Brontëmania: Why the three sisters are bigger than ever – Features – Books – The Independent.

Charlotte Brontë detested Jane Austen. Hyperbole? Listen to the words of the author of Jane Eyre, writing to GH Lewes, the free-thinking editor and author who became George Eliot’s partner. In 1848 – after the novel’s publication had brought “Currer Bell” (Charlotte’s pseudonym) notoriety among the London literati – Lewes advised her to read Pride and Prejudice. “Why do you like Miss Austen so much?” Charlotte – “puzzled” – replies. “I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden with neat borders and delicate flowers,” with “no open country – no fresh air – no blue hill – no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses.”

Lewes allows that “Miss Austen is not a poetess, has no ‘sentiment'” – or, as Austen might put it, “sensibility”. Charlotte, enraged, responds: “Can there be a great artist without poetry?” She contrasts Austen’s prissy decorum with the “deep feeling for his kind” that in her eyes enriches and validates the satire of William Makepeace Thackeray, who had championed Jane Eyre to the extent that London gossip assumed “Currer Bell” had been his governess and mistress.