The Most Renowned Female Victorian Writers Essay Example
The Most Renowned Female Victorian Writers Essay Example

The Most Renowned Female Victorian Writers Essay Example

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  • Pages: 12 (3128 words)
  • Published: November 5, 2016
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Writing is more than just clusters of words that fill the blank expanses of white pages but rather for expressing the fleeting imagination of the author’s mind. The Victorian Era, a time named for Queen Victoria’s reign in England from 1837-1901, was an era that had advancements in many fields, from science to literature (Rahn), earning it the name of the Second English Renaissance and the Beginning of Modern Times (Miller).

Novels played a huge role in Victorian literature, and according to Ilana Miller, “the importance to the era could easily be compared to the importance of the plays of Shakespeare for the Elizabethans. Literature during the Victorian era was, for many of the female writers, secretive and feministic due to the rights of women back in those days where women were permitted to be well-


mannered and subordinate to men. A main topic was the ongoing conflict between industrialized Northern England and rural Southern England (Cameron). Because writing was not as common a practice for women, many authoresses used pseudonyms to keep their identity under wraps, reduce criticism, and gain a wider audience.

Through their successes in writing, the Bronte Sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Mary Ann Evans have become some of the most renowned female writers of the Victorian Era. Only a few authoresses stood above the rest during the Victorian era. The Bronte Sisters can be put into that category. The Bronte Sisters consisted of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte, born to Patrick Bronte and Maria Branwell. When their mother passed away of cancer in 1821, Charlotte and Emily, plus their two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, went to liv

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with their aunt and attended Cowan Bridge Clergy Daughters’ School.

When Maria and Elizabeth passed away from tuberculosis in 1825, due to a fever epidemic at their school (Shattock 63), their father began homeschooling them (Sutherland 84-85). As children, they played a game called “The Islanders” where the sisters and their younger brother, Branwell, used his toy soldiers and picked an island to live on, the people and animals that lived on it, and imagined, acted out, and wrote about the events that occurred on it (Bald 77-78). Each Bronte sibling had a passion for writing.

In 1826, Emily and Anne secretly wrote adventurous tales about their imaginary kingdom of Gondal while Charlotte and Branwell wrote romantic stories about their kingdom of Angria (Shattock 62-63). As they grew older, Charlotte began compiling poems of hers, Emily’s, and Anne’s and published them in 1846 under pen names. The collection of poetry was called Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell with Charlotte as Currer, Emily as Ellis, and Anne as Acton (Ashby 100). After the poems were published, each sister began writing her own novels. The oldest and most successful Bronte sister was Charlotte, shown on the right in Figure 1.

She was born in April of 1816. At the age of fourteen, she had written herself twenty-two volumes of works from the siblings’ game (100). She went to school and studied for eighteen months at Roe Head to become a teacher. While there, she met her best friends, Ellen Nussey, who later becomes a main source in Charlotte’s biography, and Mary and Martha Taylor, who she portrays as characters in her novel

Shirley (Shattock 63). In 1839, she became a governess, a parallel to a home school teacher, for a short era of time (Sutherland 85). She had also rejected three marriage proposals during that time (Ashby 102).

Also wanting to start a school with her sisters in their hometown of Haworth, she and Emily travelled to Brussels to learn foreign languages in 1842. They left abruptly when their aunt died and Charlotte was asked to return to Brussels in January 1843 as a teacher (Hinkley 73). Charlotte tried to get her best friend, Ellen Nussey, to go with her but she refused. In a letter, Charlotte wrote: “During the cold weather I did not regret that you had not accompanied me…If you were to pass a winter in Belgium you would be ill” (Hinkley 75). She only stayed for a short time though.

It was rumored that either Charlotte began developing feelings for her professor, M. Heger (Ashby 100), or that his wife, Mme. Heger, and Charlotte had a very poor relationship, which constantly interfered with Charlotte’s teaching (Blain, Clements, and Grundy 140). During late 1852, Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls proposed to her, but she declined because her father had asked her to. Nonetheless, she changed her mind and married Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls during the June of 1854 (Shattock 65). She also befriended Elizabeth Gaskell, another writer, in 1850. Charlotte was the last Bronte sibling to pass away.

