• The cover of the book Wuthering Heights

    Wuthering Heights

    “Let me in—let me in! … I’m come home: I’d lost my way on the moor!” Readers meet Cathy when she appears as a ghost at the window. The story of Cathy and the poor orphan who loves her, Heathcliff, is a gothic masterpiece set on the Yorkshire moors. The two are childhood playmates who develop passionate feelings for one another. Their love is thwarted by social customs that forbid marriage between classes, and, as recent critics have argued, it’s likely that Emily intended for Heathcliff to be a Black man. In addition to the central romance, however, are subplots about arranged marriages, extramarital affairs, and kidnapping. And readers may be surprised to see how both Cathy and Heathcliff use anorexia in response to their unhappiness.

     
  • The cover of the book Jane Eyre

    Jane Eyre

    Jane Eyre opens with a great injustice: Jane is assaulted by her cousin, and when she fights back, her guardian, the hateful Mrs. Reed, sends her away to a boarding school for girls that’s run like a reformatory. Jane leaves the school as an adult and travels to Thornfield to become governess to Mr. Rochester’s ward, Adele. Jane considers herself plain and humble, and while she’s intrigued by Rochester, she never imagines that he would be interested in her. But what Jane doesn’t know is that Rochester is hiding an ugly secret, and its revelation leads to destruction and tragedy. The debate about Rochester’s secret and the resolution of the novel continues to be lively. Despite the over 20 filmed versions of the story, reading the novel is still an experience not to be missed.

     
  • The cover of the book Villette

    Villette

    The story of Lucy Snowe, a young woman who allows life to happen to her, but whose life is changed when she takes a position as a teacher in the fictional Belgium city of Villette. At first, she’s put off by the irascible, arrogant Monsieur Emanuel, who patronizes her in their exchanges. The pair develop feelings, but their differences in faith—she’s a Protestant, he Catholic—creates a seemingly impenetrable barrier that’s shored up by the cast of characters at the school who all seem to have nothing better to do than to busy themselves with interfering in Lucy’s life. By the time the ghost shows up, readers will find themselves immersed in Charlotte’s gorgeous prose in this gothic classic.

     
  • The cover of the book Shirley

    Shirley

    Charlotte began writing this novel in 1848, when a wave of revolutions moved across Europe with barricades in the streets of Paris, and other major cities seemed to portend momentous changes. Charlotte seems to have been inspired by these events to write about the years of 1811–1812, when the Napoleonic Wars continued to rage, and social unrest at home contributed to social tensions. Here, she sets two separate love stories. In addition to the romances are also her keen observations about the lives of women, and topics that feel relevant today. “Misery generates hate,” she wrote, and noted that people were so hungry that “for a morsel of meat they would have sold their birthright.”

     
  • The cover of the book Agnes Grey

    Agnes Grey

    Anne worked as a governess for five years, and her sister Emily said this novel reflects Anne’s feelings and experiences of that period of her life. The novel begins when 18-year old Agnes and her family suffer a huge financial setback after a disastrous investment by her father. Determined to help support her family, she takes a position as a governess with the Bloomfields. But the three Bloomfield children turn out to be brats uninterested in learning and who derive great pleasure from tormenting Agnes and getting her into trouble. Eventually, Agnes leaves their employ and goes to work for a family where she experiences an emotional awakening. Anne’s bildungsroman depicted the life of the governess as one where poor but educated women took positions where they had no protection from cruel employers and ghastly work conditions.

     
  • The cover of the book The Professor

    The Professor

    This is Charlotte’s first novel, in which she assumes the voice of William Crimsworth. The novel is regarded as an early version of what would eventually become Villette, but this shorter novel differs substantially due to its narration in a male voice. William is forthright about his desires and pursues them at the school where he teaches; he even ardently pursues the directress of the school. The remarkable aspect of The Professor is how action-based William’s narrative is. While women’s actions were curtailed in society at this time, his freedom serves to point out to its contemporary readers just how limited women’s lives were.

     
  • The cover of the book The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

    The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

    When the mysterious Mrs. Graham takes up residence in the long-empty Wildfell Hall, the local gossip network roars into action. Every neighbor seems to have an opinion about the woman and her small son who live there. But Mrs. Graham likes her privacy, and she resists telling anyone much about her past. Gilbert Markham is smitten, however, and becomes quite relentless in querying Mrs. Graham. The story she reveals shocked readers with its fearless depiction of the denigration of a married woman and the domestic abuse she endures in order to protect her son. A novel that could have been written today, Anne was fearless in her discussion of the ways that boys were raised to sublimate their feelings into violence, and girls were raised to bear it all.