We Are Three Sisters: Self and Family in the Writing of the Brontës

We Are Three Sisters: Self and Family in the Writing of the Brontës

We Are Three Sisters: Self and Family in the Writing of the Brontës

We Are Three Sisters: Self and Family in the Writing of the Brontës


While biographers have widely acknowledged the importance of family relationships to the Brontes' writing processes, literary critics have yet to give extensive consideration to the family as a subject of the writing itself. In "We Are Three Sisters, " Drew Lamonica focuses on the role of families in the Brontes' fiction of personal development, exploring the ways in which it recognizes the family as a defining community for selfhood.

Drawing on extensive primary sources, including works by Sarah Ellis, Sarah Lewis, Ann Richelieu Lamb, Harriet Martineau, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, and Elizabeth Gaskell, Lamonica examines the dialogic relationship between the Brontes' novels and a mid-Victorian domestic ideology disseminated in conduct books and home guides that held the family to be the original nurturer of subjectivity. Using a sociohistorical framework, "We Are Three Sisters" shows that the Brontes' novels display a heightened awareness of the complexities of contemporary female experience and the,problems of securing a valued sense of selfhood not wholly dependent on family ties.

Chapter one discusses the mid-Victorian "culture of the family, " in which the Brontes emerged as voices exploring the adequacy of the family as the site for personal, and particularly female, development. Chapter two provides an introduction to the Brontes' early collaborative writings, in order to understand the sisters' shared interest in the family's formative role in the context of their own experience as a family of authors. It also shows the influences of Patrick and Branwell Bronte on the development of their sisters' writing.

Chapters three through seven explore the various constructionsof family in the sisters' novels. Of the numerous studies on the Brontes, comparatively few consider all seven novels together, and no previous study has undertaken to examine the Brontes' writing in the context of mid-Vict


“Intelligent companionship and intense family affection” allowed Charlotte Brontë to thrive as a woman and an author, concluded Ellen Nussey in her 1871 “Reminiscences of Charlotte Brontë.” More than a century later, Juliet Barker brought her comprehensive biography of the Brontës to a close with the same assertion: an “intense family relationship” was vital to the writing of the Brontës' fiction. Family underpinned the social, emotional, and imaginative lives of the Brontës. Family provided the supportive network in which they wrote and through which they embarked on publication. Family was the medium through which they saw and interpreted the world.

Biographers have widely recognized the significance of the family relationship to the formation of the Brontë sisters as mid-Victorian writers, and various literary critics have viewed the family as a precondition and motive for their writing. Yet the family was not simply an essential context for the Brontës' writing processes—the family is an essential element of content in the texts themselves. The Brontës were a writing family who wrote about families. Within the ever-expanding corpus of Brontë literary scholarship, this conclusion is, I believe, both strikingly obvious and commonly overlooked. “We Are Three Sisters” examines the role of families in the Brontës' fictions of personal development, exploring the ways in which these fictions consider the family as a “defining community” for selfhood. The Brontë sisters share an interest in the familial influences on self-development and self-understanding, and I trace this interest throughout the children's writing, or juvenilia as they are collectively called, and the published novels.

This work responds generally to two tendencies in reading the Brontës'

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