The Brontë Sisters
Charlotte (1816 – 1855), Emily (1818 – 1848), Anne (1820 – 1849)
real-life dramas revealed
By Jessica Hodgson Media Correspondent, Evening Standard
A major new TV film is set to reveal that the Bronte sisters had personal lives that rivalled any of their literary heroines.
The extraordinary writing career of the Victorian novelists, who wrote about suppressed passions and tortured love, took shape against a background of extramarital affairs and alcoholism, according to BBC1's In Search of the Brontes.
It gives a twist to the traditional costume drama with a film which lifts the lid on the domestic and sexual lives of the novelist sisters.
Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte were regarded as eccentric loners from the moment their books, including Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, were published under male pseudonyms. But the film will suggest that their self-imposed isolation was designed to protect them from a series of family traumas.
The two eldest Bronte sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died as infants, and later brother Branwell spiralled into alcoholism and opium addiction following a scandalous affair with his employer's wife.
Emily and Anne Bronte both died in their late twenties of tuberculosis and Charlotte, following an affair with her professor, eventually married and died in childbirth, aged 39.
Victoria Hamilton, who starred in Victoria and Albert, plays Charlotte, the eldest of the Bronte writing trio, with Elizabeth Hurran as Emily and Alexandra Milman as Anne.
The film is a highlight of BBC1's spring/summer season, unveiled today. Among other programmes will be a profile of fashion designer Stella McCartney.
The documentary will be a fly-on-the-wall look at Ms McCartney, showing her at work on the Paris fashion shows and attempting to get to the heart of her feelings about her famous father, Sir Paul, and his new wife Heather Mills.
Stella's Story will kick off a new series of BBC1 arts programmes called Imagine, presented by arts supremo Alan Yentob, who will also front a film about Charles Saatchi and his new gallery.
BBC1 is also launching a new series designed to encourage the public to submit new inventions. Innovation Nation will offer the winner the chance to get their invention marketed commercially.
There will also be a reality show based around a murder called The Murder Game, which gets members of the public to use modern forensics to solve a crime in order to win a £25,000 reward.
Bronte novella to be published
Until now, only scholars have read ‘Stancliffe’s Hotel’
LONDON, March 14 — For many years, the kingdom of Angria has been known only to scholars who struggled through a manuscript crammed with tiny spidery writing. Now, Charlotte Bronte’s 34-page novella “Stancliffe’s Hotel,” set in a fictional land she and her brother created, will be published for the first time, shedding new light on one of Britain’s most famous writers, Bronte scholar Heather Glen said Friday.
“I THINK it
will change the way in which she’s still seen, rather patronizingly, as a woman
writer who wrote only about her own concerns,” said Glen, who teaches at
Cambridge University. “It’s very humorous and racy, there’s something almost
modernist about it with the odd juxtaposition of scenes.”
Written in 1838, when Bronte was 23, “Stancliffe’s Hotel” is a series of ironic vignettes that debunk some of the manners and fashions of 1830s England, Glen said.
Edited by Glen, it will be published by Penguin in June and later this year in a volume with four other novellas set in the fictional kingdom of Angria, created by Charlotte and her brother Branwell.
others have been published before, but Glen is editing them for the new edition.
A U.S. publication date was not immediately available.
Ann Dinsdale, librarian of the Bronte Parsonage Museum in northern England, said the novellas “have been in our collection for many years.”
WRITING FOR TOY SOLDIERS
She said most of the work was in the minute handwriting that originated when the Brontes were children, and readers needed a magnifying glass.
used to compile little books that were designed to be small enough to be read by
a set of toy soldiers Branwell had been given,” she said. “It was also a way of
keeping the material from adults and an economy measure. They carried on the
tiny writing after they grew up.”
Glen said “Stancliffe’s Hotel” had not been published before “because there’s been a mystique about it because it alludes to this fictional country. So there was a feeling that it was inaccessible and many people regarded it as juvenilia.”
“But it isn’t true of these later Angrian manuscripts that they cannot be understood and enjoyed. I think they will change the way in which (Charlotte Bronte) is seen,” she said.
Bronte is best known for “Jane Eyre,” the tale of a poor governess who survives traumatic events to marry the master of the house. Her sister, Emily, wrote “Wuthering Heights” and another sister, Anne, produced “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.”
“ ‘Stancliffe’s Hotel’ is very sardonic, very racy, very witty, not at all like ‘Jane Eyre’ — it’s not a passionate story about love-lorn heroines,” Glen said.
MORE TO COME
In “Stancliffe’s Hotel,” the story is told in a series of disconnected episodes
and there are sudden changes in mood and scene. The narrator, Charles Townsend,
is a dandy who confesses that he takes “a full half-hour to dress and another
half-hour to view myself over from head to foot.”
The novella, written tiny pages each containing more than 1,000 words, was taken to Ireland after Bronte’s death in 1855 and then shipped to the United States by an American collector.
The manuscript was eventually returned to the Parsonage Museum — the small Yorkshire rectory where the sisters were brought up — and has been occasionally displayed, but was considered of interest only to scholars.
“There are other stories out there and a volume of five will be published later this year,” Glen said.
The Brontes — Charlotte, Emily and Anne — wrote gripping novels such as “Wuthering Heights” and “Villette” that are still some of the most popular books written in English.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
The Brontë Sisters, by Cecilia Falk - Directory
University of Adelaide Library
The Brontës of Haworth
The Brontë Sisters Web
Bontë Parsonage Museum
SATURDAY JANUARY 19 2002
Lucasta Miller’s fascinating account of the Brontë sisters
The Brontë Myth
ISBN 0 099 28714 5
BLAME MRS GASKELL, blame our insatiable appetite for romantic literary icons, blame the countless biographers, film-makers and tea-towel designers who have cashed in on the Haworth clan. But, according to Miller’s fascinating account of the Brontë sisters, it was Charlotte herself who first conspired to popularise the image of three poor, pious girls living in a cultural and emotional vacuum on a dark and brooding moor.
After the deaths of her siblings, the author of Jane Eyre sought to whiten the images of Emily and Anne to shield their memory — and, as Miller points out, her own reputation — against accusations of vulgarity from a literary establishment still ill at ease with the idea of professional women writers.
If Charlotte and, later, her friend Mrs Gaskell, tried to play down the sisters’ literary ambition, intellect and feminism, the machinery of cultural myth-making has been in overdrive ever since. Brontëmania, Miller reminds us, exposes the desire to make icons our own by projecting on to them an array of contrasting, often reductive, ideologies.
But whether you are a feminist cultural materialist, a romantic patriot or an ordinary reader for whom Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey stand up to any number of re-readings, Miller’s witty study should be an essential addition to your bookshelves.
Another Brontë hunter
Can we ever really know what happened at Haworth? Lucasta Miller is on the trail of the literary sleuths in The Brontë Myth
Sunday December 31, 2000
The Brontë Myth
Jonathan Cape £18.99, pp320
The Brontë Myth is a sharp-witted study in literary reputation. Lucasta Miller traces the evolution of the 'public personae' of Charlotte and Emily Brontë - from their implausible noms de plume, through vilifications and eulogies to their current 'images' as radical and mystic, respectively. Sister Anne is, by Miller's own admission, ignored because she never 'took on the mythic stature of her sisters in her own right'. Dipsomaniac Branwell is, brutally, but probably justly, discussed only when he 'impinged on Charlotte and Emily'.
Miller's main concern is the process by which the 'truth' of a writer - the words she or he writes - gets drowned out by the chatterings of journals, little magazines, critical introductions and, more blaringly still, by the bowdlerisations of pop-lit - the tourist industry, Hollywood biopics, pop songs. Miller supplies a cultural materialist-ish unpicking of the heritage trade - that profitable network of writers' houses, coffee shops, souvenir shops selling Virginia Woolf fridge magnets and Brontë sisters jam.
This trade thrives on snapshot caricatures and miniaturisations; its reserve currency is the bucolic idyll, the dying afternoon of the English summer - Shakespeare's quiet memorial in Stratford church, the expanses of lovely garden at Monk's House, Woolf's country residence.
Miller supplies a deft and immaculately detailed tracing of the many 'constructions' of Charlotte Brontë, from her initial disguise as the elusive and haughty Currer Bell, to her tentative unveiling (and immediate censure as 'unfemininely' candid about Jane Eyre's passions and predilections), to the self-abnegating daughter of Mrs Gaskell's biography, The Life of Charlotte Brontë.
She argues persuasively that Mrs Gaskell was responsible for the 'popular perception' of Charlotte as an angelic neurotic, trapped in the most remote moors with a capricious, violent father, disturbed from her writing by the clanging of church bells and the hammering of rain on her little, rustic window.
Miller neatly documents the nineteenth-century boom in Charlotte worship - the first devotees at Haworth and the frantic requests for relics. Demand for snippets of her handwriting grew so persistent that the Brontës' maligned father, Patrick, was forced to cut Charlotte's letters into tiny pieces, sending them out to fans as gnomic one-liners.
Misinformers are trounced - Harriet Martineau and Mrs Gaskell for (Brontë's own complaint) deciding 'that I shall be a sort of invalid'; G. H. Lewes and Thackeray for deriving 'schoolboy amusement from the supposed naughtiness of her novels'; twentieth-century psycho-biographers such as Lucile Dooley for tediously diagnosing Charlotte as a neurotic with a father complex.
Emily Brontë was, Miller suggests, obscure for longer than Charlotte. Wuthering Heights was generally dismissed as the freakish, unholy product of a terminally ill child. But she was secretly devoured by schoolgirl rebels of the 1890s and, later, by turn-of-the-century philosopher-novelists such as May Sinclair. Miller cites Sinclair as the originator of the 'Emily as mystic' myth - the pagan seer, skipping the moors in the company of her wild, bucking imagination, 'not a talented craftswoman but a being of rare spiritual gifts'.
