Last weekend, I was lucky enough to visit the British Library and see the literary treasures on show. Amongst the Lindisfarne Gospels and other goodies, I was thrilled to discover Jane Austen's writing desk, along with a letter from Jane to her sister Cassandra, and a volume of Austen's juvenilia. Just inches away was the manuscript of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, open on the page where Jane Eyre famously says: 'Reader, I married him.'
What would these two authors would have thought about being displayed together?
Sadly, Jane Austen died three decades before the publication of Jane Eyre, so we will never know what she thought of Charlotte's work. But we do know that Charlotte was dismissive about Austen's writing: '...the Passions are perfectly unknown to her.' (The Brontës, Juliet Barker, Phoenix Giants, 1995.) The two authors' literary styles could not be more different. Austen's playful, ironic style is the antithesis of Brontë's shrill egoism.
There's also a display devoted to the Beatles and their lyrics. Strange bedfellows indeed. I wonder if Austen and Brontë would have enjoyed listening to the Fab Four.
Image: Engraving of Charlotte Brontë, History of England, Charles Knight, c.1868