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 5 januari 2011

Selected Letters of Charlotte Brontë, ed Margaret Smith

Margaret Smith's exemplary three-volume edition of all Charlotte Brontë's surviving letters has now spawned this very welcome selection at an affordable price. About 950 letters from Charlotte, written between 1829, when she was immersed in the creation of her juvenile imaginary world of Angria in collaboration with her brother Branwell, and February 1855, a month before her death in the early stages of pregnancy, exist either in print or manuscript sources. This selection publishes about a fifth of them, and manages to include examples written to a wide range of Charlotte's correspondents, while at the same time conveying the salient aspects of the moving and dramatic Brontë story.
Most important, from posterity's point of view, are the letters to Charlotte's schoolfriend Ellen Nussey, "a conscientious, observant, calm, well-bred Yorkshire girl", without "romance" or intellectual pretension. Although Ellen later destroyed many letters that she considered too sensitive for publication, we have reason to be grateful to her for preserving so many which provide us with much detailed insight into the Brontës' lives. Among the most riveting in this selection are the four letters that Charlotte wrote from Haworth to her Brussels professor, Constantin Heger, after her return to England in 1844, which reveal the extent of her infatuation with him and her longing for the assurance of his continuing friendship for her. To her great distress, it was not forthcoming. In November 1845 she told him that: "To forbid me to write to you, to refuse to reply to me – that will be to tear from me the only joy I have on earth, to deprive me of my last remaining privilege... Day after day I await a letter and day after day disappointment flings me down again into overwhelming misery..." Her heart's loss was Charlotte's creative gain. From the relationship with Heger, and her time in Belgium, flowed the genius of Jane Eyre and Villette.

Margaret Smith has printed some of Charlotte's letters to her publisher Smith, Elder which chart the rise of her fame (and notoriety for her lack of "taste"); and a large number of those to W S Williams, Smith, Elder's literary adviser, who encouraged her after the firm rejected her first novel, The Professor, and who recommended acceptance of Jane Eyre. Some of Charlotte's most poignant letters on the deaths of Branwell, Emily and Anne were addressed to Williams. "A year ago," she wrote to him, after witnessing the death from tuberculosis of her sole surviving sibling Anne, "had a prophet warned me how I should stand in June 1849 – how stripped and bereaved – had he foretold the autumn, the winter, the spring of sickness and suffering to be gone through – I should have thought – this can never be endured. It is over. Branwell – Emily –Anne are gone like dreams... One by one I have watched them fall asleep on my arm – and closed their glazed eyes..."

Charlotte's letters to Williams also range freely over her views of contemporary writers, and of her own position as Currer Bell, the artist. From these emerges a strong sense of Charlotte as a survivor, of the professional writer, confident in her craft, who stands back from the brink of despair, and transmutes her experience into art: "The faculty of imagination lifted me when I was sinking three months ago." She wrote to him after the completion of Shirley, "Its active exercise has kept my head above water since – its results cheer me now – for I feel they have enabled me to give pleasure to others – I am thankful to God who gave me the faculty – and it is for me a part of my religion to defend this gift and to profit by its possession."

Margaret Smith has more than earned the plaudits of Brontë lovers for her patient and scrupulous work in establishing reliable texts of Charlotte's letters, and in annotating them so expertly. My only, very slight, regret about this selected edition is that she has omitted the extraordinary story of the letters' afterlife. This centres on the activities of one of the great forgers of the age, T J Wise, who wheedled Charlotte's letters from Ellen Nussey, promising that they would never be "scattered abroad", but would be preserved in the South Kensington Museum, and used "to enhance the honour & reputation of their gloriously gifted writer". In an act of blatant desecration, Wise proceeded to sell Charlotte's letters at auction. In his zeal for selling to the highest bidder, many of the letters were split up and lost forever to untraceable locations. It is a tale rich in skulduggery and deceit which still remains to be told in full.

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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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