Bronte Sisters: Initial Consciousness of Female Independence

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Representation of Women in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  3. Conclusion
  4. References


In the nineteenth century, male dominated the world of literature. Even so, it is often referred to as the age of the female novelist (Showalter 3). The reason being, that it is characterized by great women writers such as Jane Austen, George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Shelley and the Brontë sisters. These women are just some examples of women writers that were able to contribute to the literary scene in the nineteenth century, which had previously been dominated by men and in many ways still was. Women writers faced many obstacles when trying to write novels, since girls were restricted from reading various types of literature.

Overall, didactic fiction was used by parents, as a tool to educate girls on how they were supposed to behave. In addition, it was important that they learned how to control their passions and be modest in everything they did. They were supposed to know the conventions of their sphere, which was to be the household fairy or a proper lady. That meant that they were supposed to be innocent and pure, while also realizing that they were inferior to men. Therefore, it was important for girls to read novels that had a heroine that could guide them in how to behave and express themselves in a proper way (Rowbotham 22). This created a difficulty for women writers, for they were supposed to follow certain rules when writing novels and there were limits to what was considered socially acceptable. Nevertheless, there were writers, such as the Brontë sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot that deliberately went against these rules. They did that through their heroines, by showing the society that women could be passionate and strong. Moreover, they showed how women were trapped in the domestic sphere, when in fact, they should be able to participate in the public sphere. In a way, these female authors themselves challenged the norm by entering the public sphere when they decided to become writers. However, if a woman wanted to be a writer, she had to understand that her priority was to be a woman and that was always supposed to be her main profession. Therefore, her career as a writer would always come second to that, even though men could make it their first and foremost career. Therefore, “self-sacrifice, not self-sufficiency was the mark of professionalism for women” (Rowbotham 21). Hence, women often used a male pseudonym to escape the limits that were placed on them; such was the case for George Eliot and the Brontë sisters. Anne Brontë went under the name Acton Bell and her novels were published by T.C. Newby, a minor publisher. Emily Brontë used the same publisher and Wuthering Heights was published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. Furthermore, Smith, Elder, and Co. published Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre, under the pseudonym Currer Bell. The reason for publishing under pseudonyms was so that they could cross over the boundaries that had been laid on women writers. Furthermore, they wanted to be valued and ranked on the same level as men. Since women writers were always compared to other women writers and they were judged for being women, usually because of the stereotype women were inferior and not as intellectual as men. Indeed, women were patronized by male critics and this was extremely common in the nineteenth century.

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In the first half of 19th century, the United Kingdom in the Victorian era was still dominated by males, only few opportunities left for females. However, as the Bronte Sisters were becoming famous with their three classical novels: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the curtain of feminist movement was rising and women started to compete for their own rights. The novels of the Bronte sisters focused on the struggles and faced by women due to social class and expectations during the time period. The Bronte sisters used their writing as a way to gain independence in a world that did not allow women to be independent. Emily wrote a single novel, Wuthering Heights, while Charlotte and Anne went on to publish several novels. For female writers during the Victorian era, writing was a way to gain independence in a world that held women back. Literature from the Victorian time period gives insight into what trials and tribulations women went through. Thus, the Bronte Sisters’ works marked a new stage in the development of the English novels. In the treatment of the social relations and conditions they are realistic and, from this point of view, might be regarded as the first representatives of critical realism in England. But they also established an entirely new, passionately emotional and romantic quality in their novels.

The Brontë sisters will be discussed to illustrate women writers that challenged the patriarchal society of the nineteenth century. Through their novels and their heroines, the sisters addressed issues that their society faced and they did this in their own unique ways. Special emphasis is placed on Charlotte Brontë and Anne Brontë, as well as their novels. Charlotte and Anne concerned themselves predominantly with problems such as gender roles and equality between the sexes. However, they were also concerned with the education of women and issues concerning the domestic sphere. The novels discussed are Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. The novels in question can be considered as feminist novels. Indeed, the key aspect discussed in Jane Eyre is the empowerment of women through the heroine, Jane Eyre, as well as her demand for equality. Moreover, the battle for women’s rights and independence is explored in the The Tenant of Wildfell Hall through the novel’s heroine, Helen Huntingdon.

Wuthering Heights was regarded as the most alone novel in British Literature. This work besides expressed its consciousness of female independency in a really different manner. In Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte describes the society from a completely individual point of view for the first time. While many of the great Victorian of the early to middle period, they deal more explicitly with moral and social concern than she does. Emily expresses more of the primitive and spiritual side of the human spirit in the novel, which is excessively concealed in this period of time. Catherine’s persistent, daring struggle for the true love is a symbol of the awakening of women consciousness in love and in marriage. Though she marries Edgar to get a better life, her love is left on Heathcliff. She dares to rebel against the tyranny as she clearly knows who her real love is. Catherine speaks out Victorian women’s ambivalence --- she longs for freedom and her true self. Whenever she wants to escape the shackles, those who put them on her will hold them tight and punish her painfully enough to make her surrender. Equality is a very important foundation for happiness in love and marriage. The equality between men and women is the sublimation of personal independence and freedom. In Catherine’s opinion, equality between men and women does not only refer to equal position and equal rights in the society, it also means the spiritual equality and soul similarity in heaven. Thus, keeping self-integrity is of utmost importance to Catherine. This is really a bold voice in 19th century England. As some feminists have pointed out, Catherine is like the turning-point of the era. She endures the change of the ideas, that’s why she endures a lot of tortures in the novel.

