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Charlotte Brontë

Women's History Month: Writers of the 19th Century

March 08, 2011
by findingDulcinea Staff
The female writers of the 19th century paved the way for modern feminism through their reflections on society and culture. Among the most influential were such revolutionary English authors as Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot).

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The year before the United States declared independence from England, Jane Austen was born. She began writing at an early age, completing a parody of English history at age 15, as written by a "partial, prejudiced, and ignorant Historian."

This brilliant and witty young Englishwoman kept a sharp eye on the way that English women and men of so-called "good breeding" thought and behaved. Her observations found their way into her novels, which included "Pride and Prejudice," "Emma" and "Sense and Sensibility."

Austen was published anonymously during her lifetime—although many people knew the writer's identity—and her gravestone bore no mention of her work. It was not until long after her death that Austen received the credit that she deserved.

Anonymous Fame

The Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, each became successful poets and novelists in their day. But as Bibliomania, an online literature and study guide, notes, "Their works were published initially under the names Ellis (Emily), Currer (Charlotte), and Acton (Anne) Bell, due to the fact that it was considered unseemly at the time for women to write and publish books." It wasn't until the Victorian era that Mary Anne Evans (aka George Eliot) finally achieved the kind of recognition given to male authors.

Readers knew quite early on that George Eliot was actually Evans, who'd been a translator of German philosophy and the editor of a popular literary journal before launching a full-time career as a novelist. Best known for "Middlemarch," a sprawling English tale of politics, economics, religion and romance, Evans adopted the pen name George Eliot to shield herself from controversy and so that she would be taken more seriously than the women who published under their own names. She used the name for each work that she published. Visit Victorian Web to learn more about Evans.

Queen Victoria was a great fan of "George," even saving a signature from the author that she received in a letter. For a female monarch to recognize a female author was an important milestone in both culture and politics.

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