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 4 april 2012


While Gaskell’s entire characterization of her subject aims to “show what a noble, true, and tender woman Charlotte Brontë really was” (396), meaning middle class and feminine, I will touch on two illustrative instances, dress and love, the knowledge and handling of which attest to Gaskell’s middle-class status as much as Brontë’s.  Dress stands out as one of the many seemingly trivial matters that Gaskell highlights in her biography in an effort to help middle-class readers, particularly of course women readers, relate to Charlotte Brontë. Modern feminist scholars are Masters 89 particularly inclined to recognize clothing as a socially meaningful element of Victorian life, and according to Langland, “details of dress, always associated with status, took on increasing subtlety as indicators of class rank within the middle classes. Likewise, dress historian Rachel Worth believes that “the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell are extremely enlightening . . . for their delineation of class as construed through specific styles of dress and specific fabrics 

In The Life, then, clothing presents a possible problem as asign of Brontë’s failure in the realm of middle-class femininity, since, for example, her sister “Emily had taken a fancy to the fashion, ugly and preposterous even during its reign, of gigot sleeves, and persisted in wearing them long after they were ‘gone out.’ Her petticoats, too, had, not a curve or a wave in them, but hung straight and long, clinging to her lank figure” (166). Furthermore, beyond this association with her unfashionable sister, Brontë had apparently failed to clothe her fictional characters appropriately, for in her review, Rigby insinuates that the author must be a man as “no woman attires another in such fancy dresses as Jane’s ladies assume” (111). Through careful maneuvering on Gaskell’s part, however, such alleged ignorance of flattering and socially-appropriate apparel serves as another illustration of how Brontë eventually transcends the disadvantages of her early life. Recurring references to clothing function first as a sign of Brontë’s early social deprivation, then as learning experience, and ultimately as evidence of her “gentle breeding” rather than social ignorance (311). As in many of her fictional works, including Cranford and Wives and Daughters, in The Life, Gaskell reaffirms the importance of dress as a marker of class status and femininity, drawing on the specifically upper middle-class “emphasis . . . on subtle understatement in apparel” rather than ostentatious displays of fashion (Langland 35).

To reach the point where readers see Brontë as simply and elegantly dressed as befitting her middle-class position, Gaskell first has to grapple with the public knowledge that as children the Brontë girls had “strange, odd, insular ideas about dress” (166), as their Belgian schoolfellows noticed when Charlotte and Emily Brontë lived abroad to study French. To account for this social ignorance in terms of fashion, Gaskell locates several contributing factors, including the lack of shops for “dress, or dainties” in Haworth (39), the early death of Mrs. Brontë which left Mr. Brontë to raise daughters (nearly) without female aid, and their spinster Aunt Branwell’s hopelessly out-of-date sense of style. 

Thus, in writing about Brontë as a teenager, Gaskell asks her readers to “think of her as a little, set, antiquated girl, very quiet in manners, and very quaint in dress” (75), though, importantly, through no fault of her own. For one, as an evangelical clergyman, “Mr. Brontë wished to make his children hardy, and indifferent to the pleasures of eating and dress,” and as the knowledgeable Gaskell confirms, “in the latter he succeeded, as far as regarded his daughters” (42). Likewise, Aunt Branwell “on whom the duty of dressing her nieces principally devolved, had never been in society since she left Penzance, eight or nine years before, and the Penzance fashions of that day were still dear to her heart” (75). Noble or kind as their intentions ma have been, neither Mr. Brontë nor Aunt Branwell manage the household with the kind of success Gaskell imagines in her character Mrs. Gibson from Wives and Daughters, who recognizes the importance of selecting appropriate, class-signifying clothing for the young women of a middle-class household.  

Fortunately, at least in Gaskell’s opinion, Brontë rectified this early disadvantage in terms of clothing once she experienced the wider world and discovered her innate “feminine taste” and “love for modest, dainty, neat attire” (356), which could so appropriately signal her position as a respectable woman of limited means. To show this transformation from “very quaint in dress” to fashion-conscious, Gaskell brilliantly allows Brontë to speak for herself through quotations from personal letters. 

In 1851, for example, Brontë wrote to her friend Ellen Nussey, requesting assistance with the purchase of some “lace cloaks, both black and white,” and she spends a full paragraph 
enumerating the details involved in this fashion decision (qtd. in Life 356). Of this letter, Miller suggests that it “lets us share an everyday private moment between two female friends, but is also used by Gaskell as proof of Miss Brontë’s ‘feminine taste’ and ‘love for modest, dainty, neat attire,’ moral indicators of her irreproachable womanliness” (67). While Miller correctly assesses how the letter contributes to Gaskell’s feminine picture of Brontë, we should remember that this instance is one of the more positive references to dress in the biography, occurring late in the second volume, and after the publication of  Jane Eyre.

The earlier passages in The Life, in which Gaskell deliberately mentions the poor and strange clothing the Brontës wore, make such later references to cloaks, bonnets, gloves, and scarves all the more relevant. In the manner of Gaskell’s fictional heroine Molly Gibson, as the protagonist of The Life, Brontë matures in her sense of style and thus her womanly appeal. In turn, tainted by a penchant for “preposterous” sleeves and petticoats, Emily Brontë, as Jay suggests, is once again “offered up as the scapegoat” (xx), while her more sociable sister Charlotte learns how to present herself properly and in accordance with modern taste. A sign of Brontë’s true success in mastering the art of dressing is the reaction, or rather lack of one, from the ever style-conscious Gaskell upon their first meeting. Although she gossiped freely in her letter to Catherine Winkworth about Brontë’s “undeveloped” body, “altogether plain” face, and unique childhood, Gaskell apparently found nothing to criticize in terms of dress in the “little lady in a black-silk gown” (Letters 123). 
Read on: etd.lib.umt.edu/theses/

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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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