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 12 maart 2016

The Victorians regarded Charlotte Brontë as coarse and immoral - and deplored Jane Eyre

Lucasta Miller:

The most notoriously vituperative notice, published in the conservative Quarterly Review, accused Currer Bell of "moral Jacobinism" – of trying to start a revolution. It went on to insinuate that, if indeed female, she must have "for some sufficient reason … forfeited the society of her own sex", ie that she must be a fallen woman whose loose sexual behaviour had made her a pariah in decent circles. Few insults could have been more excoriating at the time. Charlotte Brontë – in reality, the spinster daughter of a provincial parson and a lifelong Tory – was nonplussed at being simultaneously tarred with the brush of political liberalism and personal libertinism.

It is easy today to dismiss Jane Eyre's Victorian critics as purblind prudes. The fact that the Quarterly's anonymous critic was herself a woman, Elizabeth Rigby, outraged 20th-century feminists, who saw it as an unsisterly affront from a hidebound conservative. Yet it is worth asking whether the intensity of the contemporary response was a more honest reaction to Jane Eyre's insistent abrasiveness than the modern tendency to remove its sting by blandly categorising it as a classic.

At first glance, Elizabeth Rigby – who later married the head of the National Gallery – seems a Victorian woman after Charlotte Brontë's own heart. Carving out a successful journalistic career on her own merits, she stormed a bastion of male privilege when she was appointed lead critic of the revered Quarterly. As such she embodied in real life the ideals expressed by the fictional Jane who tells Mr Rochester that women are secretly as ambitious as men to exercise their faculties.
Why, then, did Elizabeth Rigby so hate Jane Eyre?

Elizabeth Rigby, the future Lady Eastlake, photographed about 1847 by Hill & Adamson

An easy answer would be that she had to conform to the Quarterly's old-school stance to keep her job. But her review fails to support that. In fact, if one reads it in depth it is clear that she does not attack Brontë's novel from a conservative position. Her accusations of Jacobinism are a cover for her own progressive political platform.

How, Rigby wonders, can Currer Bell make a hero out of Rochester? He is a rich, privileged, middle-aged, married man who gets a kick out of grooming the disempowered teenage governess he has employed to teach his illegitimate daughter. First he hooks her by telling her intimate details of his previous sex life. Then he goes on to try to get her into bed under false pretences by fixing a mock wedding. According to Rigby, most women of spirit would recoil from such a blatant exploitation of power for sexual ends. But Jane, clearly a self-deluded masochist, delights in addressing him as her "master". As for the "governess problem", Rigby is scathing. As we now know, the real Charlotte Brontë was in reality paid a mere £16 per annum when she worked as a governess in a private family, which, in today's equivalent, would be considered stingy pocket money for an au pair. Rigby fully understands that such underpaid employment was almost the only work option for impoverished but educated women at the time. Yet she blasts Jane Eyre, since it suggests that the only solution to the governess's dilemma is to marry the master. Instead, Rigby laments the fact that governesses are prevented by their gender from forming a trades union. Higher wages, she argues, would be the true solution to their plight.

Despite the "Jacobin" label, Rigby does not see Jane Eyre as a forward-looking book but as a throwback to less egalitarian times. Her views, usually regarded as misguided by modern critics, in fact enable us to understand how Jane Eyre's success in mesmerising generations of readers derive from its unspoken contradictions, which arguably give it its electric energy and have allowed it to be interpreted in so many contradictory ways.

Jane's assertiveness is indeed feminist, relocating the Byronic ego in the figure of the poor, plain governess. But her erotic masochism reflects the Fifty Shades of Grey view of gender relations promoted by the sub-Byronic commercial literature of the 1820s and 1830s which the young Charlotte had imbibed, along with the amoral, libertine, and frankly misogynistic Tory anarchism of Blackwood's Magazine and Fraser's Magazine, her favourite reading in her youth.

As a provincial, Charlotte Brontë was behind the times and outside the loop of literary London. She had no idea quite how tawdry and naïve her female Byronism would seem in 1847 to the new, progressive Victorian establishment, who had moved their focus from Romantic individualism to social amelioration. And yet, for all her doubts, even Rigby acknowledged that Jane Eyre was a work of genius. Jane Eyre is too full of paradox to be read as a moral manual, but it has survived because, artistically, it has rarely been bettered.

Lucasta Miller's book is The Brontë Myth' . Her essay on why Brontë books were deemed "coarse" will appear in the Blackwell Companion to the Brontës. Read on: independent

More information about Elizabeth Rigby; wiki/Elizabeth Eastlake

 

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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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