The novelist E. F. Benson, writing in 1932, 'hero-worshipped Emily in the religious language of mysticism'. Emily the mystic rebel became Emily the lesbian, a new 'image' first propounded in the 1930s by Virginia Moore and taken up again by Camille Paglia in Sexual Personae. Brontë's poems were ingeniously read for 'subtextual' Sapphic love. But, Miller suggests, all attempts fail; Emily Brontë is left 'the Sphinx of English literature', indifferent to posterity, writing for motives unknown.
Miller tends to move seamlessly from the academic to the pop-biographical, from the souvenir shop to the literary life. Brief phrases in Radio Times are cited as sources of equal interest as the careful musings of Sinclair.
This skitters over the question of whether different sources are variously trustworthy, whether some media are more likely to yield reliable information than others. It also leaves unresolved the question of whether all comment on writers is mythopoetic, or whether some particularly talented biographers and writers can occasionally stray towards the 'truth' about a writer.
Certainly, Miller's antipathy to biography is palpable - she mistrusts its sliding into fiction, its phoney cries of disinterestedness. Biographers are, she suggests, never quite the altruistic detectives of authorial personality they claim to be. The question remaining is what you put in the place of personality analysis and myth-creation. The deconstructing critique towards which Miller strays should, taken to its logical conclusion, decide that any image of a writer is a despoiled hash of personal fixation or cultural archetype. But this is to leave us with nothing at all. So Miller suggests that we must cling to the works themselves as the final truth - the expression of the inner self, as opposed to the compromised external persona.
The trouble with this argument is that it relies on readers communing properly, meaning innocently, with the works. If we can turn to the Brontës and read them as they hoped to be read, draw their imaginative vision out pure and unsullied, then none of the image-making matters. Either we are always more incredulous than tourist boards would have us - knowing in our postmodernish fashion that nothing is quite as the forces of hard sell make it seem - or we are distracted by the bleats of the heritage racket, in which case our engagement with the works is already tainted.
What comfort is there for the writer in all of this? Writers, from Miller's account, can hardly hope to control their images - the Brontës, despite their initial reticence and despite Charlotte's intervention in the literary reputation of Emily, failed to exert an abiding force over the powers of caricature and moneymaking. Miller so thoroughly enforces the argument for the interference of reviewers, academics and film directors in the reading process that her final point, that the works will always out, is not as consoling as it should be.
In the cultural world Miller has supplied, biopic will traduce, however secretive and controlling writers try to be, and readers of Wuthering Heights will struggle at every line against recollections of Kate Bush screeching in a flimsy white robe or Laurence Olivier marching through the gorse.
Sex and supposition thrive in biography of the Brontës
Reviewed by Diane Scharper
The Brontë Myth
By Lucasta Miller
KNOPF; 351 PAGES; $26.95
After his wife and two older daughters died, Patrick Brontë, the town vicar, asked his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Branwell, to watch over his four remaining children and to run the household at Haworth, a town abutting the moors. Somewhat of a recluse, Elizabeth tended to avoid her charges. But that didn't pose a problem; the father provided Charlotte, Emily and Anne, his three daughters, and Branwell, his son, with enough books and periodicals for their intellectual and creative stimulation.
One can imagine that their bright, inquiring minds, coupled with innate literary genius, would do the rest -- and because very little is known about the Brontës, one must indeed imagine. In the past 150 years, those imaginings have given rise to much fiction and nonfiction espousing biographical, literary, psychological, sociological, feminist and cultural theories about the Brontës' personal lives, with critics wanting to know how they learned to know passion when they lived such virginal lives.
Lucasta Miller, a British critic, does not offer any new answers in "The Brontë Myth," first published in England in 2001. Instead, she traces Brontë theories from their beginnings to the present, mainly as they affect Charlotte (1816-1855) and Emily (1818-1848). Questions were raised as early as 1846 when the three daughters published a mysterious volume of poetry under the male-sounding pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Also published under those pseudonyms, their next successful projects -- "Jane Eyre," later ascribed to Charlotte, (who wrote several other novels) and "Wuthering Heights, " ascribed to Emily -- drew much critical attention, partly because the novels showcased the dark side of human nature.
"Jane Eyre," with its suggestion of illicit passion, was perhaps less offensive in Victorian times than "Wuthering Heights" with its implications of incest, ghostly visitations and paganism. The youngest sister, Anne, also published two novels, also under a pseudonym, but these received little attention, possibly because they weren't as racy as the work of her sisters. Meanwhile, Branwell, their brother, wrote nothing, although that has been disputed.
Depending on the circumstances in vogue, critics have argued everything from the identity of the books' authors to the authors' decorum to the source of the books' inspiration. Although it's difficult at times to understand Miller's perspective because of her academic language and tendency to overwrite, she presents a sympathetic picture of the sisters, believing they were inspired by their reading, especially of poets like Scott, Byron and Coleridge.
Thus inspired, the young women probed the nature of passion in their writings and in their fantasies about the imaginary lands of Angria and Gondal. But this is only one theory. The more interesting theories concern sexual identity and range from the curious to the absurd. Believing that young, unmarried women would have no knowledge of the "coarser" aspects of life, many 19th century critics argued that Branwell was the author of his sisters' novels. He was a man who knew the coarser aspects of life, with his reputation for excessive drinking (like Heathcliff), to say nothing of his failed love affair with someone married (like Jane Eyre).
Yet the few existing fragments of his writing (which one critic called "bilge") suggest that Branwell's talents did not lie with the written word. He seems, though, to have been a competent artist, judging from his portraits of his sisters, reproduced in the book. As some believed Branwell was especially close to Emily (others said he was close to Charlotte), the question arose as to whether he and Emily were real-life prototypes of Heathcliff and Catherine. Still other critics, questioning Emily's gender, thought that Emily's "masculine" prose style indicated she was a lesbian, which would have discounted any ideas concerning incest.
Aside from their novels' juicy subject matter, another reason for so much speculation about the Brontës lies with Charlotte herself. Charlotte outlived her siblings and became the keeper (read spinner) of their reputations, both literary and social. Although "Jane Eyre" scandalized readers with its adulterous overtones, "Wuthering Heights" caused greater scandal. Because of it, Charlotte, a concerned (some thought, jealous) sister, destroyed nearly all of Emily's work and portrayed her as an uneducated woman who wrote under the inspiration of fate. When Charlotte died, her biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, portrayed Charlotte in the same light. So, despite the fact that both sisters had studied abroad in Brussels, where Charlotte developed a crush on Constantin Heger, her mentor and a married man, and later wrote impassioned letters to him, the sisters were seen as inspired but unlettered innocents.
When this view had the unexpected effect of denying the genius of both sisters, other theorists stepped in, as Miller documents. Her nearly 50 pages of bibliography and notes suggest that sexually intriguing 19th century books not only sell but can also generate a plethora of contradictory -- at times silly -- theories. That many of those theories are themselves sexually intriguing only adds a welcome irony to the discussion. •
Diane Scharper is the author of several books, including "Songs of Myself," the memoirs of college students.
By DAPHNE MERKIN
Published: February 29, 2004
Read this article, here
Read this article, here
March 14, 2003
The biographer: a 19th-century spin doctor
ALMOST immediately after Charlotte Brontë’s death in 1855, her friend and fellow novelist Elizabeth Gaskell set about writing her biography.
It was a labour she felt driven to perform, but one that caused her much anxiety. The recently married Charlotte had died in the early months of pregnancy, and Gaskell felt almost guilty that she had not been there to try to save her life. Instead, she determined to save her friend’s reputation, and to produce a hagiography that would win maximum public sympathy.
Though it may be hard to grasp from today’s standpoint, Charlotte Brontë’s novels — and those of her sisters — had inspired accusations of immorality from some critics. The Brontës had always been aware of the “prejudice” that existed against women authors, which is why they had decided to publish under the pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Though Jane Eyre had been a bestseller, once it was suspected that its author was a woman, it was labelled “unfeminine” and even anti-Christian. Emily’s Wuthering Heights was called “coarse and loathsome” and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall “revolting”.
Perhaps surprisingly, Gaskell had her own doubts about the morality of the Brontë novels. Though she winningly told Charlotte to her face that she would keep her works as a treasure for her daughters, she actually forbade her eldest girl to read Jane Eyre until she was 20. She repeated what had become the standard critical buzzword, “coarse”, in her assessment of Charlotte’s fiction. The word was used to refer to those aspects of the novels that were considered unladylike: the deployment of slang and swear words, their treatment of violence and sexuality, their excessive passion and even, in Jane Eyre’s case, the assertive ego of the heroine.
During the course of her researches for The Life of Charlotte Brontë, Gaskell was alarmed by what she might find, and hypersensitive about making any of Charlotte’s unpublished writings public. Even after Charlotte’s widower had toned down some of the language, she was worried about the prospect of bringing out The Professor. This first full-length novel of Charlotte’s was a downbeat tale that had been rejected by the publisher George Smith partly on the ground that it was not exciting enough. But Gaskell still feared the worst. “I would not, if I could help it,” she wrote, “have another syllable that could be called coarse to be associated with her name.”
If Gaskell was able to find anything coarse in the unexceptionable Professor, it is hard to imagine the panic that would have gripped her had she read the manuscript of Stancliffe’s Hotel. Written when Charlotte was only 22, influenced by the decadent silver fork novels of Bulwer-Lytton and shot through with Byronism, it couldn’t be farther from the high-Victorian moral seriousness that Gaskell strove to achieve in her own novels.
If critics had found “masculine hardness, coarseness and freedom of expression” in the published Brontë novels, what would they have made of this novelette, in which the young female author takes delight in aping the voice of a cynical male narrator, peppering his language with racy slang, mocking religious observance, and presenting a world of loose sexual mores with no sense of shock or shame? There is no reason to suppose that Gaskell saw this manuscript, but we can assume that she would have done her utmost to suppress it had she done so. There were other private writings that she saw but held back from public view, such as the passionate letters Charlotte had written to Constantin Heger, the married man who had taught her in Brussels.
Gaskell quoted some innocuous passages from the offending correspondence, but remained terrified that the rest might somehow get into the public eye. She was right to be concerned. When the letters were finally published in The Times in 1913, they exploded the sanctified image of Charlotte that Gaskell had created.
