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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.



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.

Mariah 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

Kate Mosse

Award-winning novelist, playwright, essayist and non-fiction writer, whose latest book is Warrior Queens & Quiet Revolutionaries: How Women (Also) Built the World

Award-winning novelist, playwright, essayist and non-fiction writer. She has written nine novels and short-story collections, including the multimillion-selling Languedoc Trilogy, The Joubert Family Chronicles, number one bestselling Gothic fiction The Winter Ghosts and The Taxidermist’s Daughter and the highly-acclaimed memoir An Extra Pair of Hands. She is the Founder-Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the Founder of the global #WomanInHistory campaign. Her latest book, part detective story, part family history and part dictionary of 1000 women missing from history is Warrior Queens & Quiet Revolutionaries: How Women (Also) Built the World. She is currently preparing a theatre tour for Warrior Queens & Quiet Revolutionaries for spring 2023 and working on the third novel in The Joubert Family Chronicles, a historical crime thriller set in 17th century France, Tenerife and South Africa for publication in July 2023.

John Mullan

Professor in the English department at UCL and and author of The Artful Dickens: The Tricks and Ploys of the Great Novelist

Professor in the English department at UCL. He writes the regular 'Guardian Book Club' column on fiction in the Guardian and frequently appears on the BBC's Review Show. He was a judge of the 'Best of the Booker Prize' in 2008 and a judge of the Man Booker Prize itself in 2009. He has lectured widely on Jane Austen in the UK and also in the US, and makes regular appearances at the UK literary festivals. His latest book is The Artful Dickens: The Tricks and Ploys of the Great Novelist.  

Dominic West

Actor and director

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.

Samuel West

Actor, director and essayist

Actor and occasional director. He has played Hamlet and Richard II for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Jeffrey Skilling in Enron in the West End and the voice of Pongo in Disney’s 101 Dalmations II.  On screen he’s been in Mr Selfridge, W1A, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and the films Suffragette, Darkest Hour and Howards End.  He plays Siegfried Farnon in the new TV adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small. As a narrator, he has appeared with all the major British orchestras.  His production of The Watsons by Laura Wade was due to open in the West End last May. Sam is an Associate Artist of the RSC and Chair of the National Campaign for the Arts.