This is a blog about the Bronte Sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. And their father Patrick, their mother Maria and their brother Branwell. About their pets, their friends, the parsonage (their house), Haworth the town in which they lived, the moors they loved so much, the Victorian era in which they lived.
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
08-12-2017. In this special hour-long session, a member of our curatorial team will share facts and stories about a number of carefully-selected objects, offering a specialist insight into the lives and work of the inspirational Brontë family. You will also have the chance to experience the historic rooms of the Parsonage by candlelight. Fascinating and moving in equal measure, this Brontë Treasures by Candlelight is a not-to-bemissed experience. Places are limited to 12 so please book early to avoid disappointment.
Tickets £85 per person which includes a glass of wine. Please book in advance at www.bronte.org.uk/whats-on or by calling 01535 642323.
So far as secular celebration of Christmas was concerned, they seem to have done the usual things. They gave each other Christmas presents. In 1853, Elizabeth discusses with Marianne what she wants for Christmas, and reminds her about the two younger daughters: “think what Flossy & Julia would like for Xmas presents”.  Later, in 1861, she comments that “Meta [her second daughter] and I wearied ourselves out for Xmas presents”, but then oddly adds: “We made no great ado about presents this year. Julia a scarlet Connemara Cloak … Florence a remnant of silk for a gown”. They had special Christmas food. In 1852, Elizabeth recorded that “there is a great concoction of mince-meat & plum-pudding going on”, noting that one of the servants, “Huddlestone has never tasted either”. Did they, like so many people in the Victorian period, have a Christmas goose? There is no evidence, but Elizabeth, visiting London in December 1847, noted the geese hung up outside poulterers’ shops (to keep them cool in the days before refrigeration), and commented: “they sell geese here with their necks hanging down full length, instead of being tidily tucked up like Lancashire geese”. Did they have a Christmas tree? Elizabeth commented appreciatively on other people’s trees. When she notes in 1852 that the Gaskells are “not having a tree”, this may imply that they usually did.
This reference to the absence of a Christmas tree is followed, in a letter to Elizabeth Holland by the words: “Our Xmas days are always very quiet, principally a jollification for the servants.” This has sometimes been taken to indicate that the Gaskells always had a quiet Christmas, but the significant factor in 1852 was that both the older daughters were away from home. In a letter to Marianne, at the same time, Elizabeth writes: “I wish you were at home, though it will be exceedingly quiet here. No one coming, nor going out, except to Chapel. Flossy & Julia send their very very very best loves; we are not going to keep Xmas day till New Years day, partly because you won’t be here, partly because the presents are not ready.” They evidently did not feel they had to make a big thing of Christmas, but they duly enjoyed it: “we are all deep in preparations for Christmas”, Elizabeth wrote in 1849”. Doubtless they shared the common Victorian view that Christmas was a family festival, and their celebrations were affected by which members of the family were at home or away.
A vivid memory of Christmas that remained in Elizabeth’s memory from her childhood was of country children singing carols. “At Knutsford we have Christmas carols, such a pretty custom, calling one from dreamland to almost as mystic a state of mind; half awake and half asleep, blending reality so strangely with the fading visions; and children’s voices too in the dead of the night with their old words of bygone times.” Such a carol is quoted in Elizabeth’s story, “Christmas storms and Christmas sunshine” (1848). Anthony Burton, Volunteer and Trustee at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
Anne Brontë was undoubtedly the most devout of the Brontë siblings, so she in particular would have loved the Advent celebrations advancing week by week in her father’s church a short walk from the parsonage she called home – such as the lighting of advent carols and the singing of hymns. Christmas music was a particular delight to Anne – so much so that she wrote a poem called ‘Music on Christmas Morning’, which begins:
‘Music I love – but never strain
Could kindle raptures so divine,
So grief assuage, so conquer pain,
And rouse this pensive heart of mine –
As that we hear on Christmas morn,
Upon the wintry breezes born.’
The village of Haworth also loves music at Christmas – and indeed the Advent Christmas period as a whole is one of particular joy in this beautiful moorside village. In recent decades the modern tradition of ‘scroggling the holly’ has drawn the crowds, but there is no scroggling this year – fear not, for there are lots of other exciting activities coming that are great for Brontë lovers and families alike.
This weekend is ‘choral weekend’ – one the whole Brontë family would surely have enjoyed. The 9th of December is the night of the torchlight procession, a moving spectacle as folks in Victorian attire process up the steep and picturesque Main Street. Sunday the 10th is even more spectacular, as a there is a candelit carol procession from 4.30 which culminates in a traditional carol service at St. Michael and All Angels’ Church.
The Brontë Parsonage Museum is also particularly magical throughout December – particularly on Thursday 8th December – as there’s a chance to experience the parsonage by candlelight and then look at some of the Brontë treasures including manuscripts by Charlotte, Emily and Anne. It’s a tour I’ve done myself, and it truly is thrilling. Places are limited but you can find out more at the Brontë Society website here – where you’ll also find details of other events including Christmas wreath making workshops.
It’s certainly beginning to feel a lot like Christmas here in Yorkshire, by which I mean that it’s absolutely freezing of course, but life feels good when you wrap up warm and read a Brontë book with a warm drink near to hand!
As we continue to celebrate the Brontë bicentenaries (2016-20), I’d like to invite you to the launch of my new book Through Belgian Eyes: Charlotte Brontë’s Troubled Brussels Legacy, which is being published next month (Information here):
Thursday 7 December at 19.00 at Waterstones bookstore, Boulevard Adolphe Max 71, 1000 Brussels.
Those of you who were at my talks on 1 April and 14 October have had a preview of some of the aspects explored in the book. It does two things. It is the first book to look at how Belgian commentators have responded to Charlotte Brontë’s depiction of Brussels and Belgian life in Villette and The Professor. Their reactions cover a wide range: hostile, humorous, enthusiastic. At the same time, to provide context for Belgian readers’ reactions, the book fills in the background to the novels by exploring the Brussels world that Charlotte experienced in 1842-43. Her views are contrasted with those of other foreign visitors and of the Belgians themselves.
The book offers a new way of reading Villette and The Professor as well as new perspectives on Charlotte Brontë.
I also look at ways in which the Brontës’ stay in Brussels has entered the literary mythology of Brussels and fired imaginations. Did you know that in the nineteenth century there were tales of sightings of Charlotte’s ghost in the Belgian capital? Or that all three Brontë sisters lived in a house in Grand Place in 1852 – at least according to some guide books!
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.
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.