For the Day that’s in it; some memories.

 

Cut Grass and Bogs.bogs-turf-protection-2-390x285

In April 1980, we won the Eurovision when Johnny Logan asked us all ‘What’s another Year?’ It was also an Olympics year and standing on that wonderful, teenage cusp of endless possibility and kind delusion, I thought I was destined to be a sports super star in future Games.

A few years previously a local man had come recruiting in our estate to form an athletic club. He held trials in a local field and told my father that I was good at sprinting and so I began to dream.

After his day working on the bog, fed and scrubbed clean with Swarfega, my father would bring a few of us training, usually down to the local track in St. Brigids. We loved it most of the time but Winter was a hard slog, with no Track and Field competitions in sight, it often seemed pointless. Then May arrived with the smell of cut grass and it all seemed worthwhile again. Between the County Championships and the Community Games there was something to look forward to every weekend.

It was at one of these events, May 11th 1980 that we would see my father for the last time.

The Coroner’s verdict said it was a massive thrombosis. Reports that it was one of the biggest funerals the town had ever seen were cold comforts.

I never went back to the Athletic club.

That June I got my first summer job, along with my sister, walling turf for Bord Na Mona, our Father’s former employer. On the first day we were brought on a tractor and trailer from the works entrance to our section. The trailer was carrying half the teenage, male population of the town. I fantasised about summer romances as we bounced across the bog.

Being dropped off away from my sister made me feel like the only inhabitant in a world of peat until I noticed another worker a few drains over from me. He was already stooped over the turf, his arms moving in an intricate, insect like pattern.

I sized up the long line of heaped turf that stretched away from me, like a rugged country road. I decided not to stack higher than four sods: after all you got paid according to the length of the wall. By noon I was parallel with my neighbour, breaking for lunch when he did. I didn’t bring enough ham sandwiches and there were only so many Custard Creams you could eat.  Swilling back red lemonade, I felt like the brothers from Friel’s story. I too was working out what I would buy with my earnings. A Queen album was top of the list.

Close to signing off time I noticed a dark form striding across the bog. I knew that this would be the one they called the Ganger and I looked forward to showing off my handiwork.  Still some distance from me, he bellowed:

“What in the name of God do you think you’re feckin’ doin’ there?”

“Walling,” I replied.

“Who showed you how to wall?” he asked.

“Nobody, I figured it out for myself.” I said.

He asked for my name. Furrowing his brow and lowering his voice, he inquired if I was Bill Clooney’s daughter. I told him I was. He called across to the other worker.

“You there, come over here.”

The teenager came like a gazelle, hopping drains and jumping walled sections.

“Did you notice what this young one was doing?” he asked.

The young lad said he didn’t. The Ganger asked him how many seasons he had been on the bog.

“Three,” he said.

“Well, in that case,” the Ganger said, “you should have recognised a newcomer, seen that she was making a hames of it. You should have shown her the ropes.”

The youth shot me a dirty look. I shrugged at him. The Ganger said he was awarding half of the lad’s daily rate to me. He also had to help me rebuild the wall, properly, the next day.

It didn’t lead to a bog romance.

I don’t think my sister and I lasted long on the bog that year, but as we headed off to the annual Knights of Malta summer camp in Moate we were delighted with the money in our purses and our healthy bog tans.

As the years slipped by the sense of my father’s presence in the house began to fade, his voice rising and falling as he delivered the rosary became a distant echo. I stopped listening for the back door to open around five in the evening; stopped smelling the heady, peaty, bog mould that spilled from his boots when he sat on the third last step of the stairs to take them off.

But he hasn’t gone far and is still with me when I smell cut grass in May or gaze at the stretches of bog that blanket the landscape in my home county of Laois.

So, unlike Johnny Logan, who reaches out in his song to find no one there, when I reach out, I still find daddy nearby.

