I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.
Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights

woensdag 17 februari 2010

The Branwell exhibition in the Bonnell Room

Angria was the fictional country created in a series of stories by Charlotte Brontë and her brother Branwell, before Charlotte got into her writing stride with Jane Eyre and Branwell self-destructed.

A new exhibition at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire, tells the story of Angria and gives Branwell, the hapless sibling, due credit as an inspiration and catalyst for his sisters’ creative imaginations.

Arts and culture holiday ideas Quaint, cobbled Haworth, with its tea shops, its graveyard and its hinterland of forbidding moorland, is saturated with the Brontës. Their books and characters are reflected in the names of cab companies, Indian restaurants, hotels and streets. The annual throughput of 75,000 tourists – almost all pilgrims to the Parsonage Museum – may appreciate the atmosphere of bygone days, but Haworth’s prize tourist asset is far from complacent.

That’s why the dour, four-square, moorland house where, more than a century and a half ago, three rather strange sisters produced works of literary greatness – and a brother wasted his promise – is in the midst of a rolling redevelopment. Last year it reopened with a freshly designed exhibition space on the first floor that shows the minute storybooks that brought Angria to life, complete with magnifying glasses to read the exquisitely tiny handwriting. Downstairs in the Bonnell Room is a temporary exhibition on the hitherto neglected Branwell called Sex, Drugs and Literature: the Infernal World of Branwell Brontë.

Branwell is generally remembered for the spectacular trajectory of his self-destruction, as implied in the lurid title of this exhibition. The details of his downward spiral are well chronicled through his drawings, notebooks and letters.

According to Elizabeth Gaskell, novelist and biographer of Charlotte Brontë, Branwell was “perhaps, to begin with, the greatest genius in this rare family” but he dissipated his talents as artist and writer in drink and drugs.

After trying his hand as a portrait painter in Bradford (largely unsuccessful), he worked as a family tutor (dismissed), as a railway employee (dismissed) and once more as a tutor (dismissed again after a love affair with the mistress of the house – the traumatic event that pitched him even further into what we would nowadays call substance abuse).

When he died of tuberculosis in 1848 at the age of 31, having achieved little of note, Charlotte wrote: “I do not weep from a sense of bereavement, but for the wreck of a talent, the ruin of promise… ”

The upstairs rooms of the museum provide a corrective to this negative view of Branwell. In his “studio” – which actually served for most of the time as a bedroom – hang portraits of Bradford worthies that show him to have been a competent if uninspired artist. Next door, in the revamped Exhibition Room dedicated to the Brontës as writers, Branwell is revealed as a crucial midwife of his sisters’ imaginations.

Indeed, their love of imaginary worlds may be said to have dated from the day in June 1826 when a set of toy soldiers arrived at the Parsonage for Branwell, a gift from his father, Patrick. The soldiers do not survive, but the children’s accounts of the imaginary worlds they created for them do. In tiny, meticulous handwriting – tiny enough for a toy soldier to read – the siblings took the soldiers off to Africa and the imaginary land of Angria.
Later, Emily and Anne created yet another world that they called Gondal. In the family’s copy of Grammar of General Geography, wedged between entries for Gomera and Gondar, Anne added in her neat handwriting this fictitious land of Gondal, which she described as “a large island in the North Pacific”.

Marooned in their windswept moorland parsonage, the siblings gave full vent to their powerful imaginations and Charlotte and Branwell in particular had ambitions of wider literary success.

Charlotte’s expectations were temporarily dashed when the Poet Laureate, Robert Southey, wrote in reply to her letter that “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life”. Branwell’s pompous and long-winded letter to William Wordsworth – “I have lived among secluded hills, where I could neither know what I was or what I could do” – did not elicit a reply. Perhaps the most poignant exhibit is Branwell’s last surviving drawing, entitled A Parody, which shows him being summoned from sleep by Death in the form of a gesturing skeleton.

The Branwell exhibition in the Bonnell Room runs until May, by which time two more phases of refurbishment at the Parsonage Museum will have taken place.

This year the “interpretation and casing” of exhibits in the original rooms of the house have been modernised and new displays reflect the history of Haworth. Later the house will be redecorated in a more authentic way to reflect the early- to mid-19th-century period when the family lived there.

‘‘We’re trying to do some decorative archaeology with English Heritage to produce something with more historical veracity,” says the director of the Parsonage Museum, Andrew McCarthy. “It will be quite a dramatic change.”

After visiting the Parsonage I walked up on the moors behind the house as far as Top Withens, the ruined farmstead said by some to have been the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. From this bleak, haunting spot I looked back over a landscape of bog, bracken and heather, and a deep, dark valley cleft.

The spirit of these literary siblings is captured forever in the scene. After the deaths of Emily and Anne, Charlotte wrote of these moors that Emily’s memory was distilled in the heather and ferns, while “The distant prospects were Anne’s delight, and when I look round she is in the blue tints, the pale mists, the waves and shadows of the horizon.” Branwell you may detect in the plangent moaning of the wind.


