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Jane Austen vs Emily Brontë

The first of our literary combat events. Would Jane Austen’s sensitive ear for irony and social nuance win out over Emily Brontë’s realm of unbridled passion and the supernatural? Expert advocates went head to head and actors brought the texts to life.

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.


Speakers

Chair

Erica Wagner

Author and novelist


Author, novelist and former Literary Editor of The Times. She writes for the Economist, The Financial Times and The New York Times, among other publications. She has judged many literary prizes, including the Man Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, and the Whitbread First Novel Award.
Featuring

Mariah Gale

Actress


Actress who played Ophelia in the RSC and BBC2 productions of Hamlet with David Tennant, and has been hailed as one of the most distinctive actors of her generation

Kate Mosse

International bestselling author


No 1 international bestselling novelist, non-fiction author and playwright, known for her multimillion-selling Languedoc Trilogy – ​Labyrinth, Sepulchre ​and​ Citadel – as well as her Gothic fiction, including The Taxidermist's Daughter, which she is currently adapting for the stage. Her latest novel ​The Burning Chambers, soon to be a major television series, is the first in an epic historical adventure quartet set against the backdrop of the Wars of Religion in France. She is the Founder Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, chairs Platform events for the National Theatre and hosts the pre/post performance interview series at Chichester Festival Theatre.

John Mullan

Professor and author


Professor of English Literature at University College London and former Booker Prize judge who specialises in 18th century literature. He is the author of What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved

Dominic West

Actor, director, and musician


Actor, director, and musician, perhaps best known for playing Jimmy McNulty in The Wire, and Fred West in Appropriate Adult, for which he won the BAFTA for Best Actor in 2012. He has since starred as Noah Solloway in the Showtime drama series The Affair, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, and as Jean Valjean in the BBC adaptation of Les Misérables. Film credits include Tomb Raider, Money Monster, Testament of Youth, John Carter, and 300.

Sam West

Actor, director and essayist


Actor and director who has played the title roles in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Richard II and Hamlet. He has written essays on both plays for the Cambridge University Press and on “Shakespeare and Love” for BBC Radio 3.