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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Reading Charlotte Brontë's Voice 164 Years Later

Per Wikipedia: AnneEmily, and Charlotte Brontë, by their brother Branwell (c. 1834). He painted himself among his sisters, but later removed the image so as not to clutter the picture. You can still see his outline.
Darkness fell early, now that the clocks have changed, and I was happy to have H. take Punchy out to Taco Bell for a dinner treat after I brought her home from soccer practice. I scooped Sug into my arms and climbed between our cozy flannel sheets at 6 p.m. for a short read.

H. is still reading that intriguing old edition of Wuthering Heights. He thinks Emily Brontë was brilliant, the way she mastered all those twists and turns, and he has remarked on the high level of angst in the story. The only thing I can think of to compare it to is the Twilight series, he said. It makes me want to reread W.H. [But I recall my blog friend Nan saying she was not at all interested in the characters or story.]

I curled up with one of the prefaces in H.'s library book, written by Currer Bell [Charlotte Brontë] in 1850, after losing her two younger sisters to tuberculosis. Emily died in December 1848 at age 30 and Anne followed five months later in May 1849 at age 29. The section is called "Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell" [pen names for Emily and Anne].

Condensed from Charlotte's excerpt:
Indeed, I feel myself that it is time the obscurity attending those two names--Ellis and Acton--was done away. The little mystery, which formerly yielded some harmless pleasure, has lost its interest; circumstances are changed. It becomes, then, my duty to explain briefly the origin and authorship of the books written by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.....We had very early cherished the dream of one day becoming authors.....We agreed to arrange a small selection of our poems, and, if possible, get them printed. Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because--without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called "feminine"--we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice...we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery which is not true praise...

I may sum up all by saying, that for strangers they were nothing, for superficial observers less than nothing; but for those who had known them all their lives in the intimacy of close relationship, they were genuinely good and truly great. This notice has been written because I felt it a sacred duty to wipe the dust off their gravestones, and leave their dear names free from soil.

Snuggling under the covers with that book took me back to being a women's studies/journalism major at Douglass famous Professor Elaine Showalter's classroom...she had been to the moors where the Brontë sisters lived and transported us there, too, from a building on our pretty, tree-lined campus in New Brunswick, NJ....she told us the sisters initially used masculine pen names to try to sell their manuscripts....

These lines from the wonderful BRONTEFAMILY.ORG are haunting:
  • June 29, 1854: Charlotte marries Arthur Bell Nicholls [at age 38]
  • March 31, 1855: Charlotte dies of tuberculosis and complications in pregnancy
I love that Charlotte's words are still crisp and clear 164 years later, even in this age of smartphones, laptops, iPads, texting, Instagram, tumblr, tweets. She wrote them the old-fashioned way, and they live on. Our writing implements change, but a strong writer's voice never dies. It transcends the ages....

Good night.

  1. Boot camp in the park.
  2. Finally caught up with my lovely friend Rachael over lunch at Red Eye on Walnut Street. Her Boaty and my Figgy are dear friends.
  3. Haircut and blowout.
  4. Please see above.
  5. Dinner and drinks out with four other moms on the block!

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