The sun slunk behind a threatening cloud as we trudged, slightly out of breath, up the winding, steep hill, past a tea shop which registered and whispered as we passed…My hitherto excited mood, dampened slightly, but I was determined to enjoy the experience. After all, I was about to visit Haworth Parsonage, where a tragic, literary family doggedly wrote their way through too many illnesses and deaths, and a slender-built young woman literally penned one of my favourite books, JANE EYRE.
The queue was a long one, which pleased me, especially to see so many Chinese or Japanese people there… I wished the Brontes could have known just how far their talents reached! Once inside the building, my spirits rose, especially on seeing Charlotte’s tiny gloves and shoes and imagining her scribbling away the darkening, oil-lit hours, her quill pen the only sound competing with the grandfather clock.
Charlotte was the third child of the Reverend Patrick Bronte and his Cornish wife, Maria, who went on to have a son, Branwell and two more daughters Emily and Anne, but tragically lost her mother and two, older sisters when they were just ten and eleven years old, while still a young child herself. Their aunt Elizabeth Branwell cared for the family thereafter.
How their young minds must have laboured through their tragedies as they bravely fought constant adversity and wrote in such an expressive way, and what a release it must have been at times. Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell often inhabited a make-believe world – the fictional land of Angria – which kept sanity happy, although it was said that the only male of the brood’s behaviour could have been bettered, and he failed to fulfil earlier promise as an artist and writer.
The girls were educated with a view to earning their own living, and Charlotte, like Emily, attended the Clergy Daughters’ School in Kirby Lonsdale, Yorkshire, and later continued to educate her two sisters Emily and Anne. Before becoming a governess and school teacher. to improve their languages, Charlotte and Emily also enrolled at the Pensionatt in Brussels where Charlotte formed a deep but unrequited fascination for her tutor Constantin Heger.
Poems by “Currer, Elllis and Acton Bell” (the brother and sisters) were published but Charlotte’s first novel The Professor met stony ground and wasn’t published until after her death. Fortunately, one year after its completion, her novel Jane Eyre was published to immediate success, although it was, at first, presented as the work of Curer Bell.
Emily was recognised as a poet of power and genius, Charlotte a lesser poet, whose talents lay in prose, while Anne’s poetry had a truth and simplicity which elevated her work. Their father Patrick was educated at Cambridge and also wrote didactic poetry, and son Branwell wrote poetry, and his translations were well regarded.
Of course, Emily’s Wuthering Heights is as well known as Jane Eyre but I `preferred the latter. It is known that Charlotte wrote to the Poet Laureate Southey and he replied: “Literature cannot be the business of women, of a woman’s life. And it ought not to be.” What an ignorant man! It was as well she paid him no heed!
I first read Jane Eyre, aged thirteen – when my hormones were racing around as if on Speed… At college, I had recently met my ‘very best friend’ Sheila (Slim) Devo, the same age as me and the most charismatic person I had ever clapped eyes on. She seemed full of confidence, while I was a little shy, she was bold and humorous with it… and great fun to be with. Well… in the book, Jane’s best friend died, and I was devastated and imaged how tragic if my new friend Sheila died too. The fact that she was as fit as a fiddle seemed neither here nor there. Emotions and brains are complicated things, aren’t they, especially for teenagers?! She went on to live a very full and fascinating life, and should have been a movie star… but sadly died just recently, aged 89. May she rest in peace.
Back to Jane Eyre, I again read it as an adult and portions of it recently. It still brought forth tears and had all the elements of a good read within it, but of course the language and mores of the times laboured it a little. Nevertheless, I found the description of the desolate countryside and moors highly expressive, and the emotion in the denouement very moving. To reflect on the fact that Mr Bronte lost his wife so young and all six children before they reached middle age and just after Charlotte found personal love and was expecting her first child, was as tragic as any of their stories and poems.
© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021