Celebrating the Brontë sisterhood on International Women's Day

Few authors have contributed more to the world of literature than the Brontë sisters, and yet they wrote under male pseudonyms. At The Harrison we celebrate the Brontë sisters with a room named after them.

The sisters chose to adopt male personas, with Charlotte choosing Currer Bell, Emily choosing Ellis Bell, and Anne choosing Acton Bell as the prejudices against women in Britain at this time meant that only men could be taken seriously as writers. There were rumours and speculation over the identity of the Bells back in the day, with some critics suggesting that they may, scandalously, be women.

When Charlotte Brontë sent some of her early poems poet laureate Robert Southey he replied “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life: & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it.”

Mia Wasikowska playing Jane Eyre the movie.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is well known for being a groundbreaking feminist novel of its day depicting a woman fighting against the social constraints of her era, refusing to comply with contemporary expectations of her gender, asserting that ‘women feel as men feel’.

Tara Fitzgerald playing Helen in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

However Anne Brontë, addressed women's rights in her preface of the lesser read ‘The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall’: “Little can it matter whether the writer is a man, or a woman as one or two of my critics profess to have discovered. I make no effort to refute it, because, in my own mind, I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.”

‘The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall’ was seen as shocking in its time, not just because of the frank depictions of alcoholism and cruelty, but because the heroine, Helen, is a free thinking woman who considers herself the equal of any man. She leaves her husband, and takes on a new identity unencumbered by society’s expectation that she should be married and subjugated to a man.

Anne Brontë has been seen as one of the first proto-feminist writers, and in 1913 the writer and suffragist May Sinclair wrote that the noise of Helen slamming the bedroom door in Arthur’s face had reverberated throughout Victorian England.

The Brontë room at The Harrison.

You can stay in the Brontë room at The Harrison and read these novels from our bookshelves.

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