 

Annamaghkerrig

The wind and rain compete with each other outside cottage number 5 here in Annamaghkerrig and you’d think that someone who professes, to a numbingly boring capacity, to be a lover of Wuthering Heights, would be inspired to write. Well, you’d be wrong. What I have done is update my site (stating the obvious), sent four emails that I’ve been delaying because they all involve the beginnings of making a decision, started three new books, yes, three, in the last two hours and it would have been four but it wasn’t available on Kindle, so then I went looking for it on various book sites only to discover that the cheapest copy started around £34, but libraries Ireland had a copy that I could request, if, ahem, I was a member, which I, ahem, wasn’t (I really hope none of my second level students read this, pot calling the kettle and all that), so I joined online but have to wait to go into the library…back in Kildare…to collect my card, before I can request a copy of the book, but, hey, the good news is they have it, sitting tantalisingly, in a tiny checkout trolley  somewhere out there in a space I can never get my head around (come on the Luddites/long live the Luddites), oh and it doesn’t end there, I have made lunch (Pasta and tomato sauce with peppers, celery and onions) drank three cups of Jasmine green tea, 2 pints of water, turned on and off lights to try out the mood change they might bring to the rooms and me, looked up cafes on trip adviser within a 40 mile radius, read the title of every book on the bookcase in the room here in cottage number 5, stood in the panelled door/window gazing out on the courtyard..kinda hoping someone would give a fleeting glance up and think it was Miss Worby’s ghost(tee hee), pared three pencils that didn’t need paring and now I’ve just wasted lead and…not to put too fine a point on it (Oh, joy, don’t you just love it when a pun comes to you like that)..and in short, I have spectacularly failed to add a single syllable to my debut novel that will never be that debutante going to that novel ball if I don’t do something soon about this brick wall I’m facing…actually figuratively and literally. Rant over. Phew. Now it’s time for a fourth cup of tea…

The mystery of the Brontë’s pseudonyms.

If you watched the Drama #Towalkinvisible last night on BBC about the Brontës it may have struck you how little attention was given to the pseudonyms adopted by the sisters, other than an invisible hand dramatically writing the names in ink: Currer Bell, Ellis Bell, Acton Bell. That lack of detail is down to the fact that little is documented as to where the names came from. This presented my inner Hercule Poirot with a superb challenge. The following is the result of my research into the possible origins of the Bells. My favourite speculation is the French connection!

Why Bell?

Was the name Bell randomly chosen without any great thought?

This idea is not persuasive; there was nothing random about the Brontë family: trips a few miles down the road were planned with the precision of an Antarctic expedition, evidenced in the many letters that would to and fro between Ellen Nussey and Charlotte before either ventured forth to visit the other. Bearing this in mind it is likely that considerable attention was afforded to such an important aspect of their potential published personas. The relative solitude of their existence lends intensity to their lives where even the most menial activity is given heightened significance. For all her inadequacies as discussed earlier I find myself agreeing with Gaskell when she suggested:

…Life in an isolated village, or a lonely country-house, presents many little occurrences which sink into the mind of childhood, there to be brooded over…Thus, children leading a secluded life are often thoughtful…the impressions made upon them by the world without…the accidental meetings with strange faces and figures — (rare occurrences in those out-of-the-way places) — are sometimes magnified by them into things so deeply significant…[1]

With this in mind it must have been very exciting for the sisters to enter into this particular masquerade and consequently we must ponder the very real notion that considerable thought went into the choosing of pseudonyms. However, due to a dearth of primary sources revealing sources of inspiration for the names little has been said about Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell in an academic medium.  The only clue Charlotte gives regarding the origin of the names Currer Bell, Ellis Bell and Acton Bell, the names eventually adopted, is that they must sound Christian and male. Because no other documentation exists, the origin is somewhat of a mystery and can only be intelligently speculated on.