In 1855, she died due to pregnancy complications (Sutherland 86). Charlotte wrote many novels in her lifetime. She is most popularly known as the author of Jane Eyre, published in 1847 under her pen

name of Currer Bell. The novel was written from her own experiences as a teacher and governess. The novel’s heroine, Jane Eyre, grows up in an abusive household with her aunt and cousins after the death of her parents. Her aunt, who believes Jane’s impulsive behavior will rub off on her own children, sends her off to Lowood School (Ashby 101), which was inspired by Charlotte’s attendance at Cowan Bridge Clergy Daughters’ School.

As Jane grows older, she leaves the school and is offered a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall, home to the mysterious Mr. Rochester. Captivated by his character, she finds herself drawn to him and the mysteries that surround his house (Sutherland 327). In 1849, Charlotte published Shirley, a novel she herself called “[as] unromantic as Monday morning” (qtd. in Sutherland 574). Shirley is about Robert Gerard Moore, a man with financial problems who is caught between two loves: his first love, Caroline Helstone, and Shirley Keeldar, a beautiful heiress (Sutherland 574).

Emily Bronte is said to have been the inspiration for the character of Shirley because of the similarities in their personalities (Bald 77). She also wrote two novels that many think were about her rumored crush for M. Heger, portraying him and herself as characters in her novels. One of those novels is an autobiographical novel called Villette, published in 1853. The story is told from the first person point-of-view of Lucy Snow, a teacher who falls in love with her fellow colleague Paul Emmanuel.

They both have a hard time confessing their love for each other as Madame Beck, the school proprietress, constantly interferes with

their relationship (Sutherland 652). Later in 1857, Charlotte published her first realistic novel, The Professor. The novel is about William Crimsworth, a professor in Brussels. While a school proprietress tries to win his favor, he falls for his student Frances Henri (513). The two younger Brontes were Emily and Anne. Emily Jane, younger than Charlotte by two years, was born on August 20, 1818 (Shattock 65).

She attended Roe Head to write poems that were later collected and published in 1841. In 1837, Emily taught at Law Hill in Halifax for six months (Blain, Clements, and Grundy 140). Later, she travelled with Charlotte to Brussels after leaving behind her career as a governess and pursued her dream of teaching a school in their hometown of Haworth (Sutherland 85). However, the dream failed because nobody wanted to travel to their small town for school (Ashby 100). In 1848, after attending Branwell’s funeral, she caught a cold that worsened her mild tuberculosis and died after refusing medical help (Shattock 66).

Though she only wrote one novel in her short lifetime, her usage of profanity in her novel Wuthering Heights made many consider her a wild spirit during the time era (Cameron), but also proved her a great writer. “Indolent she is, reckless she is, and her dreams are rare—her feelings peculiar; she does not know, has never known, and will die without knowing, the full value of that spring whose bright fresh bubbling in her heart keeps it green” (Bald 77). Anne was the baby of the Bronte family, born on March 25, 1820 (Shattock 62).

She, like her sisters, pursued the career of

governess, but unlike them, she was the most successful at the job. In 1839, she was hired by the Ingham family at Blake Hall but was dismissed shortly afterward. While she searched for another position, she fell in love with her father’s assistant, Willie Weightman. However, he died two years later (Blain, Clements, and Grundy 141). She then began working for the Robinson family in 1840. In 1843, Branwell joined her in tutoring. Not too long after, Branwell’s affair with Reverend Robinson’s wife was discovered by the Reverend and both were fired.

Anne was always overshadowed by her older sisters and their successes, but she wrote a couple novels of her own before she passed away from tuberculosis in 1849 (Sutherland 85-86). Emily and Anne Bronte wrote some novels in their short lives. Emily’s one and only novel Wuthering Heights was published in 1847 under her pen name of Ellis Bell. The novel was harshly criticized but later became “[the] twentieth century’s favourite nineteenth-century novel” (Sutherland 682). The novel is about the love of the antisocial Heathcliff and his first love, Catherine (682).

