16 April 2013
The Renowned Female Authors of the Victorian Era
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 [novel’s] 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 Brontë 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 Brontë Sisters can be put into that category. The Brontë Sisters consisted of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, born to Patrick Brontë 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 live 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 Brontë 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 Brontë 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...
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