"I have undergone sharp discipline which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more than you would fancy." Emily Brontë
still figuring this place out - Jen W
Woolf's genius insights into 19th C women writers - C & E Brontë, Austen, G Eliot - in chapter four of A Room of One's Own takes one of the central themes explored in Barker's biography to the next level: the struggle for poor (i.e., all) women to make a living by their pen, to write in their own voice and resist the dismissiveness or worse, hostility, of the patriarchy.
"...what had George Eliot in common with Emily Brontë? Did not Charlotte Brontë fail entirely to understand Jane Austen? Save for the possibly relevant fact that not one of them had a child, four more incongruous characters could not have met together in a room ..."
[after an extensive quote from Jane Eyre] "... the woman who wrote those pages had more genius in her than Jane Austen; but if one reads them over and marks that jerk in them, that indignation, one sees that she will never get her genius expressed whole and entire. Her books will be deformed and twisted. She will write in a rage where she should write calmly. She will write foolishly where she should write wisely. She will write of herself where she should write of her characters."
[of C Brontë] "She knew, no one better, how enormously her genius would have profited if it had not spent itself in solitary visions over distance fields; if experience and intercourse and travel had been granted her."
[continuing] "...we must accept that fact that all those good novels, Villette, Emma, Wuthering Heights, Middlemarch, were written by women without more experience of life than could enter the house of a respectable clergyman; written too in the common sitting-room of that respectable house and by women so poor that they could not afford to buy more than a few quires of paper at a time upon which to write."
"The portrait of Rochester is drawn in the dark. We feel the influence of fear in it; just as we constantly feel an acidity which is the result of oppression, a buried suffering smouldering beneath her passion, a rancour which contracts those books, splendid as they are, with a spasm of pain." [what Woolf calls 'acidity' is markedly different, I think, than the widespread accusations of coarseness levelled by contemporary male reviewers, predominantly, at Jane Eyre, and both Emily's and Anne's novels too].
And here's the bit that had me leaping off the sofa and typing to you now:
"What genius, what integrity it must have required in face of all that criticism, in the midst of that purely patriarchal society, to hold fast to the thing as they saw it without shrinking. Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Brontë. It is another feather, perhaps the finest, in their caps. They wrote as women write, not as men write. ...they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue -- write this, think that. ...Charlotte Brontë, with all her splendid gift for prose, stumbled and fell with that clumsy weapon [the 'male' sentence] in her hands. George Eliot committed atrocities with it that beggar description."
Preach it, Ginny.