Much of the speculation regarding the surname Bell points to the arrival of the new curate in Haworth, Arthur Bell Nicholls. This theory was the preferred choice of Winifred Gérin in her biography where the following is proffered:

…The name Bell may have been chosen by the arrival that summer of their father’s new curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls.[2]

I suspect that this idea has been tagged on because of Charlotte’s marriage to Nicholls in June 1854. Nicholls had arrived in Haworth first in May 1845[3]and up to the point where the pseudonyms were chosen there is nothing in Charlotte’s correspondence to suggest that she harbours any feelings for him strong enough to inspire an imaginary surname. The opposite, in fact, is the case, as the following extracts from letters to Ellen Nussey reveal:

…Who gravely asked you “whether Miss Brontë was not to be married to her papa’s Curate”?

I scarcely need say that never was rumour more unfounded-it puzzles me to think how it could possibly have originated-A cold, far-away sort of civility are the only terms on which I have ever been with Mr Nicholls-I could by no means think of mentioning such a rumour to him even as a joke-it would make me the laughing- stock of himself and his fellow curates for half a year to come-they regard me as an old maid, and I regard them, one and all, as highly uninteresting, narrow and unattractive specimens of the “coarser sex”…[4]

10th July 1846.

…Mr Nicholls is returned just the same-I cannot for the life of me see those interesting germs of goodness in him you discovered, his narrowness of mind always strikes me chiefly-I fear he is indebted to your imagination for his hidden treasures.[5]

15th October 1847.

Admittedly Charlotte was not in the habit of bearing her soul to Ellen but there was nothing to be gained by coyness regarding the Reverend Bell, consequently it is fair to conclude that the sentiments expressed above represent an accurate assessment of Charlotte’s opinion of the man and therefore deem him an unlikely source for the origin of the literary Bells.

My reading of the Brontës inclines me to make two further suggestions as to who or what the original Bell was. In June 1847, following the abysmal failure of Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, the publication of which they had paid for themselves, the girls decided to send some well known authors a copy of the Poems. Among the recipients were such literary greats as Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Wordsworth, Hartley Coleridge and the lesser known John Gibson Lockhart. The latter was the son-in-law of Sir Walter Scott and his biographer but had won the hearts of the Brontës as a result of his many contributions to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. A letter to Lockhart from the novelist Harrison Ainsworth of November 15th, 1848, held in the Brontë parsonage Museum in Haworth, concerning itself with rumours regarding the identity of the Bells, concludes:

…Currer bell, I agree with you is not a belle; and there must be more than one hand at work to ring all these changes…[6]

I wondered having read that extract was it possible that Charlotte’s wry humour was at work here and Bell was a deliberate choice after the French word belle (denoting female), and in as obvious a fashion as this the Brontë sisters were duping the predominantly male world of literary reviewers.

If not a pun on the French word, there is one other possible origin of the Bell surname and would be very much in keeping with the girls’ desire to keep things Christian. Charlotte and her siblings were not born in Haworth but in Thornton and according to Clement Shorter the chapel where the Revd Brontë officiated and where all the children, except Maria were baptised was called Bell Chapel:

…Eighty years have passed over Thornton since that village had the honour of becoming the birthplace of Charlotte Brontë. The visitor of to-day will find the Bell Chapel, in which Mr. Brontë officiated, a mere ruin, and the font in which his children were baptised ruthlessly exposed to the winds of heaven…[8]

Working on a metaphorical level, it is apt that a literary baptism, eager to maintain a sense of the Christian naming should endeavour to incorporate both; even if this was not the case it is a far worthier notion than that suggested by Gérin. Despite the fact that Charlotte would one day be Charlotte Bell Nicholls, in 1846 there is little evidence of her desire to attach herself in any way to Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate.

