Fall 1947 • Vol. IX No. 4 Nonfiction |

The Brontës: A Centennial Observance (Reconsiderations VIII)

When Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights appeared in 1847, they were widely denounced as coarse, immoral, and subversive. Later Mrs. Humphrey Ward and the Bronte Society came to cherish the Brontës—"these dear women," one member called them—as Romantic rebels against repressive conventions and as writers who had made "passion" a part of the novelistic tradition: the Society was safe in this attitude, for neither Jane Eyre nor Catherine Earnshaw had violated the marriage law—and Wordsworth had after all spoken of passion. The 19th Century critical vocabulary, which depended so heavily on words like "rebellion," 'passion," and "imagination," was often inaccurate; and Victorian criticism of the Brontës remains nebulous—nebulously rhapsodic as in Swinburne's A Note on Charlotte Brontë or nebulously ethical as, say, in the writing of A. C. Benson, from whom the following passage is taken: Charlotte Brontë's new philosophy of love . . . was not a revolt against tame and forma

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Richard Chase (1914-1962) was a literary critic and a Professor of English at Columbia University. He is known for his work The American Novel and Its Tradition.

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