The Brontes-Literary Success-Part 1

The huge and immediate success of Jane Eyre finally goaded Thomas Newby into publishing Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey. The latter was ignored by the reviewers, but Wuthering Heights attracted their interest – even if they could not decide what to make of it. The absence of any kind of moral in the tale, indeed the absence of any moral structure in the universe it described, was puzzling and disturbing to the reviewers, but one wrote that ‘if the rank of a work of fiction is to depend solely on it’s naked imaginative power, then this is one of the greatest novels in the language.’ It is a question which has divided readers of Emily Bronte ever since. Both Emily and Anne agreed terms with Newby for their second novels, and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published in June 1848. Its subject matter intensified the attacks on the ‘coarse Bell brothers’ as being obsessed with vicious and debauched behaviour. The theme is the plight of a woman whose husband has given himself up to drunkenness and bad company, and her right (not then at all accepted by society) to leave him and take her child away too. It was probably inspired by the experiences of a Mrs Collins, who had poured out her heart to the Brontes, and whose husband was actually a clergyman. To modern eyes it seems a highly moral story, and Anne was certainly conscientiously religious, but religious attitudes change over time. Many people then believed that sweeping nasty facts under the carpet was vital, so that they did not corrupt innocent minds. To Anne the misunderstanding must have been galling, but the hostile reviews were great publicity. Sales were excellent!


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