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Very few families produce one outstanding writer. The Brontë family produced three. The works of Charlotte, Emily and Anne remain immensely popular, and are increasingly being studied in relation to the surroundings and wider context that formed them. The forty-two new essays in this book tell 'the Brontë story' as it has never been told before, drawing on the latest research and the best available scholarship while offering new perspectives on the writings of the sisters. A section on Brontë criticism traces their reception to the present day. The works of the sisters are explored in the context of social, political and cultural developments in early-nineteenth-century Britain, with attention given to religion, education, art, print culture, agriculture, law and medicine. Crammed with information, The Brontës in Context shows how the Brontës' fiction interacts with the spirit of the time, suggesting reasons for its enduring fascination.
While the man whose tutoring left such a profound mark on Charlotte Brontë's life and work taught in a foreign setting, her fiction gives her reader to understand that the best hope of succeeding as a teacher is to be allowed to teach in Britain. The reason is, of course, as the preceding chapter suggested, that the children of freeborn Britons are uncorrupted by the duplicity on which discipline in a Continental-European educational establishment necessarily rests. Falseness being the only way in which foreign young people can cope with the perpetual restraints and surveillance they are subjected to, whatever innate soundness and truthfulness they may have been born with is trained out of them. By contrast, English pupils possess finer feelings which it is the teacher's job to encourage and develop. A shy instructor like Caroline Helstone benefits personally from these feelings; fortunately for her, her Sunday-school girls like and respect her despite her low degree of self-assertiveness:
By some instinct they knew her weakness, and with natural politeness they respected it. Her knowledge commanded their esteem when she taught them; her gentleness attracted their regard; and because she was what they considered wise and good when on duty, they kindly overlooked her evident timidity when off: they did not take advantage of it. Peasant girls as they were, they had too much of her own English sensibility to be guilty of the coarse error [of exploiting her shyness].