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"What Should I Read Next?" An Austen-Brontë Read-Alike Compilation

Greetings, Janeites! Welcome back to JASP’s latest series, Austen vs. Brontë. As someone who has read more (and more frequently) Austen than Brontë (shh, don’t tell!) I have often wondered which of the three sisters’ work I would most enjoy based on my great passion for all of Austen’s writing. Her six novels are quite different in style, mood, and sentiment, and I love and appreciate them all for varying reasons. Just like there is an Austen novel (or three or six) for everyone, I firmly believe there is a novel by one of the Brontë sisters for everyone, too. In this article, I have compiled a literary profile for each of Dear Jane’s novels, pairing it with a Brontë counterpart. Read on to discover which books by Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Brontë you should read next based on your Jane Austen reading taste.


 

The Novels





The Brontë sisters published seven novels amongst themselves. Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre (1847), Shirley (1849), Villette (1853), and The Professor (1857). Emily authored Wuthering Heights (1847), and Anne wrote Agnes Grey (1847), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).




Novels of The Sisters Bronte by Yorkshire artist Roo Waterhouse.






Jane Austen, as we all know and love, penned and published six novels: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (1817).





Jane Austen, also by Roo Waterhouse.


A Note on Style & Content


Jane Austen began work on many of her novels in the late 1790s, although they all were published later, from 1811-1817. This means her writing spanned both the Georgian and Regency Eras, with emphasis in her writing on the positive and negative aspects of British societal norms. However, this being said, Austen did not belong to one specific literary movement; she was neither Neoclassicist nor Romantic. The Brontë sisters fall into the Victorian category, with novels published from 1847-1857.


Another difference to note are the figures who walk the pages of the stories. Austen's novels are mainly comprised of middle and upper class characters. Being the daughter of a clergyman, Austen was not well-off, but she used her unique position as a writer to touch on and illuminate the flaws of the gentry. Her work is infused with social critique, sparkling satire, and thoughtful reflection. The Brontës, incidentally also the daughters of a clergyman, focused largely on poor or working class characters, aiming especially to shed light on the experiences of women in the workforce with directness, fresh sincerity, and charged passion. Austen, who used subversive wit to prove her points, is less blatant and overtly passionate than the Brontës, whose work nods at Gothic and sentimental traditions.


Austen's novels grapple with ideas of manners, propriety, intelligence, beauty, decisions, and consequences-of-actions for both family units and individuals. She does employ more Victorian elements in her books on occasion, including, but not limited to questionable characters, routine formal gatherings in society, and scandal. While many of Austen's characters may discuss shameful transgressions second-hand or quickly deal with them, instances like these take prevalence in many Brontë novels. The literary sisters did not shy away from discussing and dissecting misbehavior in their writing, no matter how shocking it may be for the public. (Bring out the smelling salts, my friends!)


With these differences in mind, let's embark on a journey to find your next perfect book.


The List


First up? Jane Austen's eternal favorite, Pride and Prejudice. This novel is chock-full of irony, humor, classicism, rational thought, and social hierarchy. If you liked Pride and Prejudice, you should consider reading Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. It, like Pride and Prejudice, ambitiously critiques societal position and stars an intelligent, independent woman.


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was a literary trailblazer for its time, and is a perfect example of Anne Brontë’s vivid descriptions, true-to-life character development, and poetic finesse. The novel is epistolary, and narrated by the kind hearted but quick-to-judge Gilbert Markham through a series of letters.


(While none of Austen's novels are comprised solely of written correspondence, her immensely clever gem, Lady Susan, from her Juvenilia, is an epistolary work.)



Let's continue with another Austen/Anne Brontë mashup, pairing Sense and Sensibility and Agnes Grey. Incidentally, these two are the first books published by both authors. Sense and Sensibility, originally attributed to "A Lady", helped cement Austen as a writer in the public eye and paved the way for her future novels' success.


Agnes Grey, (first published under the pen-name of Acton Bell), is a reflection of Anne Brontë's clarity of mind and personal vision. The story is quiet, subtle, restrained, yet full of wit, inner turmoil, and passion at times. I would argue that while mood and content differ, both Sense and Sensibility and Agnes Grey resemble one another. Elinor Dashwood and Agnes specifically are similar in temperament, and (fun fact!) both have (potential) love interests named Edward. One, already a curate; one whose highest aspiration is to be one.



