American women writers and the Brontës

Filed under: Fiction

Elaine Showalter discusses the impact of the Brontës on American women's writing at the Hawthornden Anglo-American Lecture, chaired by Ion Trewin.

One of the first essays that Virginia Woolf had published, in The Guardian when she was 22, was about a ‘pilgrimage’ to Haworth. She was writing 50 years after the death of the last of the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, but the ‘thrill’ of the bleak Yorkshire vicarage and the sisters’ small relics was vivid and powerful. Haworth had already become a place for pilgrimage not just for British admirers, but also for Americans, many of them writers. Elaine Showalter discusses the enormous impact of the Brontës – through Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Villette and Mrs Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë – on American women’s writing in the 19th century: writers black and white, novelists and poets, from Emily Dickinson to Sarah Orne Jewett, who used the lives and novels of the Brontës as inspiration for American stories. A professor emerita at Princeton and former chair of the judges of the Man Booker International Prize, Elaine Showalter has just completed a new book, A Jury of Her Peers: American women writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, published by Virago Press in May. Her previous books include A Literature of Their Own: British women novelists from Brontë to Lessing.

Recorded on Monday 15 June 2009.

Related RSL Fellows

Elaine Showalter 2011