Have you ever wondered where it all began for Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë?

The Genesis of the authors Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. (Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë)

Charlotte’s discovery of Emily’s poems

       The story of the Brontë sisters’ metamorphoses into the Bell authors begins ‘…in the autumn of 1845…’[1] when Charlotte discovers poems by Emily and considers them worthy of publication. It is a story dominated by the personality of Charlotte who presents as an able strategist capable of carving a niche for herself in a literary world governed by male and not infrequently misogynistic powerhouses. This tale of a crafty, sometimes conniving, survivor in a world often perceived to be poised to victimise ‘her’ is as worthy a place on the plinth of literary immortality as that other tale of Charlotte Brontë: the famed author.

In the preface to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights Charlotte revealed the genesis of this story of literary publication. What followed was an intriguing biographical account of how Charlotte, on finding poems written by Emily, was to turn around the fortunes and the history of three teachers/governesses whose dreams heretofore had hardly stretched beyond the hope of someday having their own school. Charlotte believed Emily’s poems to be above average and convinced her, eventually, to attempt to have them published:

…My sister Emily was not a person of demonstrative character, nor one, on the recesses of whose mind and feelings, even those nearest and dearest to her could, with impunity, intrude unlicenced; it took hours to reconcile her to the discovery I had made, and days to persuade her that such poems merited publication…[2]

While amazed at the standard of writing in Emily’s’ poetry, ‘…these were not common effusions, not at all like the poetry women generally write…’[3], there was no surprise in the existence of such compositions belonging to her sister, as Charlotte acknowledges the previous literary endeavours of the siblings:

…The highest stimulus, as well as the liveliest pleasure we had known from childhood upwards, lay in attempts at literary composition; formerly we used to show each other what we wrote, but of late years this habit of communication and consultation had been discontinued; hence it ensued, that we were mutually ignorant of the progress we might respectively have made…[4]

This early ‘…communication and consultation…’ mimics in microcosmic fashion the world of critical reviewing as well as its awareness of a reading community, suggesting an early understanding of authorship which, while taking place in the security of familiar surroundings, no doubt helped in some way to create in the sisters a receptivity to future advice and criticism from publishers, critics and the public. My analysis of Charlotte’s correspondence with her publishers highlights her appreciation of the existence of an audience and the need sometimes to compromise one’s craft in order to secure literary success.

Back in that autumn of 1845 Emily was not the only aspiring Brontë poet; Anne, it would appear, wanting to please Charlotte, also did some composing which Charlotte accepted as worthy of inclusion:

…my younger sister quietly produced some of her own compositions, intimating that, since Emily’s had given me pleasure, I might like to look at hers.[5]

Charlotte, armed with her sisters ‘…effusions…’[6] along with some of her own, took charge of pursuing a dream shared by all three since childhood:  ‘…We had cherished the dream of one day becoming authors…’[7]

 

 

[1] Taken from the preface to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey as reproduced in  The Norton Critical Edition of Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, third edition, edited by William M. Sale, J.R. and Richard J. Dunn (London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990), p 315.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] See n 3.

[7] Ibid.

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Charlotte Brontë: I thought I might share some facts on Charlotte as part of her bicentenary celebrations.

The name Brontë:

The Rev Patrick Brontë , father of the Brontë authors was born Patrick Prunty, into a family of ten children, in Co. Down in Ireland. Although the family were peasant farmers Patrick showed an early interest in Greek and Latin classics and came to the attention of a local Methodist, the Rev Mr Tighe.

Mr Tighe sent Patrick to St John’s College, Cambridge in 1802. While there, in the company of such illustrious characters as Lord Palmerston, the future Prime Minister, Patrick decided to change his name from the rather Irish, peasant sounding Prunty to Brontë.

The choice of Brontë may have been because it meant ‘thunder’ in Greek, and the ambitious Patrick was determined to make himself be heard in some capacity, or it may have been in honour of the fearless, Admiral Lord Nelson, who was Duke of Bronti.