Jane Eyre is set at the start of the Victorian era, which spanned from 1837 to 1901, and was characterized by British global dominance. It was a time of peace and prosperity, but also one marked by a tension between stark traditionalism and growing individualism. Jane Eyre’s role as a feminine protagonist within a male-dominated society and the distinctly feminist role she plays within that society display a certain dichotomy which draws in manifestations of feminism from both Jane Eyre as a character as well Charlotte Brontë in her capacity as an author to provide commentary on contemporary society.

In her capacity as a character who represents the female perspective of the 19th century, Jane Eyre presents strong feminist arguments among her male counterparts concerning the role of women in society. In particular, Jane directly confronts and debates the idea that equality is determined by age or on the basis of gender or sex, noting to Mr. Rochester, “your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience” (Brontë 157). What we see in Jane’s audible expression is a manifestation of her beliefs as a female character implying that her own experience and use of time rivals that of Mr. Rochester. Jane promotes an idea radical for the time that claims to superiority are dependent not on the basis of sex or gender but rather on how we make use of our own resources as a part of this greater fabric that is society.

As an author, though, Charlotte Brontë, in her capacity to control Jane Eyre as a character, displays instances in which we see Jane move toward a different manifestation of feminism from the one viewed prior, one which we see not audibly but rather internally. Within her own thoughts, Jane seems to display more nuanced feminism, one which at times takes in the role of servitude as being integral to feminism itself. “But Servitude! That must be matter of fact. Anyone may serve. I have served here eight years now; now all I want is to serve elsewhere. Can I get so much of my will?” (Brontë 102). This inner debate displays another manifestation of Jane’s own feminism, potentially one that is influenced more directly by Charlotte Brontë in her role as both an autobiographer and as the creator of Jane herself. In this sense, Jane expresses feminist sentiment by evoking ideas of freedom and desire to escape a current position but at the same time remain in a position of servitude elsewhere. Therefore, Jane Eyre had become a authoritative among all the independent female character. No affair hapless or rich, beautiful or ugly, all can hold a nice bosom and a rich head, an character of independency and the personal live of strength, accomplishing the equality in spirit between work forces and adult females.

Representation of Women in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Quite different from the romantic ideologies of Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte, Anne Bronte employs extreme realism to depict her ideas. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an example for that. It is essentially a social commentary which investigates the social role of women. Though set in England, it is relevant to all regions and all cultures. It has become a controversial book as it presents bold attempts of women.

To a woman living in the Victorian period, quitting a husband was an unimaginable act. Anne Bronte is a courageous woman who frankly portrayed such a woman character in the novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Her audacious voice has, in fact, heralded a new era in English fiction (Jansson, 41). There was a purposeful departure from the established practices of the contemporary world. In the hands of Anne, female characters have won absolute freedom to question the conventions of the society. At the same time, she is not blind to the fact that women are oppressed in all societies.

Even though minor ones, the other female characters in the novel communicate certain messages to the public. Their characterization exposes the characteristics of women in male centered social affairs. Eliza Millward is a character whom Gilbert flirts with initially. Here, Anne signifies that woman is a tool for men to indulge in love and sex. Similarly, Millicent Hargrave, Rose and Fergus Markham convey some elements of women of the time (Clapp, 118).

Helen is a powerful character who represents the strong sides of womanhood. She realizes the fact that women are subjugated in every society. What she can all do is to suffer the ill-treatment of the domineering males. However, Helen thinks quite differently. Protest is what dominates the text. She believes that a new world order will materialize only if women start to react. She slams the door in the face of her cruel husband and this clearly shows the feminine protest.

In general, the society considers women as a second rate citizen. They are denied of many privileges such as freewill and freedom. Through the characterization of Helen, Anne means that women should not be constrained within the four walls of their homes. They have to come forward to change the very face of the society. Women have a role in family as well as society. Without their participation, society is absolutely incomplete.

The novel is realistic in nature and it depicts certain life like situations of the contemporary world. Throughout the expanse of the world, it can be seen that there are both the oppressor and the oppressed. The sad thing is that women are the oppressed section for all time. However, certain bold voices are sure to come out from many corners. Helen’s is one among them. She represents the aspirations of a large number of people, especial women, who dream a unique world with no gender discrimination. In this sense, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a remarkable attempt from a woman to facilitate better living environment for the entire women upon the earth (Senf, 449).


While reading these novels, it is clear that Bronte sisters have taken utmost care in portraying each and every woman character. Some of the characters exhibit different emotions. Submission and subjugation are also presented in these novels. They present them only to make people aware that these are the common problems faced by women in society.

After scoping through all these three sisters’ lives and novels, we can easily find their consciousness of female independence so reasonable and so influential. Their background, their family environment, their living social situation and their methods of studying all contributed to their consciousness of female independence, which was also intensely expressed in their works. From their historical values of each novel, they are really entitled to the most excellent work through ages till now.

In their novels, Jane Eyre, Helen and Catherine respectively possessed a kind of consciousness of female independence in their own way. Jane Eyre’s eternal pursuits of true love in spirit, Helen’s indomitable spirit to the traditional rules and the Catherine earnest desire of freedom and the fusion of souls all typically represented the general British women’s thirsts for the freedom in spirit, equality in love and the independence in life in the age of Victoria.

As women writers, the Bronte Sisters gave their characters initial consciousness of women independence under their pencils, evoking all the women to realize that women should have their independent thoughts and actions, should have their own personalities and dignities. This is what the Bronte Sisters essentially left in their novels, an enlightenment for us offspring.


  1. Bronte, Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. London: Penguin, 1996.
  2. Brontë, Charlotte (2008). Jane Eyre. Radford, Virginia: Wilder Publications.
  3. Bronte Emily.Wuthering Heights. Dover, 1996.
  4. 'The Bronte Sisters Consciousness Of Female Independence English Literature Essay.' All Answers Ltd., November 2018. Web. 26 November 2019.
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