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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

The Coarseness of the Brontës: A Reappraisal

10th August 2017, 09:00 to 11th August 2017, 17:00, Durham University

In the bicentenary of Branwell Brontë’s birth, this conference will re-appraise notions of coarseness in its widest sense in relation to all of the Brontës. Registration is open now.

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?

Confirmed keynote speakers include:

  • Professor Marianne Thormählen, Lund University
  • Dr Sarah Wootton, Durham University
  • Robert Edric, author of Sanctuary (2014)

See the full programme and details about registration on the conference website.

Coarse Brontes is a collaboration between Durham University, Brunel University, and the Brontë Society.

Contact coarsebrontes@gmail.com for more information about this event.

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