Next comes Austen's posthumously-published Persuasion and Emily Brontë's only novel, Wuthering Heights. Persuasion is somewhat of a literary dark horse, a final novel many scholars categorize as a display of Austen's matured, refined craft. It is a humorous story, but not without its moments of cutting irony, suppressed feelings, and honest reflections. I would categorize Wuthering Heights as Gothic Fiction at its finest– obsessive, intense, and brooding– yet it also eclipses the genre by way of unclouded observation.


Wildly different in almost every way, you may be wondering why I chose to pair these two novels together. I believe one of the greatest– if not the greatest– strengths of these two novels are the truly unforgettable characters, from vengeful, tormented Heathcliff to clever, considerate Anne Elliot. (They are unforgettable for... very different reasons.) In both Persuasion and Wuthering Heights Jane Austen and Emily Brontë crafted fictional individuals who stick with readers long after their stories come to a close.



Emma follows suit, a novel of subtle craft and perhaps Austen's most representative work. It is the longest of her six novels and focuses on domestic realism with a sparkling sense of humor and plenty of subversive irony. It is not simply a story of a well-meaning heiress– "Handsome, clever, and rich"– but it is also an illuminating narrative on social constructs in a community divided by class. Emma is also revolutionary for its writing style, classified by many as the first “modern” novel due to Austen's use of free indirect discourse.


Shirley, Charlotte Brontë's second novel, is artistic, thought-provoking, and grounded in real life. Although the story has a melancholic bent, Charlotte used a lighter, subtler touch than she did in her creation of Jane Eyre. I think Emma and Shirley are well-matched, especially regarding their country settings. However, while the former novel illustrates life in the sleepy, fictional village of Highbury in Surrey, the latter brings readers to West Riding Yorkshire and a tumultuous mill town. Additionally, both stories advocate friendship, although emotions and misunderstanding blur the lines between future felicity or unhappiness until the very end.



We have reached Mansfield Park, Austen's third published work. This is a novel of complex, flawed characters and an acute awareness of social hierarchy and global events. Mansfield Park boasts the least traditionally romantic and most pragmatic plot, and I would go so far as to say it is a prelude to the Victorian literary movement, unlike Austen’s other novels. Complete with lots of moral grey-area, melancholic characters, theatricals, and scandal-filled newspapers, Mansfield Park raises questions of vulnerability and strength, passion and reason, virtue and vice.



Charlotte Brontë's Villette and The Professor– the latter published posthumously– are very similar in both content and style, thus I have grouped them together. They are intensely introspective with a good dose of mounting tension. All three novels, Mansfield Park included, follow the long journeys of orphaned or neglected young people as they learn to live away from all they've ever known and discover who they are and what they truly want.


Our final literary pairing is of Northanger Abbey, a work of Gothic satire by Jane Austen and Jane Eyre, the Goliath of classic Gothic realism by Charlotte Brontë. I have a hunch Northanger Abbey's naive protagonist Catherine Morland might have enjoyed Jane Eyre, with her love of all things Gothic. At one point, Jane Eyre was herself young and naive, however a loveless, unhappy childhood soon introduced her to the brutal world. Catherine Morland, conversely, experienced a happy, secluded childhood, with little to distress her until the start of the novel, at age seventeen.


Without knowledge of the Gothic tradition, much of the humor in Northanger Abbey would likely fall flat, as so much of the novel is devoted to amicably– and deftly– criticizing the genre. It is an enjoyable read, with lively characters and a fast-paced plot. The action in Jane Eyre, too, moves quickly, yet it is also deep, serious, and sentimental. It is at once a social criticism, a bildungsroman, and suspenseful Gothic horror story. In short, Jane Eyre is a book of many things, a sure cause for its enduring popularity.


 

Thus concludes our foray into the world of Jane Austen and the Brontë Sisters' novels. You know what to do now, my dear Janeites... edit those To Be Read lists, visit the bookshop, and get to reading! Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Do I hear loyal fans clamoring for more Austen + Brontë content? We've got you covered! Here is the events schedule for Jane Austen and Co.'s current Austen & the Brontës series.

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