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

zaterdag 19 februari 2011

What would the Brontë sisters sew?

They stitched samplers long before Charlotte grew up to write “Jane Eyre,” before Emily wrote “Wuthering Heights” and before Anne wrote “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” [...]

Charlotte completed her sampler at age 13 in April 1829. Emily was done with hers at age 11 on March 1, 1829. Anne finished hers at age 10 on Jan. 23, 1830. They stitched their samplers at their home, Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, after the girls had returned from school where their older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, had died from privation and illness suffered at the boarding school.

It is easy to imagine the sisters sitting together, hoops and needles in hand, making row after row of cross-stitches to fashion each word. Perhaps the sewing was an occasion to sit together and talk about life in the village or to remember their sisters. Or perhaps the sewing was drudgery, an onerous task to be got through until they could go out to the moors where they let their imaginations run wild.

As might be expected of the daughters of Patrick Brontë, a clergyman, the Brontë sisters’ samplers consist of lengthy passages from the Bible, from Proverbs and Psalms.

Photographs of the Brontës’ samplers are included in “Samplers and Tapestry Embroideries” by Marcus Huish, first published in 1900 in London. Huish describes the samplers: “They show a strange lack of ornament, and a monotony of colour (they are worked in black silk on rough canvas) which deprive them of all attractiveness in themselves.” Judging from the photographs, it’s easy to see how Huish might arrive at that conclusion, but the samplers, to my eye, have an almost architectural beauty of composition.

Huish says in his book that the owner of the samplers at that time was Clement Shorter, a journalist who collected manuscripts, books and materials related to his favorite authors, including the Brontë sisters.

Each sampler differs somewhat from the others. The top verse in Charlotte’s sampler reads: “A house divided against itself can’t stand.” But horizontal bars of stitching separate the seven verses in the sampler. Did she intend that as a bit of drollery? It can be argued that “Jane Eyre” has the “house divided” idea as one of its themes. Rochester was certainly a “house divided against itself,” given the fact that he had a madwoman, his wife, living in the attic, while falling in love and persuading Jane, the governess, who didn’t know about the wife, to marry him.

A line in Emily’s sampler says: “Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.” Was this line from a verse from Proverbs a foreshadowing of her character Heathcliff, whose callous behavior transgressed social and moral codes, in “Wuthering Heights”?

Anne’s sampler, also with verses from Proverbs, bears this line: “She is more precious than rubies and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.” It was Anne who created the character Helen, the wife of Arthur, the unfaithful, drunken husband who did not value his wife. Helen fled from him in “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.”

The three samplers are stitched with the same zigzag border, similar to a Greek key pattern.

I searched a long time on the Internet for images of the samplers so I could direct readers to them, but I was not successful. The only images I found are in Huish’s book.

I came across references stating that the samplers are housed at Haworth Parsonage, now a museum, but at websites pertaining to Haworth I did not find information to confirm that the samplers are, indeed, housed at the museum. I e-mailed a query but have not yet received a reply. (Ardeana Hamlin)

Well, we are not the Brontë Parsonage Museum but we can confirm that the samplers do indeed belong to their collection.

The children learned how to sew from Aunt Branwell.

Miss Branwell was a very small, antiquated little lady. She wore caps large enough for half-a-dozen of the present fashion, and a front of light auburn curls over her forehead. She always dressed in silk. She had a horror of the climate so far north, and of the stone floors in the Parsonage. She talked a great deal of her younger days — the gaiety's of her dear native town Penzance, the soft, warm climate, &c. She gave one the idea that she had been a belle among her own home acquaintance. She took snuff out of a very pretty gold snuff-box, which she sometimes presented to you with a little laugh, as if she enjoyed the slight shock of astonishment visible in your countenance. She would be very lively and intelligent, and tilt arguments against Mr. Bronte without fear."

So Miss Ellen Nussey recalls the elderly, prim Miss Branwell about ten years later than her first arrival in Yorkshire. But it is always said of her that she changed very little. Miss Nussey's striking picture will pretty accurately represent the maiden lady of forty, who, from a stringent and noble sense of duty, left her southern, pleasant home to take care of the little orphans running wild at Haworth Parsonage. Henceforth their time was no longer free for their own disposal. They said lessons to their father, they did sewing with their aunt, and learned from her all housewifely duties. Patrick Branwell was the favourite with his aunt, the naughty, clever, brilliant, rebellious, affectionate Patrick. Next to him she always preferred the pretty, gentle baby Anne, with her sweet, clinging ways, her ready submission, her large blue eyes and clear pink-and-white complexion. Charlotte, impulsive, obstinate and plain, the rugged, dogged Emily, were not framed to be favourites with her. Many a fierce tussle of wills, many a grim listening to over-frivolous reminiscence, must have shown the aunt and her nieces the difference of their natures. Maria, too, the whilom head of the nursery, must have found submission hard ; but hers was a singularly sweet and modest nature. Of Elizabeth but little is remembered. Meanwhile the regular outer life went oh — the early rising, the dusting and pudding-making, the lessons said to their father, the daily portion of sewing accomplished in Miss Branwell's bedroom, because that lady grew more and more to dislike the flagged flooring of the sitting-room.

Every day, some hour snatched for a ramble on the moors ; peaceful times in summer when the little girls took their sewing under, the stunted thorns and currants in the garden, the clicking sound of Miss Branwell's pattens indistinctly heard within. Happy times when six children, all in all to each other, told wonderful stories in low voices for their own entrancement.
Miss Branwell took care that the girls should not lack more homely knowledge.

Each took her share in the day's work, and learned all details of it as accurately as any German maiden at her cookery school. Emily took very kindly to even the hardest housework ; there she felt able and necessary ; and, doubtless, upstairs, grimly listening to prim Miss Branwell's stories of bygone gaiety's, this awkward growing girl was glad to remember that she too was of importance to the household, despite her tongue-tied brooding.
Read more about Aunt Branwell:

4 opmerkingen:

  1. The Jane Eyre books is my favorite from Charlotte Bronte. Villette and Shiley are must-read from her as well. :)

  2. I could swear I've seen pictures of the original samplers somewhere...I'll have to think about it. If I figure it out I'll let you know. Aunt Branwell was such a good woman to them...she gave up so much for them.
    xo J~

  3. If you look on my bloglist "Samplers"", you can see pictures of all the samplers the Bronte woman made.

  4. @Manica:
    Jane Eyre is also my TOP book from Charlotte. Because of this book I started to be interested in the Bronte Girls.
    Lately I was reading Villette and I started to like it. Specially because it is so autobiografic.
    For instance the second travel Charlotte made to Brussels. I cannot believe she did this, in those days, without a chaperonne. She was so in love, but couldn't recognise this feeling for herself, she had to go back. And while she was doing it she had big fun, but also it made her very nervous.


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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