Despite all the anxiety attending its creation, Gaskell’s Life turned out to be a brilliant work of literature, which transformed its subject into a tragic heroine and an enduring cultural icon. Nevertheless, it was so concerned to play down the fiery imagination that had produced Jane Eyre, and so keen to exaggerate the domestic sufferings of its subject, that it had an ambivalent effect on Charlotte Brontë’s literary reputation.
In the years after its publication, this version of Charlotte was picked up by lesser Victorian writers, who transformed her into a model of dutiful feminine piety. The present publication of Stancliffe’s Hotel should be seen as part of a continuing process made necessary by Gaskell’s early spin-doctoring: the rediscovery of the real Charlotte Brontë.
The author wrote The Brontë Myth, Jonathan Cape
Despite a lifetime of personal
tragedy, Mr Bronte remained cheerful enough to impersonate Charlotte's dog...
The Brontes: A life in letters by Juliet Barker
Viking, pp 448
Sunday September 28, 1997
This is biography en plein air, biography with all the old coats, mufflers and fancy thrown off, stripped down to its foundations: the letters and contemporary memoirs of the Bronte family and their friends. And how thrilling and engrossing it is. The Brontes have been the focus for fascinated analysis since the first biography of Charlotte was published by Mrs Gaskell two years after her death in 1855. They have been psychoanalysed, appropriated and redefined as feminists, anorexics, victims of patriarchy and various kinds of abuse: there have also been illuminating versions of their lives, most recently Juliet Barker's own acclaimed biography, The Brontes, a work of scholarship, passion and art. But here, to coincide with the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, Barker discards the art and gives the reader the mined ore of her profession, the gold from which formal biography is fashioned.
The letters and memoirs are uninterpreted voices and they tell their own story, as distinct and present to us as if we too had joined the hermetic world of Haworth Parsonage, or strode with the family across their beloved moors. This book is alive with voices, affectionate, witty, sorrowful, fantastical, spiritual, mischievous and full of grief. Barker threads them together with an unobtrusive narrative and leaves us to meet the Brontes and those closest to them on their own terms, free to draw our own conclusions about motive and character and the mysterious source of their baroque imaginations.
In this distilled form, the tragedies of their lives are brought more sharply into focus: the ravaging of family life and the truncating of literary creation through disease and death seem shockingly close. First, their mother was struck down with ovarian cancer when Anne, the youngest, was not yet two; then the deaths of the two eldest daughters from TB before they reached their teens; the same consumptive disease claimed Branwell, Emily and Anne within eight months of each other, when each had barely reached 30. And Charlotte, the sole survivor, died at 38, just as she had established her literary reputation, entering the wider world for which she had longed, and found a late-flowering happiness in her marriage and the prospect of her coming baby.
In this collection Charlotte's voice is paramount, the force of her character and her gifts as a prolific and expressive letter- writer assure that place. Her long friendship with Ellen Nussey provides the central narrative of the drama of their daily life and limited social round. But it is Branwell who surprises with the vividness of his personality, so headlong and generous-hearted that his rapid decline into bitterness, alcoholism and death is mourned along with his family. 'I do not weep from a sense of bereavement,' Charlotte wrote, 'but for the wreck of talent, the ruin of promise, the untimely dreary extinction of what might have been a burning and a shining light.' And 'Papa', who had to endure the desolation of seeing his wife and all six children die before him, explained in an extraordinary letter the operation he suffered, unanaesthetised, to remove a cataract: in another, he writes to Charlotte as the amanuensis of her dog, Flossy: 'Ah! my dear Mistress, trust dogs rather than men. They are very selfish, and when they have the power, (which no wise person will readily give them) very tyrannical.' This from a father who feared his last surviving daughter might leave him to marry.
Letters like these allow the reader a fleeting intimacy with another's life, another's spirit, the peculiar congregation of traits and temperament and talents which make up the individual, who necessarily shares something with the whole. Juliet Barker has laid her brilliant selection before the reader in chronological order, explaining any significant gaps in the story and introducing new friends and acquaintances. With such a wealth of material from which to choose there will be an inevitable debate about that choice; my only regret is the absence of anything much about the mother of these remarkable children. Ellen Nussey's surviving account of Charlotte reading her mother's letters for the first time could have revealed something touching about this shadowy figure, never known by her children but whose qualities of character and gifts were expressed in each one of them.
It is, however, the sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, who dominate the extended conversation which is the essence of the book. Emily, most precious to Charlotte, 'the nearest thing to my heart', showed the extraordinary pull of her imaginary characters and the fantasy kingdom of Gondal, invented by herself and Anne in childhood. At 27, she was still 'sticking firm by the rascals (the Gondals) as long as they delight us'.
Anyone with celebrity is intruded on, dissected, written about, and treated as our own, too easily lost in the projections of others. After the death of Emily and Anne, Charlotte wrote a biographical notice of her sisters to 'give a just idea of their identity' and ended it with: 'I felt it a sacred duty to wipe the dust off their gravestones, and leave their dear names free from soil.' This could as well be Juliet Barker's own justification for this deft and revealing book.
Jane Dunn is working on a biography of Antonia White
The passionate governess -
Charlotte Bronte's letters reveal a struggle between spirit and obedience
The Letters of Charlotte Bronte, Vol 1, 1829-1847 edited by Margaret Smith
627pp, Oxford University Press, £55
Friday July 21, 1995
The lives of great writers tend to warp under the pressure that final success brings to bear on the past. And that is particularly true of the Brontes. Their biographies cannot escape from ready-made images of harsh schools, wild moors, lonely governesses and thwarted love. In them, Emily is always more than a little like Cathy, and Charlotte more than a little like Jane, and the sisters' tentative steps through life as they search for their voices and their subjects cannot be recreated.
The most recent biographies, Juliet Barker's The Brontes and Lyndall Gordon's A Passionate Life, reacted to the problem in opposite ways. Lyndall Gordon insisted on seeing Charlotte as a strong, inspiring heroine before she had penned anything except childish romances, whereas Juliet Barker over-played the petty littleness of her life in an attempt to escape the romantic myth.
But as we walk the corridors of The Letters of Charlotte Bronte we can share Charlotte's own faltering steps. This is the terrifying look of life seen from the inside, as we are confronted by the inability of Charlotte Bronte, the bored, lonely, poverty-stricken victim of 19th-century bourgeois mores, to realise that she was Charlotte Bronte, the self-sufficient writer who fused grand passion with a quiet vernacular.
The cries of this young woman, who could not know what she would do, rise up, biting to the heart: 'I shall soon be 30 and I have done nothing yet -' she writes as she is about to embark on Jane Eyre. And even after it is published: 'There are moments when I can hardly credit that anything I have done should be found worthy to give even transitory pleasure to such men as Mr Thackeray.' Against that was the cool certainty of the true author, as the inexperienced Yorkshire woman resisted the pressures her publishers put on her to rewrite the novel: 'My engagements will not permit me to revise Jane Eyre,' she wrote haughtily.
To the dancing shifts of the letters, Margaret Smith, an exemplary editor, provides all the biographical grounding you could want. There is hardly a reference she does not explain, hardly a fictional echo she does not pick up. 'Cf Villette ch 6,' she writes nonchalantly, 'cf Shirley ch 23'. So Caroline Helstone and Lucy Snowe and Jane Eyre are always with us, not in the heavy-handed way that biographers use them, but like a loose net laid over the letters. We can see how they picked up words and images and dreams, netting the silver fishes of Charlotte's lived experience.
But what is not said bears heavily on this volume, which takes us up to 1847 and the publication of Jane Eyre. Apart from the fact that so many letters were destroyed or lost or censored, there is a world going on underneath them, in which Charlotte was writing her chronicles of Angria, composing poems and sketches and, finally, novels.
Because she kept that world completely hidden from her main correspondent, her school friend Ellen Nussey, we become keenly aware of the disjunction between her social and inner life. So, when she takes her father to Manchester for a cataract operation, she writes to Ellen: 'You ask if I have any enjoyment here in truth I can't say I have', although it was during those weeks that she began to write Jane Eyre, drafting its intense opening chapters in little notebooks.
Even if much of Charlotte's heart is left out of these letters, what we find instead is a lucid development of style and tone as she creates the peculiar voice that rooted Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe so securely in reality. The almost-invisible governess with her biting tongue, her solitude and her anger begins to express herself in barbs directed at her employers and pupils: 'I will only ask you to imagine the miseries of a reserved wretch like me - thrown at once into the midst of a large Family - proud as peacocks and wealthy as Jews,' she writes to Ellen Nussey from her first situation, spikily characterising her employer thus: 'Mrs Sidgwick is generally considered an agreeable woman - so she is I daresay in general Society - her health is sound - her animal spirits are good - consequently she is cheerful in company - but O Ellen does this compensate for the absence of every fine feeling of every gentle - and delicate sentiment?'
Throughout these years, Charlotte is forced to tread a swaying tightrope between decorum and passion, seen nowhere more clearly than when she writes to Robert Southey. This famous exchange, which was sold to the Bronte Museum only last week, is the epitome of Charlotte's most measured, bitter style - and she was only 20. After Southey had told her that 'Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life; and it ought not to be', she wrote back with a decorum that resonates ironically down the years: 'In the evenings, I confess, I do think, but I never trouble any one else with my thoughts.'
Lyndall Gordon imputes a conscious sarcasm to that remark, as though Charlotte already knew she could rise above it, as though her life's goal was already clear. But Charlotte was certainly deeply affected by Southey's attitude. As Margaret Smith notes below another letter, her poetic production quickly tailed off after their exchange. Surely her response is sincere, and surely this clash between obedience and passion drove all of Charlotte's later work. Reading her reply we sense somewhere in the margins all the meeker women who, ordered early on to think only of domesticity, never picked up their pens again.
And it reminds us why the sisters took androgynous pseudonyms when they published. Charlotte had exposed herself once, and felt the lash of the world. It makes one shiver in sympathy, as Charlotte tries to keep herself incognita - 'Allow me to intimate that it would be better in future not to put the name of Currer Bell on the outside of communications... Currer Bell is not known in this district and I have no wish that he should become known,' she wrote to her publishers above her precious mask, the signature 'C Bell'.
