appeared to live a comfortable middle-class existence. When she ventured into darker characters where stories of riotous drunks met with prison-breaks and murderers, the words felt more for the amusement of family than based on any vagabonds found lurking in the shadows of the Austen residence. Although with 'Cassandra', did I detect an unfulfilled wanderlust in the Author, a life spent more in the observing than in the partaking?

If forced to make a choice within the classics, i.e. Austen v Brontë, the three sisters would always get my vote; a visit to the Brontë museum in Yorkshire a cherished childhood memory. The Parsonage where the family lived in the nineteenth Century, now the museum to their name, occupies a set-back position at the top of a steep, cobbled street, where a short walk beyond the open countryside can be found which no doubt formed the inspiration for Emily’s: ‘Wuthering Heights’. Speculation as to whether: ‘Top Withens’, a derelict property three and a half miles from Haworth and set in isolation amongst a bleak and foreboding landscape was the backdrop to the book; still intrigues to this day. It’s not difficult to imagine ‘Heathcliff’ calling to his ‘Catherine’ from across the expansive moorland, a man portrayed in all his beastliness by Timothy Dalton in my favourite of the films.

The Brontës were raised in a devoutly religious household, their father being the local Parson and it was incumbent on them to earn their own living, given the penurious nature of their existence. Work options being few, which besides teaching included working abroad, they gifted to history novels which have stood the test of time in a world where now, superficiality and transience are often the norm. Their lives may have been short-lived in the term of years; but the quality of their literature has proved to be enduring.

The Brontë hallmarks included flawed characters, destructive passions, unrequited love, lives lived in wealth and poverty, and the Authors didn’t shy away from portraying the darker elements of the human psyche, such as prostitution and drug addiction. Charlotte’s description of opium use described in: ‘Stancliffe’s Hotel’, showed her first-hand knowledge of the subject from her brother Branwell’s habit. Writing together they created the imaginary kingdom of ‘Angria’ featuring, ‘rakish dandies, high-society courtesans and dashing heroes’, where female characters were idealised for their ethereal beauty and delusion, perfection, hope and sentiment, struck a match for Romance to be inhaled through the vapours of Escapism. I would wager that setting aside the march of time; it’s still Fantasy’s hand that lays the gauntlet, at the feet of true Romantics...

Source material and for more information:
Stancliffe’s Hotel by Charlotte Brontë – Penquin Little Black Classics No 126
The Beautifull Cassandra by Jane Austen – Penquin Little Black Classics No 33
Wuthering Heights, directed by Robert Fuest - DVD