Charlotte’s chosen Christian name was, according to Gérin ‘…the least difficult of the three to trace to a recognizable origin…’:[9] when Charlotte was governess at Stonegrappe for the Sidgwicks one of their more illustrious neighbours was a Miss Frances Mary Richardson Currer, of Eshton Hall, Skipton. Miss Currer’s reputation was based on the fact that she owned ‘…one of the most considerable libraries in the north…‘.[10]

Charlotte would no doubt have been aware of the woman and possibly even read books from her collection as Currer was known to make donations to the Mechanics’ Institute Library of Keighley,[11] from where the Brontës borrowed. As Rebecca Fraser has shown in her biography, Mr Brontë joined the Keighley Mechanical Institute shortly after it was founded in 1825 in order to borrow books and provide a wide range of reading material for his children. In their book, Everyman’s Companion to the Brontës,[12] Barbara and Gareth Lloyd Evans give April 8th 1833 as the exact date on which Patrick joined the Institute. [13]

Miss Currer, a wealthy lady, also had associations with the Clergy Daughters School, the possible inspiration for Lowood in Jane Eyre, where presumably, due to a harsh regime, Charlotte’s two sisters Maria and Elizabeth contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and subsequently died. As Gérin has shown, “She was one of the founder patrons of the Clergy Daughters’ School, so that her name must have been doubly familiar to Charlotte.”[14]

One final, slightly bizarre, connection between Charlotte and Miss Currer is the fact that both were already living under an assumed name, as Miss Currer’s father, also a Revd Henry Richardson, rector of Thornton only ‘assumed’ the surname and arms of Currer.[15]  ‘Brontë’ was also an assumed name, adopted by Charlotte’s father, Revd Patrick Brontë in place of his birth name Prunty.

The sources for Anne and Emily’s pseudonyms, Acton and Ellis, are even more difficult to identify than Charlotte’s Currer. Realistically any associations made are merely aspirational on behalf of the particular mythology the researcher wishes to promote.

In her biography on Emily, Gérin suggests,’… The poetess Eliza Acton (1777-1859), who had considerable success in her day and was patronised by royalty, may have suggested Anne’s pseudonym to her…’[19] Gérin’s implication that Acton’s success was attributable to her poetry is misleading. Acton did write poetry but without attaining much commercial success or notoriety and had it not been for the success of a further endeavour the literary world would most probably not have remembered the poetess who wrote the following:

I LOVE thee, as I love the calm
Of sweet, star-lighted hours!
I love thee, as I love the balm
Of early jes’mine flow’rs.

I love thee, as I love the last
Rich smile of fading day,
Which lingereth, like the look we cast,
On rapture pass’d away…[20]

The successful venture referred to above was a cookbook. Acton is more remembered as an early Mrs Beeton, of cookbook writing fame.  Apparently worried by the lack of popular acclaim, Miss Acton approached her publisher, Mr Longman, asking him to suggest a subject for a book that would be popular. He, according to anecdotal evidence, suggested …a really good cookbook…, and after years of planning and research Eliza produced, in 1845, Modern Cookery for Private Families.[21]

In her article The Brontë Pseudonyms: A Woman’s Image-The Writer and her Public, Marianne Thormahlen observes that ‘…The combination of poetry and domesticity in the person and work of Eliza Acton increases the probability of her surname having been chosen as a “veil” by one of the Brontë sisters. Household chores made up a very considerable portion of their daily lives…’[22] Published just a year before the Brontës’ volume of poetry in 1845 it is highly likely that the sisters were aware of the book and appreciated a commercial success story embedded in domesticity as their lives had thus far been.  Gaskell captures this ‘Angel in the house’[23] view of Emily in the following extract from A Life:

…and after Tabby grew old and infirm, it was Emily who made all the bread for the family; and any one passing by the kitchen-door, might have seen her studying German out of an open book, propped up before her, as she kneaded the dough…[24]

If we accept that Charlotte’s Christian pseudonym is based on a real surname it is likely that Anne and Emily’s follow this pattern: the level of achievement attained by the real Acton and Currer was certainly enough to merit admiration and adaptation of their identity and yet their names, not being among the shining lights of the Victorian world, were not household names and thus allowed the Brontës to appropriate them without fear of their own achievements being attributed to others.

