Monday, 14 June 2010

Elaine Showalter and Lucasta Miller


Boris Skilet writes:


To end activities on Saturday people assembled in the Baptist church in anticipation of hearing Elaine Showalter, professor emeritus at Princeton University- who is at the forefront of feminist literary criticism- in conversation with Lucasta Miller author of the erudite book The Brontë Myth. They discussed the enormous impact the Brontës have had on women’s writing from the nineteenth century to the present day.


It was interesting to hear- bearing in mind Southey’s advice to Charlotte that literature was not the business of a woman’s life- that Showalter said that in America, even in the nineteenth century American novels. Here dreamy, intelligent girls, verbally abused at home, fantasised about being rich and were sent away to school where they met devout and dutiful ‘Helen Burns’ like characters and orphans followed the trajectory of Jane Eyre. century, it would be inconceivable that anyone would ever think that the ‘Bells’ were men. After describing the battle between selfless femininity and artistic creativity- which resulted in the story of Louisa May Alcott’s own personal Civil War- the United States finally had a novel that rivalled Jane Eyre. The themes of the rebellious girl and the madwoman in the attic- who often was a metaphorical double for the heroine and the author- came together in many mid nineteenth century works.

Lucasta Miller described how, when she was supposed to be working on a thesis about Milton, she had a compulsion to read any books concerning the Brontes and her imagination was gripped by the story of their lives. Indeed she felt that the Brontes of Haworth themselves have become popular characters on a level with Jane Eyre, Rochester, Cathy and Heathcliff.



As usual questions were invited at the end of this interesting evening and the answer to one was that Anne Bronte has never been particularly popular in America and Lucasta Miller explained that her own book concentrates almost exclusively on the two eldest sisters at the expense of Anne.


I think that the majority of the audience there, if asked, would have ended the evening by agreeing with the Irish novelist George Moore who wrote- in the early years of the twentieth century- a glowing report on Anne and her novels. He said that she had all the qualities of Austen and if she had lived ten years longer she would have taken her place, possibly a higher one, with Austen. My opinion is that the jury- those present at the closing event on the second day of the Brontë weekend- would have most certainly delivered the verdict that her legacy was that she should not be judged as just the youngest Brontë but a major literary figure in her own right. 

Below, Elaine Showalter:

 

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