It is a little miracle that out of all the letters that were burnt, sold, cut up, destroyed, Charlotte's letters to Monsieur Heger, her beloved Belgian teacher, survived. He tore them into pieces and threw them away, but his wife picked them out of the bin and sewed them together again. When he was dying, his daughter, who had been entrusted with them by her mother, showed them to him. He threw them away again, and she picked them up again. And here they are, published now in both French and English.
The importance of reading them in French cannot be underestimated. Charlotte associated the language with Heger: 'When I pronounce French words, I seem to be talking to you,' she once wrote to him. And the linguistic freedom of the foreign language allowed a woman who had been forced elsewhere into a straitjacket of English respectability to burst forth.
As long as the letters are in front of us, we can free ourselves from biographical speculation - as to whether Charlotte felt sexual desire for her 'maitre' and what she really expected from him. We are able to respond directly in the only way that really makes sense, as though they are literature, complete in themselves, rich in their ambiguity, lyrical in their language, poignant in their emotions. 'Day and night I find neither rest nor peace - I do not seek to justify myself, I submit to all kinds of reproaches - all I know - is that I cannot that I will not resign myself to the total loss of my master's friendship - I would rather undergo the greatest bodily pains than have my heart constantly lacerated by searing regrets.' That inflammable mixture of impatient passion and dignified endurance was the potion she poured into Jane Eyre and Villette; here we see it being stirred for the first time.
In search of a
When Charlotte Cory agreed to complete Charlotte Bronte's last unfinished novel, she found herself embarking on a literary mystery tour
Read this article, here
Three sisters and the rise of a cultural myth.
by Dana Stevens
Sunday, March 14, 2004; Page BW09
THE BRONTË MYTH
By Lucasta Miller. Knopf. 351 pp. $26.95
Picking Up Where Charlotte Bronte Left Off
By Aileen Jacobson
Tuesday, April 13, 2004; Page C09
By MIRANDA SEYMOUR
A Novel From the Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Bronte.
By Clare Boylan.
437 pp. New York: Viking. $25.95.
Reader, I shagged him
Since her death 150 years ago, Charlotte Brontë has been sanitised as a dull, Gothic drudge. Far from it, says Tanya Gold; the author was a filthy, frustrated, sex-obsessed genius
Friday March 25, 2005
Read these articles, here
Brontës through the ages
Emma Brown by Clare Boylan and
Charlotte Brontë. New York: Viking, 2004, 437 pp., $25.95 hardcover.
The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller. New York: Knopf, 2004, 351 pp., $25.95 hardcover.
Reviewed by Rebecca Steinitz
Read this article, here
N Z Z Online
Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 15. April 2004, Ressort Feuilleton
Muriel Spark: In sturmzerzauster Welt. Die Brontës. Aus dem Englischen von Gottfried Röckelein. Diogenes-Verlag, Zürich 2003. 557 S., Fr. 51.90.
Read this article, here
Cooped up in a parsonage, the Brontës lived out their passions through their fiction. Can these febrile inner worlds ever be captured in theatre? Polly Teale explains why she keeps being drawn back to their tragic story
Saturday August 13, 2005
Read this article, here
March 14, 2003
Until now only a few scholars have read this intriguing tale
Racier than anything the author published in her lifetime, full of comic and haunting vignettes, Stancliffe's Hotel, a novella written by Charlotte Brontë in 1838, has lain unpublished at the Brontë Museum. Heather Glen describes its discovery
CHARLOTTE BRONTË IS KNOWN TODAY as the author of Jane Eyre, one of the most popular novels in the English literary canon. More than 150 years after its first publication, it is still the third most borrowed volume in English public libraries. The story of the Brontë sisters’ brief lives is almost as well known. Indeed, their home, Haworth Parsonage, has become one of the most visited of England’s literary shrines.
It may therefore seem surprising that the novelette which follows has never before been published; that until now, its material existence has consisted of 34 pages in the Parsonage Museum, 11.5cm x 19cm in size, crammed with a fading, handwritten “print” so tiny that it is almost impossible to decipher without the aid of a magnifying glass. But if only a handful of scholars has hitherto read this story, the reason lies less, perhaps, in the difficulties presented by the manuscript than in the strangeness of the world of which it speaks.
Stancliffe’s Hotel was written in 1838, when Charlotte Brontë was 23. It is not, like Jane Eyre, a suspenseful story of passionate private feeling, but a series of ironic vignettes within which the manners and the fashions of the England of the 1830s appear from an unexpected point of view. For the story of the Brontë family was not simply one of tragedy and isolation. For nearly 20 years before the appearance of Jane Eyre in 1847, the parsonage at Haworth was a place of lively creative activity. The children were avid readers, not merely of poetry and fiction but of newspapers and journals, extraordinarily alert to the literary, linguistic and cultural life of their time. And from childhood, they had been not just readers but also writers, on an extraordinary scale.
When Elizabeth Gaskell was beginning work on The Life of Charlotte Brontë, she came upon “a curious packet . . . containing an immense amount of manuscript in an inconceivably small space” — the equivalent, her husband suggested, of “50 volumes of print”. She had stumbled upon the records of the kingdom of Glass Town, first created by the four young Brontës when Charlotte, the eldest, was 13. Together, these gifted children had constructed an imaginary world with its own geography, politics and dramatis personae — the last modelled at first on real-life public figures (writers, artists, statesmen, explorers) but gradually evolving into fictional characters.
Emily and Anne had soon broken off to create their own country of Gondal, but Branwell and Charlotte went on with the Glass Town saga, producing dozens of miniature novels, poems and imitation journals purporting to be written by their protagonists. Gaskell was baffled by this “wild weird writing” and dismissed it as intelligible only to “the bright little minds for whom it was intended”, a “curious” phenomenon of childhood, hardly to be taken seriously.
But the Brontës had in fact continued their “plays” (as they called them) throughout adolescence and beyond. Emily and Anne were writing books about Gondal at 27 and 25. Charlotte and Branwell transferred their interest (and many of their characters) to the new kingdom of Angria, and were still, in their early twenties, adding to it both in poetry and in prose. Their narrators and protagonists are, as Charlotte put it in a journal fragment, those “many well-known forms . . . faces looking up, eyes smiling and lips moving in audible speech, that I knew better almost than my brother and sisters, yet whose voices had never woke an echo in this world”.
Yet, as I realised quickly when I began to read them — in the course of writing a critical study of Charlotte Brontë — they are not just juvenilia, accessible only to those who want to follow all the convolutions of the complicated Angrian saga. With their debunking, sardonic humour, their alertness to contemporary mores, their play with different voices and narrative points of view, they are very much more sophisticated and more enjoyable than this. Hence this transcription of Stancliffe’s Hotel, one of the last of the Angrian novelettes. Like the others, this was written for an audience familiar with the “plays”. Present-day readers, however, will need an outline understanding of the landscape, the politics and history of the world that it depicts.
Angria lay to the east of the Glass Town Federation. It was divided into seven provinces, each with a capital city and a Lord Lieutenant; its king was the Duke of Zamorna, who had evolved out of Arthur Wellesley, the eldest son of the Duke of Wellington, the increasingly prominent hero of Charlotte’s earlier Glass Town “plays”.
The landscape of Angria is recognisably English. It has moors and forests and great country houses; the city of Zamorna, with its “Piece-hall” and its mills and its Stancliffe’s Hotel bustling with commercial travellers, is like a thriving early industrial Yorkshire town. To the west lies “Senegambia”, a country rather like Ireland, original homeland both of Zamorna and of Mary Percy, his second wife.
At the centre of the Angrian drama, as Charlotte Brontë conceives it (and in the background of Stancliffe’s Hotel, prompting the street-riot in Zamorna), is the love/hate relationship between two men.
The younger of these is Zamorna, a darkly handsome Byronic figure, charismatic, ruthless, unfaithful to a series of mistresses and wives. The other is the Duke of Northangerland, father of Mary Percy, once Zamorna’s ally, and subsequently leader of a rebellion against him. In the course of that rebellion, Angria was devastated by war, and Zamorna driven into exile. By the time of Stancliffe’s Hotel he has been re-established in power, and the ill and ageing Northangerland is confined to his country estate.
Stancliffe’s Hotel will come as a surprise to readers who know Charlotte Brontë only as the author of Jane Eyre. The narrator is not a central, passionately involved protagonist, but a detached, debunking observer of Angrian life and manners, Charles Townshend, a dandy who takes “a full half hour to dress, and another half hour to view myself over from head to foot”. He tells his story to the reader as a series of disconnected episodes. There are sudden changes of scene, marked by gaps in the manuscript; shifts of tone and atmosphere; tensions are left unresolved. Yet the feeling is not of fragmentariness, but of telling juxtaposition: flexible, witty, assured.
Stancliffe’s Hotel is one of a number of later Angrian novelettes which I am editing for Penguin Classics. They have hitherto been published piecemeal, obtainable, if at all, only in expensive scholarly editions: Stancliffe’s Hotel has never been published. Racier than anything their author published in her lifetime, full of comic and haunting vignettes, experimental in form, they offer a suggestive challenge to the popular sense of Charlotte Brontë as an artless transcriber of her own experience into fiction, and afford an indispensable insight into this extraordinary writer’s work.
Note on the text: The manuscript of Stancliffe’s Hotel, which is in the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth, is erratically punctuated, mainly with dashes, and has very little paragraphing, though there are gaps in the manuscript to mark changes of scene. For the convenience of the present-day reader, I have modernised punctuation, capitalisation and hyphenation, and introduced paragraphs.
In several cases, where a word or part of a word seems to have been left out of the manuscript, it has been added in square brackets. Obvious spelling mistakes have been silently corrected, but archaic spellings have been preserved.
Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)
A brief life overshadowed by tragedy
CHARLOTTE BRONTË was born in 1816 in Thornton, near Bradford, the third of the six children of the Rev Patrick Brontë and his wife, Maria. In 1820 Patrick accepted the perpetual curacy of Haworth, a small industrial town five miles from Thornton, and the Brontë family moved to the Parsonage, which was to be their home for the rest of their lives. Mrs Brontë died of ovarian cancer 18 months later; her two eldest daughters, Maria and Elizabeth, died of tuberculosis in 1825 aged 11 and 10. These tragedies reinforced the close bond between Charlotte and her younger siblings, Branwell, Emily and Anne.
In 1835, at the age of 19, Charlotte embarked on a series of teaching posts in schools and households. Overcome with frustration, in 1842 she enrolled herself and Emily as pupils at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels. When she fell in love with her married professor, Constantin Heger, the first man to appreciate and cultivate her literary talents, she was forced to return home.
An edition of poetry by the Brontë sisters, Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, was published in 1846 to encouraging reviews, but sold only two copies. Undaunted, Charlotte had persuaded her sisters each to write a novel.
Her own first effort, The Professor, was rejected by everyone to whom she sent it but her second, Jane Eyre, was published by Smith, Elder & Co in 1847 to instant acclaim. Her next novel, Shirley, was completed in circumstances of bitter suffering: in the space of nine months, Branwell, Emily and Anne all died from tuberculosis. Writing became Charlotte’s refuge and salvation. Shirley (1849) was followed by Villette (1853).
She married her father’s curate, the Rev Arthur Bell Nicholls, in 1854 and found happiness. She died ten months later, from complications in the early stages of pregnancy.
Jane Eyre: contemporary critiques
The Atlas (1847): This is not merely a work of great promise; it is one of absolute performance. It is one of the most powerful domestic romances to have been published for many years. It has little or nothing of the old conventional stamp upon it . . . but it is full of youthful vigour, of freshness and originality, of nervous diction and concentrated interest.
The incidents are sometimes melodramatic, and improbable; but these incidents, though striking, are subordinate to the main purpose of the piece, which is a tale of passion, not of intensity which is most sublime. It is a book to make the pulses gallop and the heart beat, and to fill the eyes with tears.
The Rambler (1848): Jane Eyre is, indeed, one of the coarsest books which we ever perused. It is not that the professed sentiments of the writer are absolutely wrong or forbidding, or that the odd sort of religious notions which she puts forth are much worse than is usual in popular tales. It is rather that there is a tendency to relapse into that class of ideas, expressions, and circumstances, which is most connected with the grosser and more animal portion of our nature.
The Quarterly Review (1847): Jane Eyre is, throughout, the personification of the unregenerate and undisciplined spirit, the more dangerous to exhibit from that prestige of principle and self-control which is liable to dazzle the eye too much for it to observe the inefficient and unsound foundation on which it rests. It is true Jane does right, and exerts great moral strength, but it is the strength of a mere heathen mind which is a law unto itself. No Christian grace is perceptible upon her. Altogether the autobiography of Jane Eyre is pre-eminently an anti-Christian composition. There is throughout it a murmuring against the comforts of the rich and against the privations of the poor, which, as far as each individual is concerned, is a murmuring against God’s appointment.
Originality, wit and scepticism
Stancliffe's Hotel marks the beginning of Charlotte Brontë's changeover from romance to realism, says Peggy Reynolds
FRESH OFF THE BOAT FROM SYDNEY to Southampton I spotted a copy of Jane Eyre at a bookstall. I knew the outline of the story because it had been serialised in lurid cartoon form in a girls’ magazine called Princess Diana (yes, really). Imported into Australia and costing a great deal of pocket money, this teen mag spoke to me of all that was glamorous, sophisticated and exotically English.
I badgered my father to buy Jane Eyre and — as my memory goes — had finished the book by the time the boat-train reached London. It was the late 1960s. I was 12 years old.
Jane Eyre is a girls’ book. But it is not the romance that makes it so. It is the revolution. When Charlotte’s novel was first published in 1847 a female reviewer wrote: “We do not hesitate to say that the tone of mind . . . which has . . . fostered Chartism and rebellion at home is the same which has also written Jane Eyre.”
In Stancliffe’s Hotel — Brontë’s 1838 novella, published here for the first time — an actual rebellion unfolds. The Duke of Zamorna, ruler of Angria, has just returned to the capital after a visit to the elderly Duke of Northangerland, his country’s old enemy but also the father of his young wife, Mary Percy.
The people suspect the duke of treachery, and with reason, for this man is wily in politics, ambitious in public life and incorrigible in his womanising. The workers of Zamorna take to the streets. Armed with cudgels and threatening looks, they surround the duke’s carriage. Mary hides her face in the cushions.
The duke orders the cavalry to go in and “with horse-hair waving and sabres glancing” they fall on the mob: “They flew like chaff; it was the whirlwind chasing the sand of the desert. Causeway and carriage were cleared; the wide street lay bare in the fierce sun behind them. A few wounded men alone were left with shattered limbs, lying on the pavement. These were soon taken off to the infirmary, their blood was washed from the stones, and no sign remained of what had happened.”
We all know the version of the Brontës’ story that tells of the three weird sisters up on the heath, the dismal deaths of the older siblings, the decline of the alcoholic brother, the neglectful father, the early graves.
But far from being isolated, the young Brontës were well informed and politically aware. What we have of Charlotte and Branwell’s Angria writings — and Stancliffe’s Hotel is a welcome addition to that collection — shows how their imaginations were shaped both by their reading and by their knowledge of contemporary events.
It was not so very long since the horrors of the cavalry charge at the 1819 massacre of Peterloo. By the 1830s there were mobs abroad demanding parliamentary reform, often brutally dispersed by the authorities.
Stancliffe’s Hotel demonstrates the originality and wit that marked Charlotte Brontë’s sceptical view of the world. Her narrative tone is tart, her address to the reader is insinuating, her skill with the dialogue of masculine ribbing is ironic and funny: “What the devil brought you here?” “Why the devil do you wish to know?” “In God’s name take a chair.”
“In Christ’s name I will.” In everything, Brontë’s distinctive narrative voice is independent and unaffected.
Well, maybe not in everything, for this story shows Brontë on the threshold of the change that was to make her fictional style unique. The young Brontës were all Romantics. They were not Victorians, and they certainly were not Realists. They had grown up reading Scott and Byron and the fashionable Annuals with their sumptuous engravings of society beauties and poems by Felicia Hemans and the romantically suicidal L.E.L. (Letitia Elizabeth Landon).
The influence is clear in Charlotte’s earlier Angrian stories. The heroine of her Lily Hart, dating from the early 1830s, is described thus: “She was about 18 years old . . . Dark, bright eyes, softened by long, silken lashes, diffused a most fascinating expression over her sweet face, and harmonised well with the wild black curls which waved in such luxuriant clusters over her glowing vermilion cheeks.”
Her manuscript Mina Laury II, dating from 1838, tells of the career of one of Zamorna’s many mistresses: “I will tell you what feelings I had for him — no tongue could express them — they were so fervid, so glowing in their colour that they effaced everything else — I lost the power of properly appreciating the value of the world’s opinion, or discerning the difference between right and wrong — I have never in my life contradicted Zamorna, I could not! . . . he was sometimes more to me than a human being — he superseded all things . . . Unconnected with him my mind would be a blank — cold, dead, susceptible only of a sense of despair.”
This last passage will not be unfamiliar to readers of Jane Eyre because Jane says much the same about Rochester. The difference is that Jane does contradict, and tease, and disobey, and her Rochester is eventually cut down to size. Ten years after Stancliffe’s Hotel Charlotte Brontë had learnt to blend the romantic and the realistic, and the frankly political. She had become a feminist. The changeover from romance to realism is seen beginning in Stancliffe’s Hotel. Shortly afterwards, in the early 1840s, Charlotte jotted down a memorandum on the plot for a projected magazine tale: “Time — from 30-50 years ago. Country — England. Scene — Rural. Rank — Middle. Person — First.” Under a heading entitled Villains she wrote: “NB. Moderation to be observed here.”
Doing away with the Angrian stock of aristocrats, villains, exotic and lavish foreign settings, Charlotte wrote The Professor, while her sister Emily produced Wuthering Heights and Anne wrote Agnes Grey. The publisher took their offerings, but turned down Charlotte’s on the grounds that it was deficient in “startling incident” and “thrilling excitement”. So she sat down and wrote Jane Eyre. Plenty of incident and excitement there. The book also contains the most radical element of all. A heroine who does not have glowing vermilion cheeks, a valuable trousseau and the best beaux in the land. But a heroine who speaks up for herself and casts a cold eye over the fashionable and the wealthy and the influential, in the same way that the ironic young author looks at her cast of characters in Stancliffe’s Hotel.
Charlotte Brontë is still a revolutionary voice heard all over the world. Even in 2003 you want to cheer when Jane takes on her employer, her superior, her master — and lover: “I care for myself” . . . “Just because I am poor and plain and little” . . . “Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?” The African heroine of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s 1988 novel Nervous Conditions learns courage from Jane Eyre. In Japan, mothers trying to encourage independence in their daughters still give them Jane Eyre to read. I am pretty sure it was that book on the Southampton station bookstall that made me an academic. It probably made me a feminist. The problem is, I fear, it may have made me a romantic, too.
Dr Margaret Reynolds is a reader in English and Drama at Queen Mary, University of London.
Is my life to be so wretched ?
CHARLOTTE BRONTË ALWAYS KNEW that she would have to earn her own living. Her father was a clergyman without any income other than the erratic one he drew from his parish; when he died his children would lose even the roof over their heads as Haworth Parsonage would revert to the Church. Unlike her literary creations, Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe, she had no prospect of an unexpected inheritance or windfall to give her independent means. Unlike her friend, Ellen Nussey, and other middle-class contemporaries, she could not expect her brother to provide for her: even if Branwell succeeded as a portrait painter, it would take years to establish himself and he would have nothing to spare for his three sisters. Unless or until she married, Charlotte had no option but to work.