Emily’s pseudonym is the most open to speculation. Gérin has nothing to offer:’…There appears to be no clue to the origin of Emily’s choice of name, Ellis…[25] Thormahlen argues, rather convincingly, that the writer Mrs Sarah Stickney Ellis was Emily’s source. If one accepts the above speculations on Currer and Acton it is easy to accept that Emily also based her adapted Christian name on a real surname of a relatively successful Victorian woman.

Stickney Ellis (1812-1872) a seemingly typical middle class English woman, wrote reflectively in defence of the social order of Victorian England and the domestic and social duties of women in that society. Also a conservative novelist, Ellis, addressing the ladies of England in her many conduct books, advised against any activity that would interfere with their womanly duties, activities, ironically enough, such as writing.

Elaine Showalter, in A Literature of Their Own, writes of Ellis in the following fashion:

…If we turn to the books of Sarah Stickney Ellis…The Women of England, The Wives of England, The Mothers of England, and so on, we might get the impression that a wife’s duties were so detailed and overwhelmingly as to preclude any other activity…[26]

Thormahlen argues that while the conservative nature of Ellis may not have appealed to the very individualistic Emily Brontë, her sentiments on governesses in The Mothers of England, must have endeared her to the sisters. Ellis writes:

‘…And here I must beg to call the attention of the mothers of England to one particular class of women, whose rights and whose sufferings ought to occupy, more than they do, the attention of benevolent Christians. I allude to governesses, and I believe that in this class, taken as a whole, is to be found more refinement of mind, and consequently more susceptibility of feeling, than in any other…[27]

As we cannot be sure if the Brontë sisters ever read anything by Mrs Ellis or indeed Eliza Acton, and perhaps they were unaware of the extensive library belonging to Miss Frances Mary Richardson Currer; therefore all of the preceding rationale is highly speculative.

It is empowering from a female perspective to suggest that the choices the Brontës made were calculated to hoodwink the predominantly male literary world as not only were these masculine names belonging to the fairer sex, they could also have been inspired by women of strong character and achievement.

However at the risk of unravelling my own thesis it is equally feasible that the names presented themselves in a serendipitous manner, perhaps some reference in a magazine lying about the Parsonage was all the invitation and inspiration needed to merit their usage.

[1] Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857; London: Penguin Books, 1997), p. 70.

[2] Winifred Gérin, Charlotte Brontë, The Evolution of Genius, (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 309.

[3] Smith, The Letters, Vol. 1, p. 393.

[4] This is part of a letter written to Ellen Nussey, dated July 10th 1846 and reproduced in Smith, The Letters, Vol. 1, p. 483.

[5] Extracted from a letter to Ellen Nussey, dated October 1847 and reproduced in Smith, The Letters, Vol. I, p. 551.

[6] Smith, The Letters, Vol I, p. 530.

[7] Ibid, p. 516.

[8] Clement K. Shorter, Charlotte Brontë and her Circle (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1896), p. 56.

[9] Winifred Gérin, Charlotte Brontë, The Evolution of Genius, (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 309.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Barbara and Gareth Lloyd Evans, Everyman’s Companion to the Brontës, (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1982), p. 14.

[13] Although not detailed in the book I presume this information is available by accessing the records of the Mechanics Institute in Keighley, particularly when such a precise date can be given.

[14]  Gérin, Emily Brontë, pp.185-6.

[15] http:/www.maxiuiliangenealogy.co.uk/burke/royal%20descents/francismaryrichardsoncurrer.htm.

[16] This was contained in a letter written to Emily dated July 1839 and reproduced in Smith, The Letters, Vol. 1, p. 195.

[17] Written to Ellen Nussey on the 26th of July 1839 and again reproduced in Smith, The Letters, Vol. 1, p. 196.

[18] Fannie Ratchford with the collaboration of William Clyde DeVane, Legends of Angria, compiled from the early writings of Charlotte Brontë (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1933), p. 316.

