The Brontë Sisters: a New Friendly Polymath/Brooklyn Brainery Class
Jen from the Brooklyn Brainery asked me to write up a description for the latest class I’m offering on the Brontë sisters. I’ve loved Charlotte and Anne Brontë’s writing since I was a teenager (though I have a harder time liking Emily’s Wuthering Heights), so I’m super excited to be able to offer this class.
It’s on three consecutive Wednesdays, 3/21, 3/28, and 4/4. Each class will focus loosely on a different sister, and I’ll tie the whole subject together with a lot of references to and readings from their works. It should be an awesome time, so y’all come!
Here’s the synopsis I wrote:
Some literature just shouldn’t be taught in schools. Not because it’s too racy or too incomprehensible, but because a two-week reading and a list of comprehension questions just go nowhere towards describing the historical and literary context needed to really understand and appreciate the real power of a great novel.
This is definitely the case with the Bronte sisters. If you’re anything like me, you might have read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights in school and not gotten a lot out of them. You may never even have heard of Agnes Grey, Villette, or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Yet each of these novels has something fascinating to say about the time and place in which they were written, and the people who wrote or influenced them — as any lucky person who rereads these books in adulthood will find.
Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte themselves are in many ways more interesting than the works of literature they produced. The more you know about their lives, the more questions you long to ask.
How could meek, sheltered clergyman’s daughters from the far north of England produce intense, morally ambivalent characters like Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester? The sisters each have a great deal to say on the rights and desires of women, but what do their writings on that subject mean, and can they really be considered feminists? If the sisters were intensely religious, as their writings show, then where does the thread of religious skepticism running through their books come from?
This class attempts both to answer those questions and to show what we can learn about our past and ourselves from reading old books.We’ll touch on historiography, 19th century literary history, the Luddite and Chartist revolts, Victorian morals and manners, the role of single women in society, and much more. There’s no need to have read any of the sisters’ novels beforehand, but I certainly hope you’ll want to pick them up afterwards.
Y’all come! You can sign up for the class here, or if you can’t make it, you’ll be able to find the class notes on this site after each class.