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

donderdag 13 augustus 2009

2009 Conference, Men in the Brontës' Lives

A report by Charlotte Jonné

(Note: I have done my best to give an accurate report of the speakers' ideas. If any inaccuracies have slipped in I apologise and will correct them if pointed out.)

As I am writing this, I am sitting on my bed in the lovely York Youth Hostel pondering events past, and basically not wanting to go back home. Home, which is – granted – a few degrees warmer, but not as appealing as a conference room filled with Brontë enthusiasts. A lot has happened over the past weekend. I have listened to eminent scholars making their points (accompanied by the occasional plugging of a book), I have got to know very nice people from all over the world (including fellow country…women I should say), and I have had heated discussions about the actor to play Heathcliff / Mr. Rochester in the perfect screen adaptation. The perfect screen adaptation which of course only exists in our mind’s eye (which is, I believe a submerged reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet – an inside joke never hurts, but I’ll stop now, I promise). What I am trying to say, in this rather roundabout way, is that there was something for everyone at last weekend’s Brontë Conference at the University of York, the topic being Men in The Brontës' Lives - Influences, Publishers, Critics and Characters.

The very first lecture was by Christine Alexander, who talked about hero-worship and Charlotte Brontë. She agreed that there is a lot of hero worship in Brontë's work, because it was fashionable at the time, and because children model their behaviour on people they admire. The Brontë circle being as closed as it was, Charlotte had to look elsewhere, and found the Duke of Wellington among her father’s heroes. However, Alexander argues, Brontë always found a way of putting her admiration into perspective. Alexander then showed how this was done in throughout Brontë’s juvenilia and in Shirley.

The second lecture was given by Dudley Green, an expert on Patrick Brontë. He shed some light on the characteristics the Brontë children inherited from their father. Reverend Brontë made sure they had proper schooling and encouraged them to read, write, paint and play music. His religious influence can also be seen in the many biblical references in his children’s works. A special place in his heart was reserved for Emily, with whom he went shooting. He imprinted on Charlotte his sense of determination to succeed, which she would need when going to Belgium and when looking for a publisher. Patrick was paid a beautiful compliment on his parenting skills by M. Heger, who was impressed by the remarkable character of Charlotte and Emily.

The third lecture on Friday did not have a literary basis. Jane Sellars, an art historian, told us about the Brontë family portraits, of which there are two: Branwell's Pillar Portrait and Gun Group, which has been severely damaged. Sellars reviewed Branwell’s artistic influences and presumed intentions in painting his sisters, but also tried to look at the paintings afresh. She pointed out that the Pillar Portrait was painted when none of the sisters were famous, before the family tragedies. And yet, she argues, our modern-day perception of the portrait is distorted, because in our eyes, it has absorbed all the biographical information we now have about the Brontës.

On Saturday, Miriam Bailin gave us her views on the relationship between Charlotte Brontë and the critic George Henry Lewes. Lewes was the first person to characterise fictional realism, and that is what he wanted out of Charlotte Brontë: realism. He warned her about melodrama and was of the opinion that she should stick to her own experience. Charlotte recognised Lewes’s wisdom but did not accept it, since that was exactly what she had done in writing The Professor, a novel everyone was reluctant to publish. Brontë and Lewes had a lively correspondence, until he judged Shirley harshly, and revealed that the author was a woman. Charlotte felt wronged, since he had judged her as a woman and not as an author. Their frank interchange came to an end.

Michael O’Neill subsequently gave us a talk on Emily Brontë’s poetry and Romanticism, firmly establishing the ties between the Romantics (especially Shelley) and Emily’s poetry. He showed how Brontë reworked Romanticism, and how she responds to her predecessors.

Lucasta Miller, author of The Brontë Myth, gave us an introduction to Letitia Elizabeth Landon, an English poet and novelist, whose celebrity turned into notoriety after a series of scandals. Miller connects L.E.L.’s world with that of Charlotte Brontë. One similarity is the gossip: Charlotte Brontë was the alleged mistress of Thackeray. Unlike Landon, Brontë refused the part of the scandalous woman, and allowed no flirtation with anyone whatsoever. It is, however, interesting to ask the question: if Charlotte Brontë had lived in London, would she have been tempted?

Then Patsy Stoneman took the stage with her lecture on Rochester and Heathcliff as romantic heroes. As in earlier romantic stories, e.g. Jane Austen's, the relationship of Jane Eyre and Rochester is very Oedipal, Stoneman argues. He is an older man. He is also dark, moody, powerful, with hidden sorrows, not unlike Zamorna, Brontë’s Romantic hero. Whereas in the earlier stories it is often the heroine who changes, Jane Eyre revolves around the reformation of the hero. This has become a defining feature of modern romance writings. Rochester is gentler than many Byronic heroes and is prepared to share his life with his wife.

