SOPHIE THORPE addresses her anonymous commenters in her last ever column.
“Reader, I married him.” That was the moment when I fell in love with Jane Eyre. Every time I read them, those four little words leave me weak at the knees and my mind drifts off into a world where my own Mr Rochester awaits me.
But it’s not the happy ending that gives power to those words. There is something about the direct manner in which Charlotte Brontë addresses the reader, as if her words and her character’s actions are in need of justification or excuse. She writes those words cautiously, wary of the judgement of strangers. Those words expose her longing for our approval. The power comes from her inability to control the world outside her story, her fear of characters that she didn’t create, and her helplessness in the face of a plot she isn’t the master of. The power of those words lies in the author’s powerlessness over an anonymous reader.
All three of the Brontë sisters published their work under pseudonyms; under names that established them as male and Christian, because they had a vague impression that authoresses were liable to be looked on with prejudice. But I can’t help but wonder whether, if Jane Eyre had been published under the name Charlotte Brontë, not Currer Bell, would it have been as much of a success story? Would her tale of a strong, independent and intelligent female simply have been knocked down as feminist tripe?
A few weeks ago Laurie Pennie wrote an article in which she said: “An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the internet [and] as a woman writer… you come to expect the vitriol, the insults, the death threats.” Thank God I, as of yet, have no harrowing tales of death threats, people searching for my home address, or describing how they would like to rape me.
But that’s not to say that I have been spared all unpleasantness.
Every week I receive comments such as: “Give us a blozzer, love,” and never ending spiels of hatred. I’ve had people approach me in Life to tell me how much they hate me, or simply speak loudly about how crap my columns are as I walk past. And I’m just a woman writing a column for a university paper.
I can’t help but wonder if my columns would have provoked the same reaction if, like the Brontë sisters, I had published them as a man. As far as I am aware, none of my fellow (male) columnists have received the levels of abuse that I have. Is it a surprise that I am the only female columnist this term? After the treatment that Lexi and Louise got, why would a woman sign up for becoming Cambridge’s new hate figure?
My time as a Tab columnist is coming to an end, and it is time that I addressed you, my not-so-dear reader. I was fully aware of what I was signing up for this term, I willingly threw myself to the wolves, to the hordes of faceless commenters. But not everyone will be so prepared. So next time you decide to anonymously post some pithy comment on an article, you coward, maybe you should think about whether there is a point to your venomous statement. Think about whether it’s simply because it is a woman writing. Think about whether you would dare express that view under your real name. Because, reader, I’m done.