The Brontë sisters are always our contemporaries

From The Telegraph:

Wuthering-Heights_2053966cAs Ezra Pound said, literature is news that stays news. The great classics mutate to fit our preoccupations, revealing aspects of themselves that previous generations never suspected. Writers long dead come in and out of favour; reputations rise and fall. Who would have thought, in 1815, that the novelist now read and adored across the world would be, not Sir Walter Scott, but Jane Austen? And who, among the first readers of those astonishing books Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, would even begin to recognise the versions of them that 21st-century readers hold dear? The Brontës have transformed themselves over a century and a half, even if the ongoing fascination perhaps says more about us than it does about them. A tiny teenage manuscript of Charlotte’s is about to be sold, its value estimated at between £200,000 and £300,000, which is as good a measure of enthusiasm as any. And the release of new film versions of her and her sister Emily’s best-known books – Cary Fukanaga’s Jane Eyre and Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights – offers an opportunity to think about how we have remade these books in our own image.

They were not always equally popular. Jane Eyre was an immediate bestseller, its vivid theatrical style making it a favourite to be turned into stage melodrama – as happened within a year of its publication in 1847. It has been filmed 20 times, from the very earliest days of the cinema. Wuthering Heights was slower to make its way. Although it, too, made a tremendous impact on publication, it was always regarded as very strong meat, one for the intelligentsia that would be resistant to dramatisation. Probably only after the two marvellous screen adaptations of the late 1930s – the Jane Eyre with Orson Welles as Rochester, and Laurence Olivier’s splendid turn as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights – did the two attain popular parity.

But what do we think of them now?

More here.