Heathcliff, however, is different from the traditional hero of romance and the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff is far from Oedipal, Stoneman claims. It stems from an earlier psychological phase, the mirror phase, where the child needs another person as a mirror to reflect it back to itself. This love, comparable to love between siblings, is a heritage from the Romantics, and explains the doubt as to whether there is adult sexual attraction between Heathcliff and Cathy. Heathcliff is a Romantic hero with a capital ‘R’, his story being sad and epic, while Rochester has more of the traditional romantic hero with a small ‘r’; his is a more appealing storyline.

Next, Paul Edmondson established the tie between Shakespeare and Anne Brontë’s novels. He showed that Anne has digested and reworked Shakespeare’s work. She had a copy of his work and the creases in its pages indicate what she read, where she paused, etc. The plays she alludes to most are Hamlet and Othello.

Richard Mullen subsequently analysed the relationship between William Makepeace Thackeray and Charlotte Brontë. The two of them had several meetings and an animated correspondence. Theirs was a very ambivalent relationship; Charlotte was at the same time very pleased and displeased with him. Even after Thackeray had revealed her identity in public, she continued to go to his lectures, but five years after that, she was tired of him, and he of her, and their correspondence ended. Charlotte had got too close to her idol.

On Sunday, Mr and Mrs Cochrane, two local historians, lectured on Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte Brontë’s husband. Nicholls has been neglected in Brontë studies, has always stayed on the periphery, because Brontë admirers in general have had a strong antipathy towards him. The Cochranes emphasised that this does not do him justice, and that we should be grateful to him, since he gave Charlotte one of the happiest years of her life.

After which Sue Lonoff brought up M. Heger. She split her subject up into four parts. Firstly, Constantin Heger, the busy, Catholic man who lost his first wife and child. Secondly, Charlotte and Emily’s professor, an inspiring man with remarkable teaching methods. Thirdly, Heger is transformed into M. Paul Emanuel in Villette. This is a radical revision of reality: in Villette, Emanuel is a bachelor, whereas M. Heger was very much a family man. Fourthly, Heger was very responsive to Brontë fans, answering questions and giving them Charlotte’s essays as souvenirs.

The last lecture was one from Margaret Smith, who talked about George Smith and William Smith Williams and their connection with Charlotte Brontë. Smith was a very good friend, gave her advice on financial matters and was even an alleged love interest, although he wasn’t in the least attracted to Charlotte. William Smith Williams sent her books and advised her to write a three-part work (Jane Eyre) rather than another two-part work like The Professor. Charlotte dissolved their correspondence with a rather cold letter.

To conclude the conference we were asked our opinion, and our suggestions for future Brontë Conference topics. Suggestions were: “Branwell”, “The influence of the Brontës on their contemporaries”, “Brontë and Shakespeare”, “Brontë influences”. In sum, there is enough material to keep on talking for many, many years to come!

Charlotte Jonné is a member of the Brussels Brontë Group (http://www.thebrusselsbrontegroup.org)

A new Brontë portrait?

James Gorin von Grozny, from Devon, paid £150 for the work which he believes was painted by Sir Edwin Landseer in 1838.
But art experts say Landseer would have had no call to paint the sisters who were not famous at that date.
The only known portrait of the sisters was painted by their brother, Branwell.
In the painting, the figure believed to be Emily Bronte holds a pen and notebook, whilst Charlotte stands and Anne looks away to one side.
Mr Gorin von Gronzy had originally bought a different picture of three sisters from an auction house, but when he went to collect it, it had disappeared.
He said the auction house offered him a refund, or the picture he now believes is of the Bronte sisters.
Professor Francis O' Gorman, of the University of Leeds, an expert in Victorian Literature, said he was doubtful that the painting depicted the Bronte sisters.
"The Brontes were unheard of outside their family circle in 1838.
"There was nothing in the public domain which might have attracted one of the most famous painters of the early Victorian period to stop by and paint them", he said.
However, Mr Gorin von Grozny said that Landseer could have travelled through the Brontes' home town of Haworth whilst visiting his friend John Nussey at Bolton Hall in Yorkshire.
Nussey was the also brother of Charlotte Bronte's friend Ellen.
Mr Gorin von Gronzy said a small 'EL' monogram and the date 1838 visible in the crook of 'Charlotte's' arm, led to his belief that Landseer was the artist.
It is thought that the key to the painting's authenticity could lay in a sketch of a knee on the back of the portrait.
The sketch apparently shows a leg with a three inch scar just below the knee.
Mr Gorin von Grozny argued that a painting by Charlotte Bronte depicting a shepherdess, apparently with a similar scar on her leg, could have been a self-portrait.
The painting of the shepherdess by Bronte, based on Solitude at Dawn by Johann Henry Fuseli, appeared in a book called The Art of the Brontes.

And that would all be really exciting if there weren't big, huge 'but's to everything. And there's practically no need to write the arguments as a quick look at the picture clearly tells that these are not the Brontë sisters. Being three and holding a pen - when they were nearly 10 years away from becoming published authors - is not enough: the dresses, the faces, etc. seem to be all wrong, not to mention that the Edward Landseer - John Nussey - Ellen Nussey - Charlotte Brontë theory is a bit tenuous to put it mildly.

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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