Charlotte, having read the novel herself, wrote in a letter that “[The novel’s] power fills me with renewed admiration; but yet I am oppressed…every page is surcharged with a sort of moral electricity; and the writer was unconscious of all this— nothing could make her conscious of it” (Hinkley 318). Anne, under the name of Acton Bell, published Agnes Grey in 1847. The novel is about eighteen-year old Agnes Grey who finds a job as a governess to help support her family. She becomes the teacher of Rosalie, who both

fall in love with Edward Weston (Sutherland 11).

As a governess, Agnes Grey teaches her students the same subjects that Anne and her sisters had wanted to teach when they wanting to start their own school: Latin, French, German, drawing, and music (Hurst 143). A year later, Anne published The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, a novel that uses Branwell’s alcoholism in one of the characters in the story. Charlotte disapproved of the novel, saying “[Anne’s] choice of subject was an entire mistake” (qtd. in Shattock 63). The storyline is written as an exchange of letters between Gilbert Markham and his brother-in-law. Markham tells his brother about a Ms.

Graham, who he eventually learns is Helen Huntingdon, a woman in an abusive marriage with an alcohol addict (Sutherland 622). Elizabeth Gaskell is, without a doubt, an authoress who caused a lot of controversy with her novels. Born on September 29, 1810, Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson was raised in Chelsea, London to Unitarian parents (Shattock 176). When she was a year old, her mother died and she was sent to live with her Aunt Lumb in Knutsford (Sutherland 239). According to Wiehe, those days were the happiest days in her life until her brother, John, disappeared on a voyage in 1823.

His disappearance changed her and the event became a conflict in several of her novels. On top of that, her father had remarried and she did not like her stepmother. When Elizabeth was seventeen, her father became paralyzed, so she nursed him for the next two years until his death in 1829. In August of 1832, she married Reverend William Gaskell and moved to

Manchester. The couple had five kids: Marianna, Margaret Emily, Florence, Julia, and William. Unfortunately, at the age of ten months (Wiehe), William died from scarlet fever and, to distract herself from grief, Elizabeth began writing (Sutherland 240).

Elizabeth wrote many short stories and published them in Charles Dickens’s magazines (Merriman). She often travelled with her daughters using the money she got from publishing her stories. After purchasing a home as a surprise for her husband, she died from a stroke on November 12, 1865 (Wiehe). Most all of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels caused controversy in society. That was most likely due to her themes of feminism and rebellious heroines. Under the pseudonym of Mrs. Gaskell, she published her first novel Mary Barton in 1848 (Sutherland 418).

The novel features protagonist Mary Barton who is caught between her love, Jem Wilson, and admirer, Henry Carson. When her father is assigned to murder Carson, Jem is accused due to the love triangle and Mary must choose between confessing to her father’s crime or her love for Wilson (Wiehe). Her next novel was Ruth which was published in 1853. The main character, Ruth Hilton, is impregnated and abandoned by Henry Callingham and taken in by a hunchback named Thurston Benson who helps her gain a career as a governess with the supposed identity of a widower (Sutherland 548).

In 1855, Gaskell published one of her most renowned novels, North and South. The title itself caused chaos due to the rivalry between Northern and Southern England. The novel’s heroine, Margaret Hale, moves from the South to the North. She falls for mill owner John Thorton little by

little and must battle obstacles that try to prevent her from being with him, along with enduring the never-ending conflict of England’s two sides (468-469). Gaskell wrote several other novels, like Sylvia’s Lovers in 1863 about Sylvia Robinson who is in love with her cousin, Philip Hepburn, and whale hunter, Charley Kinraid (617).

Another novel is Cousin Phillis in 1865, narrated by Paul Manning who introduces his cousin Phillis to his senior, Edward Holdsworth, later realizing that he loves her (154). Her last novel was Wives and Daughters. Though she died before it was finished, it was later completed and published in 1866. The story revolves around the widowed Mr. Gibson and his beautiful daughter, Molly. After he remarries a former governess and takes in her daughter, both girls enter in relationships tangled in secrecy and heartbreak (676). Of the many pen names from this era, Mary Ann Evan’s is the most renowned.

