Jane Austen created the definitive picture of Georgian England – a landscape of Palladian mansions and handsome parsonages, peopled by rigidly-divided classes. No writer matches Austen’s sensitive ear for the hypocrisy and irony lurking beneath the genteel conversation. Never has a novelist written comic prose with such subtlety and restraint. If you want to understand the early 19th century – the power of money and inheritance, the clothes, the interior décor – Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudiceare worth a dozen history books, and any number of second-rate novels by Austen’s contemporaries.
That’s the argument of the Janeites, but to the aficionados of Emily Brontë they are the misguided worshippers of a circumscribed mind. In Wuthering Heights, Brontë dispensed with Austen’s niceties and the upper-middle class drawing rooms of Bath and the home counties. Her backdrop is the savage Yorkshire moors, her subject the all-consuming passions of the heart. The story of Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw is a full-blooded tale of violent attraction, thwarted love, death and the supernatural that makes Jane Austen look mundane – and clutches at the reader’s heart with a vigour and directness unmatched in English literature.
To help you decide who should be crowned queen of English letters we have the lined up the best advocates to make the case for each writer. They will be calling on actors, including stars Dominic West and Sam West, to illustrate their arguments with readings from the novels.