Today, I thought I’d rank the Brontë novels in order from my least favourite to my ultimate favourite. To me, I love every novel the sisters produced but some more than others. None of their books are bad, but you can definitely see an improvement in their writing with each new book.
I tried my hardest to order them for you, and they’re all spoiler free, so don’t worry if you haven’t read them yet! Here they are:
7) The Professor | 4 out of 5 stars:
The Professor was Charlotte’s first full-length novel, so I view this book as an experiment more than anything else. It was continually rejected by publishers, and wasn’t published until after her death in 1855. It follows the orphan William Crimsworth (Charlotte’s only male protagonist) in his attempt to forge a new life in Brussels. He teaches at a school where he becomes interested in two women: Frances Henri and Mademoiselle Reutter.
Charlotte penned this during a difficult time in her life; she had just returned from Brussels where she, too, was a teacher. Monsieur Heger, the teacher she became infatuated with, had cut all ties with her after she left. Consequently, this pained her greatly and caused some bouts of depression. Due to the outcome of this story, I view this as Charlotte’s fairy-tale. This is how she hoped her relationship with Heger ended. Nothing is really expanded on, but there are some deeply moving sections.
6) Agnes Grey | 4.5 out of 5 stars:
This is a remarkably simple read, making it a great place to start with the Brontës. After Agnes’ family loses their financial stability, she is forced to seek a job as the only occupation available to a nineteenth century woman: a governess. She details her encounter with two disagreeable families, making this a novel concerned with the plight of the governess. Due to the nature of this story, it’s a relatively flat narrative.
I think this narration suits the subject matter perfectly. To illuminate the treatment of these women, Anne avoided flowery language by using a very blunt tone. However, it lacked dimension, thus making it difficult to connect to certain characters. I found this with Mr Weston. His only characteristic was his curacy, meaning we never truly got to know his character. For that reason, the novel lacked. Overall, though, it’s a brilliant little tale, demonstrating what Anne can do with such little material.
5)Villette | 5 out of 5 stars:
I view Villette as a development of The Professor. This time Charlotte adopts a female protagonist, Lucy, to tell her tale. She travels from England to the city of Villette to forge a new life as a teacher. Charlotte draws on her own experiences of being a teacher in Brussels to make this a profoundly moving and deep story on self-identity.
As I said in my review, to really appreciate this novel you have to read it from a psychoanalytical perspective. Charlotte takes 500 pages to explore the self, and how one is prone to mental breakdowns, bouts of depression, etc. from simple things like loneliness. It’s an extremely distressing yet enlightening tale. Villette is also a very post-modern novel. Lucy never truly tells us anything, and allows us to determine how the story ends by ‘[letting us] picture union and a happy succeeding life’.
4)Wuthering Heights | 5 out of 5 stars:
To me Wuthering Heights is like marmite. To begin with, I couldn’t understand Emily’s motives: why did she make all the characters so detestable? It was such a peculiar read and I ended up rating it three stars. However, I re-read it a few months later and fell completely in love with it. I’d now recommend it without a hesitation.
My two favourite things about this novel are Emily’s social critique (on all aspects of society really) and the profound appreciation of nature. As a nature lover myself, the latter resonates with me the most. It dominates the novel, guiding all the characters through their decisions and hardships in life. It just feels right. If you’re like me and disliked it on the first try, definitely give it a re-read – it makes all the difference!
3) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall | 5 out of 5 stars:
Wildfell Hall criticises the all aspects of 19th century society that pertain to women. It follows Helen who, despite being warned from her aunt, ends up in a toxic relationship with an abusive husband. She believes she must escape before it is too late, so she flees with her son to create a new life as a painter in a village where no one knows her name.
Out of all the Brontë novels I’ve read, this was the deepest and most moving account of 19th century life. It’s not necessarily the truth as, after all, it is fiction, but it does shed some light on how women were treated. Helen is a very real person, which hits home on the idea that women have emotions and feelings. I would definitely recommend this, it’s a sad yet enlightening tale.
2) Shirley | 5 out of 5 stars:
Shirley is set during the Luddite uprising in Yorkshire. Men’s livelihood were being threatened by the constant growth of industry, thus causing tension in society. Running alongside this narrative is the story of two women: Shirley Keeldar and Caroline Helstone. Through these two women, Charlotte explores the psychological depth of love, and the quest for identity. She focuses on early nineteenth century womanhood, mirroring this with their male counterparts: Robert and Louis Moore.
As always, this is brilliant. I love Charlotte’s proto-feminist narration. It is very much concerned with the Woman Question, and she does this through her two female characters. I loved the social critique of this, especially pertaining to the Luddite uprising in Yorkshire and the way society operated in general. A must read!
1) Jane Eyre |5 out of 5 stars:
If you’ve been round long enough, you saw this one coming. It was the first ever Brontë novel I read, so it holds a special place in my heart (and, I think, explains why I love Charlotte so much). Jane Eyre is a bildungsroman narrative following the titular character from childhood to adulthood. Along this journey, Jane hits many obstacles that allow her to flourish into a proud and independent woman.
I published a post detailing all the reasons I love this book here, so give it a read if you’re interested. To narrow this down, I’ve picked three in particular. A) the proto-feminism. Jane trusts us with her innermost thoughts; these tend to be passionate pleas about female independence. Women need opportunities, not domestic tasks. B) the Freudian double. Jane is tamed, Bertha is not. They are mirror reflections. C) the Byronic hero. I mean, I love Lord Byron, so I enjoy the pastiche of his personality in Rochester.
Ranking these was quite a difficult task, to be honest (it took me three hours to choose and write this post!). Each sister explores a contemporary issue and combines it with their own personal experience. Because of this, each book is unique in its own way. None of them are bad, in any way, so definitely give them a read.
I hope you enjoyed, and thanks for reading! Lauren X