[19]  Gérin, Emily Brontë, pp.185-186.

[20] The first two verses of what is perhaps Acton’s most remembered romantic poem first published in a volume entitled Poems by Eliza Acton (Ipswich: R. Deck, 1826) and reproduced on the following web page, http://digital.lib.ucdavis.edu/projects/bwrp/Works/ActoEPoems.htm.

[21] G.M. Young (ed), Early Victorian Britain, 1830-1865, Volume One (London: Oxford University Press, 1934), pp.125-126.

[22] http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/bronte/cbronte/thormahlen/thormahlen.html.

[23] A phrase that denotes a Victorian Sentimentality towards women and based on the long poem by the American poet Coventry Patmore, first published in 1854.

[24]  Gaskell, Life, p. 105.

[25] Gérin, Biography of Emily Brontë, p.186.

[26] Elaine Showalter, A Literature of their Own, from Charlotte Brontë to Doris Lessing (London: Virago Press, 1999), p 65.

[27] Reproduced from The Mothers of England, p 353, in Marianne Thormahlen, ‘The Brontë Pseudoynm’, English Studies, 3 (1994) p. 252.

Now enrolling for March 2017. Places fill up quickly.

Kildare Writing Centre.

Now enrolling for Spring/Summer courses.

Director: Pauline Clooney.

 

Established in 2016, the Kildare Writing Centre provides courses in creative writing in comfortable surroundings with small class sizes.

Now enrolling for Spring/Summer courses.

‘Writing that Short Story’.

If you’ve always wanted to write something, always believed that you had a story to tell but didn’t know where to start, then this is the course you’ve been waiting for. Over the ten weeks you will be guided through the craft and composition of the short story form. In a safe, group environment you will be encouraged to explore your ideas, write them down, share them with the group, and mould them into a form that will be your story.

Course out-line:

Week one:       Introduction: In the beginning was the word…

Week Two:      Characters: How we breathe life into fictitious people.

Week Three:    Plot: A matter of beginning, middle and ending.

Week four:       Point of view: Who tells the story?

Week Five:       Setting: Exploring ways of using time and place so that your reader knows exactly where they are.

Week six:         Dialogue: Where there are people, there is talk.

Week seven:    Description: Using the senses to bring your story to life.

Week eight:     Voice/Style: Discovering your natural, narrative voice.

Week nine:      Theme: What’s it all about…really?

Week ten:        The writing life: Getting down to the nitty gritty daily routines of writing and revision.

Dates: Course runs over ten weeks from Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 to Tuesday, June 6th, 2017. There is a break of one week on Tuesday, April 18th.

Time: Classes start at 7pm – 10pm with a break of fifteen minutes for refreshments.

Fees: Cost is €300. A deposit of €50 is required to secure a place. The remainder €250 will be due on the first night.

Class size: Places on the course are limited to nine.

Location:  Athgarvan, Newbridge, Co. Kildare.

Contact details:  paulineclooney11@gmail.com, Ph. 087 6347377 or 045 442324, www.paulineclooney.com

About the Director:

Pauline Clooney grew up in the Midlands. She is an English, History and Creative Writing teacher. She holds an M.Litt on Charlotte Brontë from NUI Maynooth(2006), a 1st Class Honours Certificate in Creative Writing for Publication from NUI Maynooth (2013) and a 1st Class Honours MA in Creative Writing from UCD. She is working on her debut novel.

She has organised the literary event ‘Creative Fusions’ as part of the Newbridge festival of Culture, June Fest, and its predecessor, Bealtaine.

Pauline has had her stories anthologised and shortlisted for the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story competition and the Doolin Short Story competition in 2014. She has been longlisted for the inaugural Colm Toibin Short Story Competition (2016), the Fish Short Memoir competition (2014) and the Fish Short Story Prize (2015) and was placed second in the Doolin Short Story competition (2015).

She won the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story competition in 2015.