Charlotte’s future had been mapped out for her as a child of eight. When she entered the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge in 1824 it was noted in the column headed “For what educated” that she was to be a governess. To that end her father paid for extra lessons in the “accomplishments”, that is, French and drawing.
Though that experiment in schooling ended disastrously with the deaths of her two elder sisters, Charlotte realised that she would have to gain formal qualifications if she was to be a teacher. In 1831 she enrolled at Roe Head School, near Mirfield, worked her way from the bottom of the class to the top and, in all three terms, succeeded in carrying off the school prize for “emulation rewarded”.
In 1835 Miss Wooler, her kindly headmistress, offered her a post at Roe Head and Charlotte made the uneasy transition from pupil to teacher. The burden of personal obligation was unwittingly increased by Miss Wooler’s offer to take Emily as a pupil free of charge, and accepting Anne in her place when Emily failed to thrive. As Charlotte was the first to admit, she could not have found a better place: she loved and respected Miss Wooler, Roe Head itself was a light and airy house, beautifully situated amid parkland, her closest friends, Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor, lived close by, and her duties were not especially onerous since there were never more than a dozen pupils.
Still, Charlotte could not be happy. All her instincts rebelled against the monotony, the drudgery, the waste of her own talents. “The thought came over me,” she scribbled in August 1836, “am I to spend all the best part of my life in this wretched bondage, forcibly suppressing my rage at the idleness, the apathy and the hyperbolical & most asinine stupidity of these fat-headed oafs and on compulsion assuming an air of kindness, patience & assiduity?” Two months later she wrote bitterly: “Stupidity the atmosphere, school-books the employment, asses the society, what in all this is there to remind me of the divine, silent, unseen land of thought?” This was the crux of Charlotte’s problem. It was difficult enough for any of the highly intelligent Brontë sisters to accept such demeaning, mechanical employment as teaching their intellectually inferior social superiors, but to be deprived of the freedom to let their imaginations take wing was more than they could bear.
Emily lasted a mere two months as a pupil at Roe Head: the physical and, more importantly, the mental constraints of school life made her ill and she had to go home. Anne, who was less dependent on the imaginary worlds for her emotional wellbeing, lasted two years before she too succumbed to illness.
Charlotte braved it out for three-and-a-half years but, as her private diary jottings throughout this period reveal, it was at immense personal cost. Gazing out of the schoolroom window during a grammar lesson, she began to drift off into an Angrian reverie and felt the usual urge to write. “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.”
There was no escape from her pupils even when the school day was finished, for she slept in the same dormitory. Once the girls surprised her as she tried to snatch a few moments’ privacy: lying on her bed in the early evening, she had, as usual, conjured up an Angrian scene to relieve “the craving vacancy”. It grew so vivid and compulsive that she became totally absorbed and could not rouse herself, even when she heard them talking about her. “I wanted to speak — to rise — it was impossible — I felt that this was frightful predicament — that it would not do — the weight pressed me as if some huge animal had flung itself across me.” Such was the hold of the “infernal world” of Angria over her, however, that, try as she might, she could not give it up. A letter from Branwell, who was at home and therefore developing the Angrian chronicles unhindered, was a lifeline: “I lived on its contents for days, in every pause of employment.”
As her 21st birthday approached she dared to hope that there might be another option open to her. She wrote to Robert Southey, the Poet Laureate, confessing her ardent desire “to be for ever known” as a poetess and enclosing a selection of her work. Southey’s kindly response (so often quoted unfairly and out of context) urged her to write poetry for its own sake, not with a view to celebrity: literature could not be and ought not to be the business of a woman’s life.
Her dreams of escape crushed, Charlotte carefully preserved the letter. “I trust I shall never more feel ambitious to see my name in print,” she said, “if the wish should rise I’ll look at Southey’s autograph and suppress it.”
Charlotte struggled on at Roe Head for another year but her depression, or what she called the “tyranny of Hypochondria”, was destroying her. In May 1838 she gave up the unequal struggle and resigned. Returning home, she immediately and joyfully threw herself into unrestrained Angrian composition, writing two novelettes in the space of a month. Her recovery was miraculous and almost instantaneous: the cure was Stancliffe’s Hotel.
Juliet Barker is the author of The Brontës, Phoenix Press, and The Brontes: A Life in Letters, Viking.
Wuthering Heights of reality
The Brontë Parsonage Museum has avoided trashy commercialism and gives an authentic insight into the family's life, says Carol Midgley
ONE OF THE most seductive things about the Brontë Parsonage Museum is that, unlike too many cafés and shops in the Haworth area, all of which seem to be called the Wuthering Heights something or other, it has avoided trashy commercialism and settled for being exactly what it was — the home of the Brontë siblings, their parents and Emily’s faithful bull mastiff, Keeper.
There is the inevitable gift shop and an annexe built in the 1870s which now houses a permanent exhibition. But apart from that, what you see is what you get.
And tourists who follow the Brontë trail do get to see an awful lot, most of which is authentic. It is often said that there is a particular aura at the parsonage that you tend not to find at other museums. Perhaps this is because you ascend the stairs that the family climbed every night before bed, or that you are within touching distance of the couch on which Emily Brontë reputedly died from tuberculosis aged 30. Certainly you feel that you know something of their lives.
From the clothes, books and furniture on display, to the locks of hair that have been preserved and displayed in glass caskets, the exhibits are real. The clothes and shoes are mainly Charlotte’s, since she was the only one of the family to become famous during her lifetime. Historians recognised the value of preserving her belongings, and, as a result, there are four impossibly tiny dresses that are displayed in rotation throughout the year to protect them from light damage.
Walk through the front door of the parsonage and you immediately encounter the dining room where Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey were written. It was Emily, Anne and Charlotte’s habit to walk around the table until about 11 o’clock, reading and discussing their writing projects.
After the deaths of Emily and Anne, Charlotte walked in solitude, unable to sleep without this nightly ritual. Martha Brown, servant at the parsonage, described how “my heart aches to hear Miss Brontë walking on alone”.
The kitchen, unfortunately, has undergone some changes. As children, the Brontës would gather around the warm fire to listen to their servant Tabby’s dark tales of the Yorkshire moors. They were expected to muck in with the household chores, and the kitchen features in many of their accounts of daily life at the parsonage.
But after Patrick Brontë’s death in 1861, the parsonage became the home of the Rev John Wade, who created a large kitchen extension that blocked the mullioned window which had formerly looked out towards the moors. The range was removed, and the old kitchen became a passage to Wade’s new dining room. Today, however, the kitchen still displays furniture and utensils that belonged to the Brontë family.
The most popular exhibits, particularly with children, are the “little books” and the dog collar worn by Keeper. The books, featuring microscopically small handwriting, were created by the children in 1826 and designed to be read by their toy soldiers.
Keeper remains something of a pin-up at the parsonage. The dog followed Emily’s funeral procession into church and lay at the family’s feet during the service. Emily’s watercolour of him is available on a postcard that has become one of the bestselling souvenirs.
St Michael’s Church, where the girls’ father officiated, stands in front of the parsonage. Patrick took a keen interest in political and social issues, and from here he campaigned for improvements in sanitation in Haworth.
A few hundred yards down the hill into Haworth is the Black Bull, where Branwell, the dissolute son, spent much of his time. A few miles further afield, in Thornton, near Bradford, the Brontë birthplace can be visited by prior appointment.
Ann Dinsdale, librarian at the parsonage, says that the building was originally owned by St Michael’s Church and came rent-free with the job. “But by the early 20th century it became difficult to attract clergy to live there because of the tourist interest in the place,” she says. “Visitors would knock on the doors at all hours, asking to get access. It had become a literary shrine, so the Church decided to sell it and build another parsonage near by.”
In 1928 Sir James Roberts, who had become a local tycoon through the textile industry, bought the parsonage and gave it to the Brontë Society, which continues to own it. The permanent exhibition there tells the full Brontë story and a new temporary exhibition will open at the end of March to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charlotte’s novel Villette.
Brontë Parsonage Museum, admission: adults, £4.80; children aged 5-16, £1.50; concessions. A family ticket costs £10.50 for two adults and up to three children.
Haworth parsonage - a shrine to the family
IT IS an extraordinary tribute to the power of the Brontë writings that the first tourists to Haworth arrived in 1850, within weeks of the revelation that Currer Bell, the best-selling author of the shocking Jane Eyre and Shirley, was the respectable Charlotte Brontë, the daughter of the parson of Haworth.
Early visitors usually contented themselves with bribing the locals to point out Miss Brontë in church and peering over the garden wall at the neat, square and unremarkable parsonage where these works had been written.
Charlotte’s death, five years later, and the publication in 1857 of Mrs Gaskell’s sympathetic and hugely influential biography, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, turned the trickle of tourists into a flood.
“Scarcely a day passes that a score of visitors do not make a pilgrimage to the spot where Charlotte Brontë lived and died,” the local newspapers commented, adding that innkeepers were increasing their charges exponentially. They were not alone: the sexton set up a sideline, charging visitors to see Charlotte’s signature in the marriage register and his small collection of Brontë memorabilia, while photographs of the parsonage and the Rev Patrick Brontë were on sale in Main Street.
Martha Brown, the Brontë servant, increasingly found herself having to fend off unwanted callers at the parsonage; the most persistent were Americans, many of whom were rewarded by being invited in for a tête-à-tête with Charlotte’s father and widower.
The flow of visitors has increased over the years. Haworth Parsonage, now the Brontë Parsonage Museum, attracts between 100,000 and 200,000 people a year, though numbers have fallen in recent years since the siting of wind turbines on neighbouring moorland.
The parsonage, which was the Brontës’ home for more than 40 years, is relatively untouched by the ravages of time — ignoring the gable wing added in the 1870s and the modern shop and office block at the back. A museum since 1928, it has been mocked for its reverential display of memorabilia — Charlotte’s gloves, Patrick’s hat — but this is to miss the point. It is the absolute ordinariness of the parsonage, its rooms neatly laid out with the Brontës’ furniture and personal belongings, contrasting so vividly with the manuscript displays where their secret world of the imagination is revealed in all its fervid glory — the tiny handmade books covered with minute writing, the scribbled marginalia, the meticulous drawings of Angrian and Gondal characters — which reflects the dichotomy at the heart of the Brontës’ lives.
