The Call for Papers for our special issue of Brontë Studies is now available. See the ‘Brontë Studies Special Issue’ tab for further information or email Claire O’Callaghan and Sophie Franklin at coarsebrontes@gmail.com for further information.


The Coarseness of the Brontës: A Reappraisal

10 – 11th August 2017

Durham University

A collaborative event between Durham University, Brunel University, and the Brontë Society

coarse adjective
  1. Rough or harsh in texture
  2. (of a person or their speech) rude or vulgar
Synonyms: oafish, loutish, boorish, churlish, uncouth, rude, discourteous, impolite, ungentlemanly, unladylike, ill-mannered, uncivil, ill-bred, vulgar, common, rough, uncultured, uncivilised, crass, foul-mouthed

This two-day conference, scheduled for the 10th to 11th August 2017, aims to re-evaluate the charge of ‘coarseness’ so often directed at the Brontë family.

In early critical appraisals of the Brontës’ writings, accusations of ‘coarseness’ appear frequently. Although Jane Eyre (1847) was an instant bestseller, Elizabeth Rigby famously attacked the book as ‘coarse’ and accused Charlotte of ‘moral Jacobinism’. Likewise, Anne’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), was also criticised as ‘coarse’ and ‘brutal’ in both subject matter and moral outlook, and perceived as an ‘entire mistake’ by Charlotte. Similarly, an anonymous review of Wuthering Heights (1847) chastised Emily’s characters as ‘coarse’ and violent ‘savages’ who were ‘ruder than those who lived before the days of Homer’. And, according to Daphne du Maurier, Branwell Brontë was ‘fascinated’ by and befriended many men who were ‘a law unto themselves, rowdy, rough, coarse’.

More recently, Lucasta Miller has addressed the ubiquity of this word within Brontë studies, writing that the “coarseness’ to which so many critics objected was a catch-all moralistic term which encompassed a range of elements considered unfeminine and indecorous’ (The Brontë Myth, 2001). While the definition of ‘coarse’ outlined above indicates its meaning is associated with a wide range of seemingly obtuse and offensive values that extend across numerous social markers (including gender, sexuality, race, and class), the accusation of coarseness levelled at the Brontës may have differed to our current understanding of the term.

In the bicentenary of Branwell Brontë’s birth, we seek to re-appraise notions of coarseness in its widest sense in relation to all of the Brontës. How and in what ways does ‘coarseness’ manifest in and across the lives and works of the Brontë family? What did it mean to be labelled ‘coarse’ in the early to mid-nineteenth century? And how have shifting meanings of what constitute ‘coarse’ expanded and/or changed our understanding and reading of their lives and works?

This collaborative event is a joint initiative between Durham University, Brunel University, and the Brontë Society.

We are generously supported by the British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS), the English Studies Department at Durham University, and CAROD: Centre for Academic, Researcher and Organisation Development at Durham University.

Contact details

Email: coarsebrontes@gmail.com

Conference website: https://coarsebrontes.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @coarseBrontes