On November 22, 1819, in Arbury, Warwickshire, Mary Ann was born to Unitarian parents, Robert and Christina Evans. When she was a teenager, her mother died and she was left to take care of her father (Pusch). In 1841, when her father retired from his profession, they moved to the city of Coventry where she joined a historical bible study with Charles Bray, a famous British philosopher. After many study sessions, she became a skeptic and declared that she would no longer regularly attend church. Her father nearly disowned her. In 1851, she became the assistant editor for the Westminster Review.

Evans became the talk of the town when she entered a relationship with a legally married man. The

man was the publisher of the Review, George Henry Lewes, whose wife had left him and their three kids. In 1853, Mary Ann moved in with him and was shunned from society because of her unacceptable actions (Allingham). Because of her poor reputation, she wrote her novels under the nom de plume of George Eliot (Pusch). She also changed the spelling of her own name often; originally written out as “Mary Anne,” she took out the “e” in 1836. In 1850, she altered it to “Marian. She changed it back in 1880 to “Mary Ann” (Cameron).

When Lewes died in 1878, she married J. W. Cross, who was twenty years younger than her. The marriage was short, however, because she died seven months later from heart failure (Pusch). Mary Ann Evans published many novels during her life. Of all her novels, only one bears her real name. In 1854, she translated from German and published Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity. In 1858, Scenes of Clerical Life, her first story collection, was published under her pen name George Eliot (Sutherland 556).

The book consists of three short stories: “The Sad Fortune of the Reverend Amos Barton,” “Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story,” and “Janet’s Repentance” (557). Her first novel was Adam Bede, published in 1859. Set in the early 1800s, the story follows a man named Adam Bede who has financial as well as social problems (7). Sources say that the character of Adam Bede is based on her father (“George Eliot: Biography and Works”). She later wrote The Mill on the Floss, her autobiographical novel, which was published in 1860 and about her relationship with George

Henry Lewes.

The protagonist of the story is Maggie, whose father owns a mill near the Floss River. She secretly befriends Philip, the son of her father’s rival (Sutherland 433-434). In 1859, Mary Ann published The Lifted Veil, a story about a clairvoyant man who senses destruction in his brother’s bride (375). Later, in 1861, she published Silas Marner about a man named Silas who, with everything going against him, finds solace when a baby he names Eppie crawls onto his doorsteps (576). Then, she wrote Romola, her first and only historical novel (574) as well as her least successful novel, and published it in 1863.

Mary Ann’s most successful novel was Middlemarch, which she started writing in 1869 (211) and finally finished and published it in 1872 (574). The fictional story is set in the early nineteenth century. The story follows the lives of two orphans named Dorothea and Celia Brooke, Dr. Ludgate, and Fred Vincy, whose paths cross as they try to find love in the Midlands, the region between the North and the South (432-433). Her last novel was Daniel Deronda, published in 1876. It is a novel about a man named Daniel Deronda who knows nothing about his past.

One day, he meets a girl named Mirah Lapidoth, whose brother aids him in his quest to discover his past (169). Without a doubt, the novels of the Brontes, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Mary Ann Evans are what made them known today. Their novels are romantic, enticing, and all about the strength of the female. During the Victorian Era, it was not unusual for female writers to go under pseudonyms

for it provided the writer a wider audience of readers, be it male or female. The Bronte Sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, wrote novels from their own experience in life.

Charlotte, the most successful and longest living Bronte member, wrote novels from her experiences as governess and her rumored love for her professor. Emily Bronte, though she only wrote one novel in her lifetime, it is still one of the most popular literature works of today. Anne Bronte was the youngest in the family and even though she was always stuck under her sisters’ shadows and her novels did not gain as much popularity, she was the most successful governess. Elizabeth Gaskell, though the reverend’s wife, wrote about topics that caused controversy within her society.

Though her novels were harshly criticized and looked down upon, the novels also made her name known. Lastly, the authoress Mary Ann Evans, known more widely by her pen name George Eliot, and though a scandalous woman she was, she still wrote and published many successful novels. Their writings were more than mere words on pages. Their writings were their inner thoughts and voices and if it were not for their novels that set the standards for today’s literature, the literary world would not be the same.

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