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The Parlour

The Parlour



Charlotte Bronte

Presently the door opened, and in came a superannuated mastiff, followed by an old gentleman very like Miss Bronte, who shook hands with us, and then went to call his daughter. A long interval, during which we coaxed the old dog, and looked at a picture of Miss Bronte, by Richmond, the solitary ornament of the room, looking strangely out of place on the bare walls, and at the books on the little shelves, most of them evidently the gift of the authors since Miss Bronte's celebrity. Presently she came in, and welcomed us very kindly, and took me upstairs to take off my bonnet, and herself brought me water and towels. The uncarpeted stone stairs and floors, the old drawers propped on wood, were all scrupulously clean and neat. When we went into the parlour again, we began talking very comfortably, when the door opened and Mr. Bronte looked in; seeing his daughter there, I suppose he thought it was all right, and he retreated to his study on the opposite side of the passage; presently emerging again to bring W---- a country newspaper. This was his last appearance till we went. Miss Bronte spoke with the greatest warmth of Miss Martineau, and of the good she had gained from her. Well! we talked about various things; the character of the people, - about her solitude, etc., till she left the room to help about dinner, I suppose, for she did not return for an age. The old dog had vanished; a fat curly-haired dog honoured us with his company for some time, but finally manifested a wish to get out, so we were left alone. At last she returned, followed by the maid and dinner, which made us all more comfortable; and we had some very pleasant conversation, in the midst of which time passed quicker than we supposed, for at last W---- found that it was half-past three, and we had fourteen or fifteen miles before us. So we hurried off, having obtained from her a promise to pay us a visit in the spring... ------------------- "She cannot see well, and does little beside knitting. The way she weakened her eyesight was this: When she was sixteen or seventeen, she wanted much to draw; and she copied nimini-pimini copper-plate engravings out of annuals, ('stippling,' don't the artists call it?) every little point put in, till at the end of six months she had produced an exquisitely faithful copy of the engraving. She wanted to learn to express her ideas by drawing. After she had tried to draw stories, and not succeeded, she took the better mode of writing; but in so small a hand, that it is almost impossible to decipher what she wrote at this time.

I asked her whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, - vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, etc. She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling to sleep, - wondering what it was like, or how it would be, - till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this one point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened. I cannot account for this psychologically; I only am sure that it was so, because she said it. ----------------------She thought much of her duty, and had loftier and clearer notions of it than most people, and held fast to them with more success. It was done, it seems to me, with much more difficulty than people have of stronger nerves, and better fortunes. All her life was but labour and pain; and she never threw down the burden for the sake of present pleasure. I don't know what use you can make of all I have said. I have written it with the strong desire to obtain appreciation for her. Yet, what does it matter? She herself appealed to the world's judgement for her use of some of the faculties she had, - not the best, - but still the only ones she could turn to strangers' benefit. They heartily, greedily enjoyed the fruits of her labours, and then found out she was much to be blamed for possessing such faculties. Why ask for a judgement on her from such a world?" elizabeth gaskell/charlotte bronte

Poem: No coward soul is mine

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the worlds storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heavens glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

O God within my breast.
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life -- that in me has rest,
As I -- Undying Life -- have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move mens hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast Rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou -- Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Emily Bronte

Family tree

The Bronte Family

Grandparents - paternal
Hugh Brunty was born 1755 and died circa 1808. He married Eleanor McClory, known as Alice in 1776.

Grandparents - maternal
Thomas Branwell (born 1746 died 5th April 1808) was married in 1768 to Anne Carne (baptised 27th April 1744 and died 19th December 1809).

Father was Patrick Bronte, the eldest of 10 children born to Hugh Brunty and Eleanor (Alice) McClory. He was born 17th March 1777 and died on 7th June 1861. Mother was Maria Branwell, who was born on 15th April 1783 and died on 15th September 1821.

Maria had a sister, Elizabeth who was known as Aunt Branwell. She was born in 1776 and died on 29th October 1842.

Patrick Bronte married Maria Branwell on 29th December 1812.

The Bronte Children
Patrick and Maria Bronte had six children.
The first child was Maria, who was born in 1814 and died on 6th June 1825.
The second daughter, Elizabeth was born on 8th February 1815 and died shortly after Maria on 15th June 1825. Charlotte was the third daughter, born on 21st April 1816.

Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls (born 1818) on 29th June 1854. Charlotte died on 31st March 1855. Arthur lived until 2nd December 1906.

The first and only son born to Patrick and Maria was Patrick Branwell, who was born on 26th June 1817 and died on 24th September 1848.

Emily Jane, the fourth daughter was born on 30th July 1818 and died on 19th December 1848.

The sixth and last child was Anne, born on 17th January 1820 who died on 28th May 1849.

Top Withens in the snow.

Top Withens in the snow.



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