Emily: a very private, secretive world
EMILY JANE BRONTË, the fifth of the six Brontë children, was the most singular and the most secretive. Unlike her siblings she was not a prolific letter-writer; the handful which survive are merely brief notes. Her prose contribution to the fantasy worlds of Glass Town and Gondal is lost or destroyed, as is the manuscript of her second novel. All that remains from her pen is the poetry she chose to preserve in fair copy books, nine French essays written for Constantin Heger in Brussels, four diary papers and Wuthering Heights, one of the greatest novels in the English language.
Given the domineering characters of Charlotte and Branwell, it is not surprising that Emily chose to make common cause with the more pliant Anne. The two younger girls were said to be “like twins, inseparable companions and in the very closest sympathy which never had any interruption”. Their creation of Gondal, an island in the South Pacific ruled by a Queen, was a deliberate response to, and rejection of, the male-dominated and masculine-fixated world of Angria. For Emily the stories and characters became so real that she made no distinction between what was happening in her imaginary world and in the genuine world around her: “The Gondals are discovering the interior of Gaaldine, Sally Mosley is washing in the back-Kitchin,” she wrote in her diary paper of 1834.
Emily’s life centred on Haworth Parsonage, which she left only four times: to be a pupil at the Clergy Daughters’ School when she was six, at Roe Head School aged 17, at the Pensionnat Heger aged 24, and to be a teacher at Law Hill School, near Halifax, in 1838-39. None of these absences lasted more than ten months for Emily was, quite simply, unable to survive away from home, where she had the mental leisure to indulge her Gondal fantasies.
Charlotte’s discovery of Emily’s manuscript of poems and insistence that they be published threatened the privacy which meant so much to her. It took days to appease her anger and longer to persuade her to agree to publication; when she did, it was on condition that the poems should appear pseudonymously. Latent ambition must have stirred, because the failure of Poems did not discourage her from embarking on Wuthering Heights, and she accepted the “somewhat impoverishing terms” of Thomas Cautley Newby, the first publisher prepared to take it on. The vitriolic criticism of Wuthering Heights and its author, “Ellis Bell”, became a source of cynical amusement and then indifference. For Emily was dying. The tuberculosis which had killed her brother in September 1848 was to kill her three months later.
Anne Brontë - the baby of the family
AS the youngest of the six Brontë children, Anne was always regarded as the baby of the family. Shy, demure and sweet-tempered, she nevertheless had her own share of the Brontë spirit and, at times, revealed an unexpected core of steel. Even as a small child, she was capable of making an intelligent contribution to the play-acting and storytelling which reverberated around the parsonage and, at 14, she joined Emily in rebelling against Charlotte and Branwell’s dominance in order to found Gondal, their own imaginary world. It was a partnership that would last for life.
Educated by her father, aunt and sister, Anne did not leave the sanctuary of home until she was 15, when she replaced Emily as a pupil at Roe Head School. Two years later she suffered a crisis of faith which resulted in serious illness, and she was removed by her anxious father. In 1839, much to the surprise of her siblings, she found herself a post as a governess at Blake Hall, Mirfield, an unhappy experience which was to inform her novel Agnes Grey. Dismissed six months later, she quickly found another post as governess to the son and two daughters of the Rev Edmund Robinson of Thorp Green, near York. She stayed there for five years. She resigned in some embarrassment in 1845 after the revelation of Branwell’s affair with Mrs Robinson.
It was Anne’s quiet support which enabled Charlotte to persuade Emily to publish Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Though Anne’s enthusiasm for Gondal seems to have palled during her long absence from home, she eagerly embarked on Agnes Grey and, when that was accepted for publication, began a second novel, the courageous and controversial The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published in 1848.
Anne died of tuberculosis in 1849, aged 29, at Scarborough, where she had gone in the vain hope of a sea-cure.
Branwell Brontë - a poet son who bore the burden of expectations
BRANWELL, or Patrick Branwell Brontë to give him his full name, was the fourth child and only son of the Rev Patrick Brontë. Only 13 months younger than Charlotte, he was her closest childhood companion, acting as both the spur and the foil to her talent.
They competed intensely, particularly in writing about their fantasy worlds, and were a partnership that frequently excluded their younger sisters, Emily and Anne. Angria was their creation, and its warring leaders, Northangerland and Zamorna, were the fictional incarnations of their creators.
As the only son, Branwell bore the burden of his family’s expectations. Brilliant, witty and sociable, he was educated at home by his father (a Cambridge graduate), who ensured that his talents were also encouraged by arranging professional lessons in music and drawing. Ambitious plans for him to enter the Royal Academy of Art proved unrealistic, and an attempt to set up a studio in Bradford as a portrait painter also foundered.
His wish was to be a poet and he clung to this dream, publishing much of his work in local newspapers and sending samples to leading literary figures. A brief stint as a tutor in the Lake District was followed by 18 months working as a clerk on the new Manchester and Leeds Railway in Calderdale; despite earning a promotion, he was sacked when his accounts failed to balance.
In 1843 he joined his sister Anne at Thorp Green, near York, where he assumed the tuition of one of her pupils, Edmund Robinson. When his affair with the boy’s mother was discovered, he was dismissed in disgrace and found it impossible to gain new employment.
The last three years of his life were spent at Haworth where, depressed by his failure and rejection by his lover, Mrs Robinson, he sank rapidly into alcoholism. He died, aged 31, of tuberculosis, the symptoms of which had been masked by his drinking.
I was Jane Eyre (with no nice hats)
The Brontë sisters strike a chord with teenage girls everywhere. But Caitlin Moran argues that, deep down, they really all want to be Charlotte
TWO OF MY SISTERS and I used to play “Being the Brontë Sisters” in our early teens; not because we were particularly literary – Cabby’s favourite book was The SAS Survival Handbook — but because we, too, were three female siblings who were quite ugly and couldn’t get laid to save our lives, and that demograph tends not to have many prominent role models.
Cabby and I would always insist that Claire, who was the youngest, had to be Emily Brontë, as we considered Emily a bit hysterical and mad, and Claire would always respond by being a bit hysterical and mad about it, which we thought proved our point. It was then left for me and Cabby to fight over being Charlotte, as no one wants to be Anne. She was very much the Denise Nolan of the line-up. The Rev Patrick Brontë must have had to be very diplomatic about her achievements in the Christmas round-robin: “Charlotte has written one of the great novels of the 19th century, and Emily one of the great hysterical and mad novels of the 19th century. Anne, meanwhile, has produced great quantities of delicious damson jam. And Agnes Grey.” Cabby, whose sole contribution to the book section of our short-lived arts magazine, The Fist of Righteousness, was “Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery is crap — never buy it”, did generally regard books as something with which to smite our brother Eddie. But Claire and I, who were both extraordinarily deep — a deepness often only expressible by sitting in the front room with the curtains drawn, playing funereal chords very slowly on a Casio keyboard and weeping — generally read a book a day.
More often than not, Claire’s “book a day” would be Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley. Between 1990 and 1996, Claire had a fairly unbroken run of Caroline Helstone Relationships, ie, fixations on distant, uninterested men that went on for years, and the unreciprocated nature of which left her weak, emaciated and close to death. Or, the Moran metabolism and unhappiness-relieving routines being what they were, she was left pale and bloated from leaving the impression of her face on a two-kilo block of cheese at three in the morning. Shirley was a great comfort to her. When a youth she knew only as “the Sisters of Mercy fan” openly ran away from her at the nightclub in the Dorchester hotel — and, later on the same dark evening, witnessed her ignominiously vomiting into her own shoes — Claire spent the morning after in the bath with nothing but Shirley and a pack of Lambert & Butler.
And on the fateful day that his replacement, Moley, took Fat Lisa up to Wenlock Edge in his car and felt her up on the anniversary of his and Claire’s first feeling-up, her agony could be stilled only by Caroline Helstone’s soliloquy about slighted love that begins: “You held out your hand for an egg, and fate put into it a scorpion. Show no consternation: close your fingers firmly upon the gift; let it sting through your palm. Never mind: in time, after your hand and arm have swelled and quivered with the torture, the squeezed scorpion will die, and you will have learned the great lesson how to endure without a sob.”
We would often, in our shared room, get this speech at 2am, ending with Claire’s shriek of, “Where’s my egg? Where’s my piece of the Moley pie? On Wenlock Edge with his hands up Fat Lisa’s bra, that’s where!”
I, on the other hand, was a Jane Eyre girl. While Claire was at least going out and having catastrophic fixations on real people, I never left the house at all, having reached such a cheese-aided size that the only outfit that fitted me was a poncho and a wrap-around skirt made of, with cheeseparing irony, cheesecloth. Even with my limited knowledge of the modes of young people in 1990, I felt that this was not the outfit that, on my entrance to the Dorchester, would see me borne to the dancefloor on the hands of the ten best-looking Darrens in the room.
So I stayed at home, did a great deal of housework in the hopes that it would make me lose weight, loved Alan Alda in M*A*S*H like a husband, and re-read Jane Eyre every month, because it was, when you read between the lines, a book about being very fat and doing housework to lose weight, and loving Alan Alda from M*A*S*H like a husband — but all with a great many nicer hats than I had access to at the time. I was comforted by the fact that Mr Rochester/Alan Alda appeared to have to go blind before he could marry me/Jane. It would make the issue of the poncho that much easier when the time came.
I suspect the reason that Claire and I, along with millions of teenage girls, have loved Charlotte’s novels so much is because they are about waiting. Waiting and suffering. And if there is a better summation of what it is to be a defective, hysterical teenager hoping to grow into a better, calmer adult, I’ve yet to come across it. Caroline Helstone waiting until Robert Moore gets ill enough to crave a boring girl, Shirley Keeldar waiting until Louis Moore “gets up” his “gumption”, “plain” Jane Eyre having to wait until the first Mrs Rochester gets burned to death — every story comforts you that, if you just patiently sit out the next 600 pages of your life, you will eventually end up with the right taciturn Yorkshireman in your back parlour. You won’t even need to set fire to Thornfield yourself. A handy madwoman will do it. What could be more appealing?
