The Brontes’ World

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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.

table smlThe 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.

Dress etc smlThe 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.

jane-eyreOf 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

World War II, Pandemics and Tears

Obviously, in times of wars, epidemics and catastrophes – after the first shock waves subside – it is human nature to do one of many things… Tighten your belts and do whatever needs to be done in the given circumstances; hole up in any available safe place; have a nervous breakdown; or take a very deep breath and pick up a book/check the local cinema…I’m not being facetious here!

factory smlAs a child in WWII, in between evacuation, separation: Dad in the Royal Air Force, Mum working in an ammunition factory, whenever there was the slightest opportunity… Mum and I would sidle off to the cinema to escape the realities of the dangerous world we found ourselves locked in. Who knew that an evil lunatic – seen in newsreels ranting and raving his dangerous rhetoric- would prove to be the death of countless millions of souls around the globe. And what a life lesson it was to me to learn just how adaptable, ingenious, courageous and usually kind, people really were, although I couldn’t fully evaluate or appreciate it then.

What a balm books and films were then. The siren could wail and cause disquiet and concern , but – at first – us children could never imagine what the adults could foresee. Whether one stayed in or went out, it was like playing Russian Roulette, so a trip to that dark cavern where the silver screen would totally change our world for a few, delicious hours, was a huge treat.

1930s-usa-snow-white edit smlI was hooked by ‘the Pictures’ from the mind-boggling time I saw my first film: Walt Disney’s “Snow White.” Like countless other children, I fell in love with the seven dwarves and Snow White, and had nightmares courtesy the witch. The film was released just before the war started. And who could resist the childish charms of the charismatic Shirley Temple pictures, or the quirky, endearing Charlie Chaplin and clever, dead-pan antics of Buster Keaton?

janeeyre1944Once in Wales, dear Aunt Sal held my hand as singer Nelsen Eddy sang “I’ll See You –again…” to Jeanette McDonald from the clouds, having been tragically killed, and I thought my heart would break in two…But, if I could pick two films which had my emotions more firmly in their grip, they would be Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” and “All Quiet on the Western Front.” The latter – being an anti-war film – was so moving; the end so devastating…it deeply affected me. The book “Jane Eyre” on the other hand, affected me even more than the film. I read it aged 13 just after I met my best friend Sheila (Slim) Devo, an enigmatic, elfin-like girl with a huge personality. In the book, Jane’s friend died in the dreadful school they attended and – with my hormones all over the place – I imagined losing my new friend, and it floored me.

As for books, there are far too many to mention, but one which seems to link in with the present pandemic had a profound affect on me. It was Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities.” It started:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the Spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.”

twocitiesSuch an insightful piece of writing. Set in London and Paris in1859 during the French Revolution, a French doctor Alexandre Manette, having served an 18 year imprisonment, is released and goes to live in London with the daughter, Lucie, he has never met. The story is dark and complicated. They find themselves back in Paris. There are two men in love with Lucie and she marries Charles Damay, a French émigré, who is tried for treason against the British Crown; eventually found guilty and sentenced to be guillotined. Lucie’s other suitor, Sydney Carton, bears a striking resemblance to Damay, while an evil, blood-lust character called Madam Defarge is shot while up to skulduggery. In the mean-time, the selfless hero of the day, Sydney Carton, drugs Damay in the prison and changes places with him. Before he ‘goes bravely to the chop’ he states: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done. It is a far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Forgive me for revealing the denouement. It left me a helpless, sodden mess… I do seem to enjoy a good cry!!

What about YOU? What films/books left you emotionally drained?

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020