Friday, February 19, 2016

Day of Love

Last weekend was Valentines Day. 
I celebrated by re-watching a favorite: Austenland. 
I will have some more posts up here in a few days but for now I thought I would leave a link to my original post about Austenland to remind us all how awesome it is. 
Check it out here. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Let's talk about: The Brontes At Haworth by Ann Dinsdale

This is the other book I mentioned in my last post. 
It is the only other Bronte biography/ information book that I have read so far that I felt worth mentioning. 
"Ann Dinsdale paints a detailed picture of everyday life at Haworth in the 1840s, recounting the Brontë family history and describing the local village and surrounding countryside. She goes on to consider the Brontës' poetry and novels in the context of their socio-historic background. This book provides fascinating insight into the lives of the authors of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and will be a must for both literature students and Brontë admirers. It is illustrated with numerous rarely seen images from the Haworth archives, including drawings by Charlotte and Emily, together with evocative pictures by local photographer Simon Warner." (Amazon)

Most of the information I already knew from the book by Juliet Barker but there was still one question I had. I wondered how they parsonage museum got all of the Bronte heirlooms back after they had been scattered after the deaths of everyone in the family. The other book talked about what happened to those things but never spoke of how they got them back. This book answered those questions for me as it spoke of how they started the museum. I liked Ann's voice in this book and it was a fun, quick read.
Also, this has a lot of great pictures. 
I definitely recommend it. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Brontes, Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family by Juliet Barker

I loved The Brontes, Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family by Juliet Barker. 
This book was massive and took a long time to finish but I learned so much. 
In her own words on her website (found here) Juliet explains why she wrote this biography: 

"If anyone had asked me what was my ambition when I was a teenager I would have said that it was to write a biography of the Brontes. I had been immersed in the Brontes since childhood, and, living near Haworth, loved the landscapes that had inspired them as much as their novels. I always thought it would be impossible to realise my dream: so many books had already been written- how could there be room for one more?
"It wasn't until the 1980's, when I was working at the Bronte Parsonage Museum as the librarian and curator, that I realised just how much unpublished manuscript material there was available, particularly for the hitherto vilified men in the Brontes' lives- their father Patrick, brother Branwell, and Charlotte's husband Arthur Bell Nicholls. I also realised that the published editions of letters, juvenilia, and poetry upon which most previous biographers had relied were invomplete and unreliable. When I left the museum in 1989 I therefore made it my mission to track down as many of the manuscripts as possible and transcribe them as accurately as I could. This was especially difficult in the case of the juvenilia, not just because of the minute size of the handwriting but because the manuscripts had been divided up and sold off page by page to different collectors. Reconstructing them was like doing an immense jigsaw puzzle but the reward was to see Branwell emerge as the leader and originator of the Brontes' childhood stories; where he led his sisters followed and without him there would have been no Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, or Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
As a historian it was also clear to me that previous biographers had also neglected to make full use of the historical records available. The most valuable source turned out to be local newspapers, which revealed not only many original Bronte contributions but also a wealth of information which radically changed the received view of what Haworth was like at the time. Mrs. Gaskell's description fo a remote village cut off from civilisation and caught in an eighteenth century time-warp turned out to be completely wrong: Haworth was a busy industrial township with dozens of working mills, a thirst for self-improvement (fostered by an enlightened and self-educated Reverend Patrick Bronte) and a thriving arts culture, particularly in the field of music. 
Rather to my own surprise, therefore I discovered not only that there was room for a new biography of the Brontes but that it was an absolute necessity to set the record straight. Time to put Mrs. Gaskell's " Life of Charlotte Bronte" back on the fiction shelves where it belongs!"

This book covers it all. I have been intrigued by the Bronte family ever since I first started reading their books and I found the information this biography covered fascinating. There were times when it felt like an information dump about the time period and town but I think that was also really interesting and gave me a better understanding of the times and places they lived in. 
The book was expertly written. It was full of facts and yet when needed became very personal. 
While it read like a normal biography which can sometimes come off as dry and detached, there were times when I was glued to the pages and other times when I shed tears. 
Even though I didn't particularly like Branwell, his death scene brought tears to my eyes and I will always remember how I felt reading it. The deaths of all of the Bronte children as well as the father's situation of watching his whole family die were so poignant and touching and sad. 
I also love the fact that this was written by someone that worked where they lived. She knows her stuff and that is very obvious while reading it. 
I am so glad I read this biography, I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about this family, and I will definitely read more by Juliet Barker. 
In fact, I read quite a few books about the Bronte family around the same time as I read this one, by different authors, and I am not even going to bother reviewing them ,save one that I will write about next week, because none came close to this one. 
If you want a Bronte biography, this is the one to get. 

