Novels written by the Brontë sisters—Jane Eyre and Villette by Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855), Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1818-1848), and Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (1820-1849)—have remained a significant part of literary studies and popular culture over the last hundred years. Most recently we’ve witnessed a rise of popular discussions and adaptations of their work in the form of comics, films, novels, video games, digital archives, and blogs. In fact, Brontë fans are now writing Brontë novels of their own using plot generator—a website designed to help us reimagine novelists like the Brontës by drawing from distinguishing features of their writing. It seems, two hundred years after their birth, we still can’t get enough of the Brontës.
On the occasion of the anniversary of Emily Brontë’s birth (1818), recent scholarly discussions have revisited the question of what makes these writers so enduringly compelling to each generation of readers. This course will test one recent theory that novels by the Brontës maintain their imaginative hold on our culture because they mark a significant transformation in the history of the novel—the shift from romance to realism. This course will track this transition by focusing on the Brontës’ use of physical and psychological violence in their novels. Along the way, we’ll develop our own theories about how each writer produces fiction that is both disturbing and compelling as it morphs from one popular genre to another. In addition to reading and writing assignments this course will include a small unit on data analysis. We’ll consider the extent to which programming languages might help us interpret the forms of violence made possible by romance and realist genres. This course does not require knowledge of programming languages. However, it does require curiosity and a desire to experiment with new ways of reading fiction.