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

vrijdag 18 november 2011

Brontëmania: Why the three sisters are bigger than ever


Charlotte Brontë detested Jane Austen. Hyperbole? Listen to the words of the author of Jane Eyre, writing to GH Lewes, the free-thinking editor and author who became George Eliot's partner. In 1848 – after the novel's publication had brought "Currer Bell" (Charlotte's pseudonym) notoriety among the London literati – Lewes advised her to read Pride and Prejudice. "Why do you like Miss Austen so much?" Charlotte – "puzzled" – replies. "I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden with neat borders and delicate flowers," with "no open country – no fresh air – no blue hill – no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses."
Lewes allows that "Miss Austen is not a poetess, has no 'sentiment'" – or, as Austen might put it, "sensibility". Charlotte, enraged, responds: "Can there be a great artist without poetry?" She contrasts Austen's prissy decorum with the "deep feeling for his kind" that in her eyes enriches and validates the satire of William Makepeace Thackeray, who had championed Jane Eyre to the extent that London gossip assumed "Currer Bell" had been his governess and mistress.
In 1850, Charlotte returns to the attack in a letter to WS Williams, the supportive literary adviser to her publisher who became a close epistolary friend. Now Charlotte has read Emma, and she dislikes it even more. She acknowledges that Austen "does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of well-bred English people curiously well", but "she ruffles the reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound; the Passions are perfectly unknown to her". Her scorn mounts: "Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible... woman; if this is heresy – I cannot help it."
"Heresy" it remains. Did Charlotte even know that both novelists were the offspring of impecunious Church of England clergymen who struggled to support large families while their daughters toiled to combine heavy domestic duties with the fulfilment of the literary gifts that few expected them even to possess, let along bring into the public domain? Her own father, Patrick Branty, a talented but penniless boy from County Down, had overcome every obstacle to enter St John's College, Cambridge, and on his path towards ordination in the Church was subsidised by the great Abolitionist William Wilberforce.
Charlotte's striking refusal of any solidarity or sympathy with Jane rings down the years. Much was at stake then; it continues to be at stake now. Charlotte knew on which side she stood: burning passion against cool calculation; spontaneity against artifice; free nature against bloodless cultivation; Romantic self-expression against neo-Classical control; Gothic sensation against drawing-room finesse; humble folk against scheming snobs; womanly virtues against ladylike manners. Plenty of readers have added, then and now: North against South. Of course, any close reading will blur these battle-lines, but the Brontës enjoyed a scrap.
After a period in which versions of Austen hogged our screens, the Brontës have fought back. Released today, Andrea Arnold's savagely uncompromising Wuthering Heights joins a line of adaptations of Emily's only surviving novel that began in 1920 (a lost work by AV Bramble) and went on to include renderings from directors as varied as William Wyler – with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon still the ranking Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw to many fans – and Yoshishige Yoshida, Luis Buñuel and Jacques Rivette. Earlier this year, Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre, with Mia Wasikowska as the uncowed governess and Michael Fassbender the sulphurous Mr Rochester, offered a rather smoother ride through another much-adapted book, albeit one that shares with Arnold – and the Brontës – a rapt attention to every squall and storm that blows across the ever-changing skies above the Yorkshire moors.
Yet the Brontë season will not end with Andrea Arnold and her black Heathcliff – a piece of casting that picks up on a long critical debate not only about the origins of the "dark-skinned gipsy" found wandering the streets of Liverpool, but about the colonial dimensions of both books. (In 1966, Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea imagined the Jamaican life of Bertha Mason, the first, attic-bound Mrs Rochester.)
Read more 
  • Five novelists on what the Brontës mean to them
  • Margaret Drabble
  • Michèle Roberts
  • Sarah Hall
  • Stevie Davies
  • Kate Mosse

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Parsonage

Parsonage

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).

Parents
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.

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