The Best of the Brontës’ Books

Bronte sisters in the wilderness
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One of the most prolific families in English literature, The Brontës made their mark in the world with their poignant novels and poems that have been enchanting readers with insight and lucidity for almost two centuries. From provocative social chronicles to gothic romance, the Brontës’ novels will pull you into the innermost workings of their beautiful minds and keep you a prisoner until the last page.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Image credit: Signet Classics

Loosely based on Charlotte Brontë’s own scholarly experience in Belgium, the novel portrays a young woman in her turbulent pursuit of happiness. Having had her fair share of adversities and heartbreaks, Lucy Snowe is hoping to turn over a new leaf when she accepts a teaching position in a girls’ boarding school in a small town of Villette. Met with suspicion, the young tutor is soon immersed in the world of travesty, where she is often teased for her reserved nature. However, in spite of her thorny journey through social disparity and undivided affection, Lucy finally sees the light at the end of the tunnel as she discovers the healing power of love. Provocative and realistic, Brontë’s final novel is considered by many critics the most astounding piece of writing, overshadowing even its heavyweight predecessor, Jane Eyre.

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

Image credit: BBC

Published in the mid-19th century, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall became one of the first feminist novels to have shaken the structures of Victorian society to its core. In the age of patriarchal family, when the concept of divorce is considered anathema, Brontë creates a memorable character, Helen Huntingdon, who flees her abusive husband to protect her son from corruption. In her attempt to lay her violent past to rest, she finds a refuge under a false name at Wildfell Hall, where she puts her artistic skills to a good use to achieve financial stability. This truly poignant tale of oppression and betrayal skilfully blends the portrayal of cultural forces and ill-treated woman who slowly rebuilds her life, discovering a renewed capacity for love. 

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Shirley by Charlotte Brontë

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In 1848, after revolutionising Gothic literature, Charlotte Brontë decides to turn her pen to historical fiction that focuses on “something real and unromantic as Monday morning.” Her new social novel becomes one of the most insightful fictional studies of industrial unrest with its divisive implications on workforce, gender roles and national identity at the turn of the century. Set during the Napoleonic wars, the story channels economic struggles through a stark contrast between its main characters- a feisty heiress to a great fortune and an orphan with no prospects in life- who find their lives inextricably entangled in a love square. This sparklingly-observed chronicle reaches a bittersweet climax as the poison of social status spreads its tentacles into the hearts and minds of the younger generation.

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Image credit: Penguin Publishing

Upon the graduation from a strict charity school for orphans, Jane secures the position of a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she encounters its enigmatic and misogynistic master with a dark past. An advocate for gender equality, Jane Eyre tears apart all misconceptions that Mr Rochester so proudly manifests. Jane’s refreshing honesty, integrity and sharp mind bewitch Edward as he accepts Jane as an emotional and intellectual equal. But will the secret hidden in the depths of Thornfield Estate threaten their chance of happiness?

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Image credit: Penguin CLassics

By turns macabre, moving and highly unsettling, this Gothic tale is told in a series of flashbacks by a lodger, reflecting upon his recent visit to Wuthering Heights. His story spins back in time, slowly revealing the dark history of the Earnshaw family, who open their doors to an orphan found on the streets of Liverpool. Despite being raised as an equal member of the family, Heathcliff is reduced to working in a stable by Hindley Earnshaw, who lets the hatred for his less fortunate brother take the better of him. Having been denied a chance to marry his adoptive sister, the young man sets off into the big wide world in order to prove his worth to his beloved Cathy. As Heathcliff returns to The Heights an eligible bachelor, once delicate bond between the siblings blossoms into a hurricane of emotions, turning everything they touch to dust.

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Tales of Angria by Charlotte Brontë and Branwell Brontë

Image credit: Oxford World’s Classics

For young adventurers at heart, The Tales of Angria offered an escape route from the mundane into a fantasy world with its own secrets and history. Dreams of a faraway land inspired Charlotte and her brother Branwell to conjure up the Kingdom of Angria, modelled on colonial Africa merged with a skewed version of Great Britain at the time. 

Brimming with family feuds, political machinations and doomed passion, these novelettes revolve around the decadent nature of the aristocracy, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on their trophies. 

From a literary standpoint, The Tales of Angria presented The Brontës with a chance to hone their writing skills and served as a basis for their subsequent fascinating tales.

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

Image credit: Libri Mondadori

In Victorian England, where a woman from a humble background is presented with limited career options, Agnes Grey is forced to undertake a paid position of a governess in order to sustain her impoverished family. Her hopes for a fresh start are soon crushed by the wickedness of her students and the snide insinuations about her inferior social standing. Through isolation, patience and perseverance, Agnes learns to open her heart to love and eventually finds her own path to happiness. Partially based on Anne Bronte’s own experience, the novel accurately reflects the precarious position of a governess, portraying quietly determined Miss Grey as a victim of circumstances, who deserves nothing but a sympathy.

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The Professor by Charlotte Brontë

Image credit: Wordsworth Classics

When William Crimsworth -an unlikely hero who disavows his family legacy -sets off to seek his fortune in Belgium, little does he know that the foreign land will soon alter his soul. A compelling melange of power, intrigue and redemption, the story weaves an intricate web of intoxicating infatuation, where the only way to escape it is to look beyond the glitz and glamour of deception. Inspired by the author’s continental education, The Professor challenges many preconceptions of romance, religion and societal values circulating in nineteenth-century Europe. Having been published posthumously, this underrated work in Charlotte Brontë’s “long apprenticeship in writing” certainly deserves a wider audience.

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Stella is a Marketing Consultant and has been writing content for Full Text Archive since 2015. When she is not writing, she is meticulously planning our social and e-mail campaigns. Stella holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Russian Literature, which has provided a broad foundation from which she continues to explore the written world.

She spends her free time reading, visiting old castles and discovering new coffee shops. She can be reached at stella

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