Lyndall Gordon, in her biography, Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life, believes it was the latter, as Patrick liked to identify with ‘…fearless fighters…’[1] an attribute emulated by Charlotte in her juvenilia.

[1] Lyndall Gordon, Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life (London: Vintage, 1995).

Halloween

I get obsessed with things a lot. Like Netflix. Right now, it’s American Horror Story, previously it’s been House of Cards(which I watched to the bitter end) Suits (naw, eventually got tired of Harvey and Mike behaving as if they were Bruce and Cybil in Moonlighting) and The Returned(lasted two episodes and …pun alert…haven’t gone back yet). What is it about these series that make them so addictive? I have gone through the first series, Murder House, in two days and still managed to have a semblance of a life. I have a theory. I think they are the modern, healthy equivalent of the cigarette. I mean face it, you measure out your day based on fitting in at least half an episode as a treat, at designated times, dependent on being in the right place. A place similar to a smoking area for the smoker.

If you haven’t seen any of American Horror Story, do yourself a favour this Halloween break and watch one of the series. It’s bonkers enough and too far from reality to be scary. This stuff could never, ever happen, no matter how much of a ghost believer you are. By the way I recently asked a class of teenage boys if anyone really believed in ghosts and was shocked at how many put their hands up and then proceeded to tell me their stories, including encounters with banshees and a plastic toy that said ‘ choose your activity’ even when the batteries were taken out. That toy scared me more than American Horror Story ever could.

What I liked most about series one, Murder House was the house. It’s the house from all the great horror stories, remember the The Amityville Horror? I couldn’t get enough of that story as a teenager. And it’s the house in the latest offering Crimson Peak, which I really must get to see soon. It’s Hocus Pocus, The Witches of Eastwick, the house where Norman Bates lived with his mother, oh, and it’s the house we stayed in in New England a few Halloweens ago. It was decorated with pumpkins everywhere just like the movies. And the Inn Keeper, yes it was an Inn, an old Victorian Inn, complete with wooden steps leading up to the front door.., the Inn Keeper was a dead ringer for Cathy Bates straight off the set of Misery. There’s another scary house. In fact I’m still not convinced that it wasn’t Cathy, doing a little method acting for her next role. She even had the clíched catch phrase, …fiddlesticks…that terrified me a bit. And get this, there was an underground walkway, read as tunnel, that brought you from the main house to your bedrooms. My daughters were, as they put it themselves, completely freaked out. It was up there with the room we stayed in at a French Chateau that had a spiral iron staircase to a tiny  attic space that had miniature childrens’ furniture including a miniature Victorian pram. But that’s another story…a ghost story.

Every year when Halloween comes around I want to live in one of these Victorian houses in America. I want to be able to decorate it with apples and pumpkins and straw and garlands made from fallen leaves and Autumnal wreaths for the doors, none of your tacky, plastic rubbish that every chain store has been stocking here since late September. I want the kids calling in hokey, homemade costumes that their moms (it’s America, remember) have laboured over for weeks, probably in a little United Moms’ Crafty Club, that met in alternate houses, eating home baking and sewing to their hearts delight. I want to hear authentic accents asking me if I want a trick or treat. Of course I’ll always choose the trick but give the treat anyway. And the treats will be candies, not sweets, candies. It won’t rain. The little monsters with their torches will be running from house to house, like flashing amoeba and I’ll be shouting Happy Halloween across to Mr Wilson or old Mother Alcock who are out on their porches doing the same thing as me. And something will happen. It always does. There’s always a story.

Let me think, what could possibly go wrong? I know. I’m on my own, the children have grown up and moved away. My husband is away on a work trip. I’m lonely. I really would like a nice little girl, just like either one of my girls, to share the Halloween games with me, games like bobbing for apples, when the trick or treating is over. I could invite one of the kiddies in. I could persuade her to stay a while. What could possibly go wrong?

Stay tuned…to be continued…