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In the Bliss of Bronte: How Reading Bronte Sisters Emancipates us from Orthodox Tradition

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By: Rifat Raees khan

As many feminist theories and political slogans of women emancipation are found to be inadequate, to be enchanted by Bronte cult may assist in unexpected ways. Three sisters Charlotte, Emily and Ann Bronte who wrote in nineteen century and despite being rejected and criticised by the writers, publishers and critics alike survived every attack and earned a place in a highly patriarchal society.

In a patriarchal tradition it was natural that different standards prevailed for women and men as authors. The issues of gender were raised in Bronte work from earliest days as Elizabeth Rigby remarked when reviewing Jane Eyre in her early years that it must be written by a man as it gets domestic details wrong.

Although many women writers used male pen names to avoid criticism for being women. It has been proposed that it was the adoption of an androgynous pseudonym, Currer Bell, which allowed Bronte to project herself beyond the confines of proper domestic womanhood.

Once Bronte successfully breached the boundary and confinement of trivial domesticity, it was nurtured by the supremacy of female protagonists in five of the sister’s novels. Each replaced heroes with heroines who instead of maturing in bildungsroman fashion into creatures of humility, shyness, restraints, self-deprecation and dependence, shows signs of unfeminine qualities of self-reliance and free spirited.  As the protagonist of Jane Eyre proclaims:  

 I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.

Her protagonist prefers to live alone than to sell her spirit:

I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”

Bronte’s protagonists question the conventions. They evoke a perception of women’s consciousness in the nineteen century when to have a consciousness that spark in an entirely different light than the male counterparts was out of question. Their protagonists do not seem to accept their fate they find the courage to look into the eyes of their miserable circumstances and direct their steps right towards their destiny that has not been bestowed upon them by a divine decree but rather they themselves yield it by coping with all the chaos, drama and wretchedness of their lives.  .

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”

In her novel ‘Wuthering Heights’ Emily Bronte depicts a protagonist who loves not because of some romantic notion that was typical of that age.  But her depiction of love between Catherine and Heathcliff implies towards a modern concept of compatibility between couples that goes beyond physical and material aspect of love and marriage. When Catherine opens her heart and confesses her love for Heathcliff she proudly announces her rejection of physical charms and makes it conspicuous to have a love that is as mysterious as her reason of not  marrying her lover:

He shall never know I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made out of, his and mine are the same.

The reason for her rejection of Heathcliff as a spouse and selecting Linton instead, has been interpreted by Critics in different ways. Renowned Marxists critic Terry Eagleton unfolds it as her conformity to the convention of capitalist society. He regards her rejection of Heathcliff as her willingness to keep outcast and inferior to her and Linton in social class on arm’s length.

  I personally do not find the argument convincing as I find this very fact that she has been depicted to have the power to decide for herself far more fascinating and invigorating, than to find the solace she might have shown to find in her lover’s company.  This excruciating act is her own will as Heathcliff says: 

Why did you betray your own heart Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. … You loved me – then what right had you to leave me? Because … nothing God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it.

Catherine longing for being a girl again seems to challenge timid, civilised and confined souls of the women of not only nineteen century but it echoes as a sweet melody  in the ears of modern women and rings a bell to get the reign of their lives in their own hands.  She remembers her younger self as being free:

 I wish I were a girl again, half-savage and hardy, and free.

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