Of course, it’s only a particularly morbid, essentially lazy teenage girl who will love the idea of waiting and suffering so much. My sister Cabby, it should be noted, simply stopped eating cheese and started talking to boys about SAS survival tactics and how crap Ken Hom was, and never spent a day after her 15th birthday single. On the long afternoons we were locked out of our bedroom because she had a boy in there, Claire and I would sit on the landing, with Shirley and Jane Eyre, passing around a lump of Wensleydale like a cheroot, waiting.
The beau monde
Charlotte Bronte's writing reflects a keen interest in fashionable clothes, which became more widely available by the mid-19th century, says Katina Bill
THE BRONTË SISTERS are not generally regarded as women who paid much attention to fashion, but Charlotte’s writings reveal a strong interest in clothes.
She was keenly aware of the importance of dress when fitting into society. Charlotte and Anne made an unexpected visit to the London opera in 1848. They had no evening clothes, so wore “plain . . . country garments”.
In a letter, Charlotte recalled her embarrassment as “fine ladies and gentlemen glanced at us with a slight, graceful superciliousness”.
Charlotte frequently used dress as a device in her writings. There are, for example, many detailed references to dress throughout Stancliffe’s Hotel. She knew how a phrase such as “a young dandy with red curls and velvet waistcoat” could define and illustrate character.
Despite her ability to use costume effectively in her work, Charlotte had little confidence in her own taste and avoided clothes which were too ostentatious. She regretted her purchases after getting them home, sent things back to the shops, and regularly sought the advice of friends: “I wish you could have looked over them and given a dictum — I insisted on the dresses made quite plainly.”
Her behaviour sounds very modern, but fashion in the world of the Brontës was very different from today. Clothes were all sewn by hand and were very expensive. Theft of clothes was a common crime. The lower classes mostly wore second, third or even fourth-hand clothes.
Those who could afford new clothes shopped in small, specialised stores which had little display space. Customers were dependent on what the shopkeeper chose to show them. Haggling over price was expected. Ready-to-wear clothing was very limited. Most clothes were made by a tailor, dressmaker or at home. “Shopping for clothes” actually meant choosing fabrics and trimmings.
However, by the middle of the 19th century the new department stores had introduced fixed prices, big displays and another new concept — no obligation to buy. Shopping became a fashionable activity, and a way of seeing the latest styles.
Ladies’ magazines — the precursors of today’s glossies — also helped to spread fashion news. They featured illustrations, such as those pictured, right, of the new styles in hats, bonnets, morning and evening dresses and were circulated countrywide.
Of course, the greater availability of fashion news and fashionable clothes increased the pressure on respectable ladies — and their pockets — to dress in vogue.
Charlotte’s uncertainty about clothes may have been a personal foible. Or it may have been a result of living in a period of great change in the fashion industry.
THE action takes place late in the Angrian saga, when the ageing Northangerland, who has led an unsuccessful rebellion against his son-in-law, Zamorna, lies ill on his country estate at Alnwick.
Opera-singer who married Zamorna’s uncle, the Marquis of Wellesley, and later a Mr Vernon. She became mistress of Northangerland during his rebellion against Zamorna. At the time of Stancliffe’s Hotel, she is mistress of Macara Lofty.
Henri Fernando di
Lord Lieutenant of the Province of Etrei.
Hartford, Lord Edward General in the Angrian army.
One of Northangerland’s former allies.
Angrian society beauty.
Alexander Percy, Duke of Northangerland
Father-in-law of Zamorna, once his ally and Prime Minister, then leader of the Republican Party, which attempted to displace him.
Eldest son of Northangerland, a leading industrialist in Angria.
Henrietta Northangerland’s daughter and Zamorna’s second wife, Duchess of Zamorna.
Second son of the Duke of Northangerland, half-brother to Mary Percy. A foppish young man.
Viscount Richton, Verdopolitan Ambassador to Angria.
Housekeeper at Charles Townshend’s lodgings.
Viscount Castlereagh, Lord Lieutenant of the Province of Zamorna.
Charles Townshend’s landlord, a shopkeeper in Verdopolis.
General Sir Wilson
Bluff Yorkshireman, Lord Lieutenant of the Province of Calabar, married to Zamorna’s cousin, Julia Wellesley.
Evolved, in the Angrian saga, from Lord Charles Florian Wellesley, younger brother of Zamorna. A cynical young dandy, narrator of Stancliffe’s Hotel.
Successor to Northangerland as Prime Minister of Angria.
Arthur Augustus Adrian
Duke of Zamorna and King of Angria, a charismatic, amoral, Byronic figure, who is the hero of Charlotte Brontë’s Glass Town and Angrian writings.
THE illustrations that accompany T2’s publication of Stancliffe’s Hotel are by Adrian George. Born in Cirencester in 1944, and educated at the Royal College of Art, George works mainly in pastel or oil. He has work in the permanent collections of the V&A and the National Portrait Gallery, London.
The rise of the Victorian middle class
STANCLIFFE’S HOTEL was written during the formative years of the British middle class. The catalyst was the formation of the Anti-Corn Law League in 1839 when manufacturers demanded the repeal of laws which restricted the free import of grain. The league created a broad-based, commercially-minded opposition to the landed aristocracy.
Puritanical social habits and often hypocritical evangelising defined the middle classes of the time. Their ideology was dominated by notions of sobriety, thriftiness, self-reliance and hard work. They spurned “mob” entertainments and spent their ever-increasing leisure time with the family. They disdained the idleness and excess of aristocracy, yet wanted to keep up with their betters. Public drunkenness was associated with the poor, and the fear of working classes congregating in large, malevolent groups in the new “uncontrollable cities” was ever present.
Appearance, however, was everything. While the social reformers and philanthropists preached abstention from alcohol to the working classes, the middle classes drank in private. Economic strength allowed them, as employers, to exploit the labouring population. Opium would remain readily available in grocers’ and druggists’ shops until 1868, and in the 1830s “opium-eating” was a popular and acceptable pastime among eccentric middle (and upper) class dilettantes.
By 1837 political organisations and institutions had emerged, from which women were excluded
(except in a fundraising capacity). Women were not allowed to be full members of libraries, reading rooms, or literary and philosophical societies. A woman’s property passed automatically to her husband unless a court settlement had been made, and, until the Infants’ Custody Act in 1939, women could even be denied access to their own children. The middle classes inherited from the aristocracy the system of patrilineal property rights; a marriage settlement might easily be used as a way of increasing capital.
Reform and unrest in 1830s England
IN 1837, a year before Charlotte Brontë began writing Stancliffe’s Hotel, an 18-year-old princess acceded to the throne and the Victorian age began. England in the 1830s was a country in thrall to industrialisation. But new machines gave rise to new political problems: a middle class with a growing political consciousness, the dangers of the unregulated, uninspected factory floor, and the drain of workers from the country to England’s great industrial cities.
In 1832 the Tory party, staunchly opposed to reform that might harm the landed classes, suffered the worst defeat in its history at that time. The election winners, the Whigs, promised reforms that would deal with England’s new, modern problems.
The 1832 Reform Act changed radically the electoral system of Great Britain, redistributing seats in favour of the growing industrial cities. One in seven men now had the vote. The Tory-dominated House of Lords passed the Bill only after King William IV threatened to create hundreds of new, sympathetic Whig peers to secure a majority.
Other reforms were ushered in: in 1833 slavery was abolished in all British territories; 1834 saw the first Inspected Factory Act, and the first State grant to churches for building schools; and the Poor Law Amendment Act introduced a more efficient administrative structure for the relief of poverty.
It was in this atmosphere of progressive reform that Victoria was crowned in 1837. In the general election of that year the Tories made gains, but the progressive Whigs kept their majority.
However, popular political movements were beginning to demand reforms that far exceeded those the Whigs were willing to deliver. In 1836 the London Working Men’s Association was founded, and in 1839, under worsening economic conditions, it presented a People’s Charter to Parliament. More than a million and a quarter people demanded universal male suffrage in its pages.
When MPs ignored the petition a series of riots erupted. England was not a country at rest.
Haute cuisine enters the British kitchen
IN JULY 1829 Lady Morgan, a novelist and society hostess, was invited to dinner in Paris by Baron de Rothschild. The meal, she recalled, offered “distillations of the most delicate viands, extracted in silver dews, on tepid clouds of rising steam; every meat presented in its natural aroma; every vegetable its shade of verdure”.
This dinner, for which the most famous chef of the early to mid-19th century, Antonin Carême, was responsible, showed how the character of English aristocratic eating was heavily influenced by the French masters.
The poor, by contrast, ate what they could afford. Most of those living on the land were forced to sell their meat and dairy produce, and got what protein they could from off-cuts, which were combined with root vegetables in one-pot dishes cooked on the hearth. These would be accompanied by rye bread and beer, of which there were two sorts: “small beer”, a weak, unhopped ale consumed by labourers in large quantities (up to eight pints a day) because of the often poor quality of the water; and full-strength beer.
For the middle classes in the cities food was an opportunity to show status. Breakfast became a larger meal of porridge, fish, bacon and eggs, and toast and marmalade; for dinner, stuffed meat — mostly beef, mutton and bird — covered in thick sauces was popular. They drank French wine, which was often sweetened and spiced. The most common fruits were apples and pears, though tropical varieties, such as pineapples, appeared in more affluent households.
The 19th century saw significant developments in kitchen equipment, such as the perfection of temperature control (by the 1840s gas was used in most restaurants and grand houses) which was crucial for sautéing, baking soufflés, and making sauces.
It was also the period in which the new public space of the restaurant began to flourish. Inns had existed for centuries, but had never provided the choice that demonstrated — and not just to the elite — that there were many ways to prepare a particular ingredient.
You can read excerpts of Stancliffe’s Hotel here