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THE ELEMENT OF LIVING STORM: SWINBURNE AND THE BRONTËS

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2013

Lakshmi Krishnan*
Affiliation:
New College, Oxford

Extract

That Algernon Charles Swinburne loved the Brontës is well known, and his interest in them well documented. His admiration for Charlotte and Emily, in particular, prompted two studies, a short book and an article, which were instrumental in establishing their critical reputation as it exists today. “Those great twin sisters in genius,” as he wrote in 1877, held a powerful sway over Swinburne's imagination (A Note 188–200). He considered them his Yorkshire kinswomen, bred in the wild borderlands of the North (although Swinburne was born in London and spent most of his life in southern England, his family was based in Northumberland, and he never lost his allegiance to the county, calling himself a “Borderer” to the very end). He sensed in their work – Emily's especially – the haunting, poetic influence of the moors, a passionate, romantic spirit that saturated his own verse and prose. More, they were his novelistic predecessors, and his essays on them shed considerable light on his own fictional practice. In framing himself as the Brontës’ apologist, Swinburne was “far ahead of his time,” shaping Victorian criticism (Hyder 15–16). His praise of Wuthering Heights is considered “by some literary historians to be epochmaking” and altered the way in which novels were discussed, analysed, and ultimately evaluated (Watson 247). There are also striking features that suggest Swinburne's own novel Lesbia Brandon – in its trans-genre form and unique milieu – was conceived as an exercise in the manner of Wuthering Heights.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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