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

dinsdag 17 november 2015

Charlotte Bronte, did she use opium? Or do we see the creation of a new Bronte Myth?

Charlotte Brontë kept this journal while working as a teacher at Roe Head school in West Yorkshire. The pages shown here were written in August 1836. In the journal she records both imaginary happenings in Angria and the banalities of her everyday life as a teacher:

What I imagined grew morbidly vivid,...All this day I have been in a dream, half miserable and half ecstatic: miserable because I could not follow it out uninterruptedly; ecstatic because it shewed almost in the vivid light of reality the ongoings of the infernal world. ...Then came on me, rushing impetuously, all the mighty phantasm that we had conjured from nothing to a system strong as some religious creed. I felt as if I could have written gloriously - I longed to write. The spirit of all Verdopolis, of all the mountainous North, of all the woodland West, of all the river-watered East came crowding into my mind. If I had had time to indulge it, I felt that the vague sensations of that moment would have settled down into some narrative better at least than any thing I ever produced before. But just then a dolt came up with a lesson. I thought I should have vomited.
- See more at:bl.uk/collection-items/charlotte-brontes-journal

Claire Harman in her new biography is suggesting Charlotte Bronte was using laudanum/ opium during the time she was a teacher at Roe Head. What does her suggest this:

  • Branwell and Charlotte were both reading Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas de Quincy. The young Brontes were fascinated by the book. 
  • Branwell later told a friend that he had experimented with opium eating after reading de Quincy. Claire Harman thinks it is unlikely, given the opportunity, Charlotte would not have joined him in some testing of the magical drug.
  • Phantasms as Charlotte discribes in her Roe Head diary are like the phantoms that was commonly used to describe opium -induced reveries.
  • Claire Harman uses a foot-note: Christina Alexander brought readers' attention to something Charlotte wrote 3 years after the priod in Roe Head "Now Thownshend, so suffering, how far did I err when I had recourse to the sovereign specific which a siple narcotic drug offered me"
  • Opiates, laudanum drops were a common tranquilliser in the Brontes time, easily available over de druggist counter. 
There is one person who ever asked Charlotte Bronte if she was using opium during the time she was writing Vilette and that is Elizabeth Gaskell.

“I asked 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, &c.  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 she had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling asleep, – 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 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.”.
 
One of the things why I love Charlotte Bronte is because of this answer. It is giving such a good expression of creativity. I love: Specially 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 am interested in the process of creativity, I am a painter myself. And I found many testimonies of creative people like painters, writers who are telling exactly the same. And I have experienced it myself.

Elizabeth Gaskell is ending with: I cannot account for this psychologically: I only am sure that it was so, because she said so. Claire Harman is asking: Maybe Charlotte being evasive, making a rather specious distinction about the size of a dose and if so, why?

To my surprise in a review in  the theguardian  the question mark is gone. When Gaskell had asked Brontë about fact and fiction in the novels, she got some unexpected answers. Brontë was evasive about whether she had based the opium trance in Villette on personal experience (in an age when opium was readily available and often used.

It starts to become a truth. Is this the way in the past Bronte myths were created? I wonder is it enough for a biographer to use a question mark, without having a real prove? What is the real prove Claire Harman has? Did she forget that the Brontes from their childhood on were full of imagination?
Is it so incredible to think that Charlotte made her work on her own power of creating? Charlotte was a teenage girl when she was working as a teacher at Roe Head. Is it so strange she had strong visions and feelings? I had them when I was a teenager and I certainly did not use opium.

1 opmerking:

  1. If she says Charlotte Bronte was using laudanum/ opium during the time she was a teacher at Roe Head , I say No . Charlotte would not be that foolish do so while employed and right under Miss Wooler's nose. If CB had such drugs, she would not have needed to write the desperate letters to Ellen that she did.

    CB indulged in her visions from childhood. Are we now to believe she took drug then too? .

    Is it so incredible to think that Charlotte made her work on her own power of creating? Charlotte was a teenage girl when she was working as a teacher at Roe Head. Is it so strange she had strong visions and feelings? I had them when I was a teenager and I certainly did not use opium.

    Exactly Geri. We celebrated the Bronte sisters because they did not need drugs. Sadly, in later life, Branwell did But you ask a very interesting question. : Is it so incredible to think that Charlotte made her work on her own power of creating?...Apparently, yes. You know after she became famous, Charlotte faced a great deal of jealously and resentment over her genius. It seems she still does.

    If Harman says CB needed drugs to create, it's far more serious charge than simply CB used drugs during her time at Roe Head. It's strikes at the core of her artistry

    To my surprise in a review in the the guardian the( Gaskell) question mark is gone

    Incredibly dishonest . Rather than the question she asked, now Gaskell's words become a
    statement she would not dream of making. Will the question mark ever be restored? Not likely

    Generally Harman seems bored by CB and so makes things up or the publisher wanted some excitement. What she writes would be allowable in a novel...but not a biography , at least in my view. ... especially one called ( as a joke?) "definitive"

    If she spent this time looking into when Charlotte and Emily left Cowan Bridge , perhaps she would know Patrick did not send them back after their elder sisters died as she says and that he indeed received a refund because they did not go back.

    BeantwoordenVerwijderen

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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