Despite the evidence everywhere in her work that Charlotte Brontë’s mind was steeped in the literary culture of her country, there remains something individual, even a little odd about her writing. F. R. Leavis excluded her from the mainstream of English fiction in The Great Tradition. The tradition, as he saw it, stretched from Jane Austen, through George Eliot and Joseph Conrad, to D. H. Lawrence. Charlotte was not part of it, and — by the way — Emily was most emphatically not. ‘Charlotte,’ he asserts with crushing moderation, ‘though claiming no part in the great line of English fiction (it is significant that she couldn’t see why any value should be attached to Jane Austen), has a permanent interest of a minor kind’ (F. R. Leavis: The Great Tradition, 1948; Penguin, 1993, p. 39). Whether Leavis was entirely justified in his opinions is, fortunately, not a subject which we need to pursue. I have no desire to claim for Brontë a major niche in the tradition of English fiction — or even to argue that there is such a tradition. That her work grew out of her literary experience is, however, hard to deny; and although her literary experience extended to Europe, and included, for example, Rousseau, Schiller and Cervantes, it was as a whole overwhelmingly English.
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