"The story of the tragic Brontë family is familiar to everyone: we all know about the half-mad, repressive father, the drunken, drug-addled wastrel of a brother, wildly romantic Emily, unrequited Anne, and "poor Charlotte." Or do we? These stereotypes of the popular imagination are precisely that - imaginary - created by amateur biographers such as Mrs. Gaskell who were primarily novelists and were attracted by the tale of an apparently doomed family of genius.

Juliet Barker''s landmark book is the first definitive history of the Brontës. It demolishes the myths, yet provides startling new information that is just as compelling - but true. Based on first-hand research among all the Brontë manuscripts, including contemporary historical documents never before used by Brontë biographers, this book is both scholarly and compulsively readable. The Brontës is a revolutionary picture of the world''s favorite literary family. 32 B&W phots plus 25 in text drawings" (blurb from Amazon.)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Charlotte Bronte

(portrait by George Richmond)
 Charlotte was born in Thornton in 1816, the third of the Bronte's six children. 
In August of 1824, Charlotte was sent with Emily, Maria, and Elizabeth to the Clergy Daughters' School in Lancashire. After her two elder sisters died from tuberculosis, her father brought Charlotte and Emily home. Charlotte used the school as the inspiration for Lowood school in Jane Eyre. 

Charlotte seems to have taken on a motherly role to her siblings. She wrote stories with all of them but she and Branwell created a world that they wrote about. She often wrote about the Duke of Wellington and it is said she must have been very enamored of him.

In 1831-1832 Charlotte attended Roe Head in Mirfield and later returned as a teacher from 1835-1838. She met some of her lifelong friends there, particularly Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. 
She also worked as a governess. 
In 1842 she and Emily went to a boarding school in Brussels. It was run by Constantin Heger and his wife. They ended up leaving the school early (they were offered teaching positions) when their aunt Elizabeth died. Charlotte was very close to M. Heger and it is said that she was very much in love with him but there was no affair. 
In 1846 Charlotte urged her sisters to publish a book of their poems under the names of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Charlotte went by Currer. 
Only two copies sold but they continued to write and soon Charlotte was done with her first manuscript, The Professor. It did not get published. However they were interested in more from her. 
The following year she published Jane Eyre in a combined publication with her sisters' novels. Jane Eyre was an immediate success.
In 1848 she began work on her second novel, Shirley. While writing it her siblings all died. During much of this time she did not write often but after Anne's death she turned to her writing again as a way to deal with all that she was going through. It was published in 1849.
Charlotte made many literary connections at this time, becoming friends with other writers of the time such as Elizabeth Gaskell who would later write a biography about Charlotte. 
Her third novel, Villette, was published in 1853 and was her last book published during her lifetime. 
None of her books lived up to quite the same popularity as Jane Eyre. 
Around this time Charlotte was proposed to by Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father's curate. Her father didn't approve at first and so she turned him down. But by January of 1854 she had also fallen in love with Arthur and convinced her father to give them his approval. 
They were married in June and went to Ireland to visit his family on their honeymoon. 
They seemed to have a very happy marriage. Charlotte was soon pregnant but during her pregnancy her health began to deteriorate rapidly. She was attacked by " sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness". 
Charlotte died on March 31, 1855 at the age of 38 while still pregnant. The baby died with her. 
It is believed by many that while her death certificate says that the cause of death was phthisis, that she really died from dehydration and malnourishment brought upon her by her pregnancy. 
Charlotte was buried in the family vault in the Church of St Michael and All Angels in Haworth. 

I find her death to be the most heartbreaking as she could have had such a happy life with her baby and her husband. Also, I am so saddened by the fact that their father, Patrick Bronte, had to watch his wife and all six children die before him. I can't even imagine what that must have been like for him. 

I don't think there are many books that can rival Jane Eyre and I am so grateful for Charlotte Bronte and the inspiration that she had that led to such a wonderful novel.