Jane Austen vs Emily Brontë

The Queens of English Literature Debate, with actors Dominic West, Sam West, Mariah Gale and Eleanor Tomlinson

Wednesday 26 February 2014, 5.32pm | VIDEO NOW ONLINE

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Click here for details of our next literary combat event, ‘Shakespeare vs Milton’

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 Prejudice are 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.

Advocate for Jane Austen

John MullanJohn Mullan

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


Advocate for Emily Brontë

Kate MosseKate Mosse

One of Britain’s most celebrated historical/adventure novelists. Her Languedoc Trilogy – Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel – has sold millions of copies worldwide, as have her ghost stories. She is also a playwright and non-fiction writer, and is a lifelong devoted Brontë fan and member of the Society



Erica WagnerErica Wagner

Former literary editor of the Times. She is Eccles British Library Writer in Residence 2014 and a judge of this year’s Man Booker Prize




Mariah GaleMariah Gale

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


Eleanor TomlinsonEleanor Tomlinson

Actress known for her role as Princess Isabelle in the film Jack the Giant Slayer. She played Georgiana Darcy in the recent BBC1 adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberley, P D James’s sequel to Pride and Prejudice


Dominic WestDominic West

Actor who has played leading roles in international film, American television and on the London stage. He is best known for his role as McNulty in HBO’s “The Wire,” one of the most critically acclaimed television programmes ever made


Sam WestSam West

Actor and director perhaps best known for his role in the film Howards End and his work on stage (including the award-winning play Enron). He played Mr Elliot in the 1995 film of Jane Austen’s Persuasion



All speakers are subject to change.