emma_in_dream: (Default)
I wrote about Carus Wilson before. He was the headmaster at the school the Brontes were sent to and lives on in the form of Charlotte Bronte’s scathing denunciation of him in *Jane Eyre*.


He edited a magazine and wrote evangelical stories for small children aimed at getting them to REPENT.


Here is another of his charming stories, from his collection *A Child’s First Tales* (1836).


'Look there! Do you not see a man hung by the neck? Oh! It is a sad sight. A rope is tied around his neck to what they call the gal-lows; and there he hangs till he is quite dead.'
emma_in_dream: (Default)
I want to shout out to Frederick Enoch, a very perceptive reader, who in 1846 bought a copy of the collected poems of the Brontes (published as Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell).


He was one of two – count them, two – people to buy copies of the book that year. Rather embarrassing for the authors, but their readership made up in quality for what it lacked in quantity. Mr Enoch wrote to them, praising the poems and asking for their autographs. He got what turned out to be the only document in the world with the ‘signatures’ of the three Bell brothers on it.


After the publication of *Jane Eyre*, the poetry sold like hot cakes, but Mr Enoch was ahead of his time.
emma_in_dream: (Highlander)
Carus Wilson is known now as the original of Mr Brocklehurst, the despised, hypocritical patron of the thinly-disguised school Charlotte Bronte attended. She blamed him for the death of two of her sisters in the poorly run school where they were forced to listen to interminable sermons while being cold and hungry. He was recognised as such at the publication of *Jane Eyre* – with people in Yorkshire discussing it openly. He wrote a pamphlet arguing that it was slander.

Other than that, he was known as the editor of the best selling children’s evangelical magazine *The Child’s Friend* and of numerous children’s stories like this one I transcribe here for your consideration. In fact they all appear to be variations of the one given below, first published in 1836 in a short story collection.

‘Do look at that bad child. She is in the pet. She would have her own way. Oh! How cross she looks!. And oh! What a sad tale have I to tell you of her. She was in such a rage, that all at once God struck her dead. She fell down on the floor, and died. No time to pray. No time to call on God to save her poor soul. She left the world in the midst of her sin. And oh! Where do you think she is now? I do not like to think of it. But we know that bad girls go to hell when they die, as well as bad men. I do not think this poor girl’s rage is now at an end, though she is in hell. She is in a range with her-self. She is in a rage to think of her bad deeds here on earth. My child, take care of such sins. Pray that you may be meek and low-ly in heart like your dear Lord and Sa-vi-our.’

What is there to say about this terrifying story?

Well, on the positive side (and there’s not much there), kudos to Wilson for managing to write a story in age-appropriate language. It’s almost all in single syllables for early readers and the few longer words are split up for easier comprehension.

On the other hand, who would want their child to comprehend this terrifying and horrible story? This is not Jesus letting the children come to him, or having many rooms in his house for all, or anything happy or clappy. This is some serious Old Testament fire and brimstone. I mean, there are actual flames and burning for eternity in this story! It is the most effective horror story I have ever read.

Trying to be fair, I do understand where this came from. There was a virulent form of evangelical Protestantism popular from the 17th to 19th centuries which asserted that people could only attain salvation by consciously acknowledging God as their savior. The correlation of this was that children who died before they were old enough went to hell. For centuries Christians had had the comforting belief that children who died before they were seven went to limbo where they waited for eternity, rather than hell, but this hard core Puritans didn’t believe that. So they were in a frenzy to get their children to believe as soon as possible.

In an era of high child mortality, it was a pressing matter. And sometimes when you read their diaries or letters you feel real sympathy for them. Poor Harriet Beecher Stowe read her teen aged son’s letters again and again, searching for a sign that he had found God before he died but concluded that he had not. There was a seventeenth-century diary I read where the woman was consoling herself about her son’s death at the age of three, remembering his favourite game of ‘telling sermons’ and believing he had been old enough to believe.

Carus Wilson is coming from there – he was trying to get children to accept God as young as possible, from what I am prepared to accept was a genuine (though misconceived) belief this was for the best. But man, he was a fruitcake. And he could also have done a lot more good by feeding the kids at his charitable school a lot more. The girls at the school had to eat their Sunday lunch in the cold antechamber of his church because it was too far to walk back to the school between services. Note that they were going to two church services while sustained by one slice of bread with butter.
emma_in_dream: (Default)
This is the first biography of the Brontes. Gaskell sets up the ur-version of the lives of the Brontes as isolated, living close to the moor, tragic genius(es).

She wrote as a friend of the family and as someone who wanted to protect Charlotte’s reputation, so she writes through a particular, Victorian prism of propriety. But she still addresses issues that still dog female artists - balancing creativity and everyday obligations.

‘Henceforward Charlotte Brontë's existence becomes divided into two parallel currents - her life as Currer Bell, the author; her life as Charlotte Brontë, the woman. There were separate duties belonging to each character - not opposing each other; not impossible, but difficult to be reconciled. When a man becomes an author, it is probably merely a change of employment to him. He takes a portion of that time which has hitherto been devoted to some other study or pursuit; he gives up something of the legal or medical profession, in which he has hitherto endeavoured to serve others, or relinquishes part of the trade or business by which he has been striving to gain a livelihood; and another merchant or lawyer, or doctor, steps into his vacant place, and probably does as well as he. But no other can take up the quiet, regular duties of the daughter, the wife, or the mother, as well as she whom God has appointed to fill that particular place: a woman's principal work in life is hardly left to her own choice; nor can she drop the domestic charges devolving on her as an individual, for the exercise of the most splendid talents that were ever bestowed. And yet she must not shrink from the extra responsibility implied by the very fact of her possessing such talents. She must not hide her gift in a napkin; it was meant for the use and service of others. In an humble and faithful spirit must she labour to do what is not impossible, or God would not have set her to do it.’

Her language is a lot less bold than that of Charlotte Bronte herself: ‘Men begin to regard the position of woman in another light than they used to do; and a few men, whose sympathies are fine and whose sense of justice is strong, think and speak of it with a candour that commands my admiration. They say, however - and, to an extent, truly-that the amelioration of our condition depends on ourselves. Certainly there are evils which our own efforts will best reach; but as certainly there are other evils - deep-rooted in the foundation of the social system - which no efforts of ours can touch: of which we cannot complain; of which it is advisable not too often to think.’

One of the things that struck me as I read was how many other female writers Charlotte Bronte referenced or Gaskell mentioned. I only made a few notes but Elizabeth Gaskell; Harriet Martineau; Miss Kavanagh’s *Women of Christianity*; she disparages Austen, she admires Harriet Beecher Stowe.
emma_in_dream: (Bronte)
I read *The Brontes: Selected Poems*, edited by Juliet R.V. Barker (1985). I was given it as a teen and I still really appreciate the work in it, especially Emily Bronte's. (In some ways I think her over the top romanticism works best in the form of poetry rather than the novel).

For the benefit of those who have not had time to find the poetical works of the Brontes, here are some examples:


Charlotte Bronte likes the big, over the top declarations of painful love... Not surprising.

Read more... )

Poor old Branwell Bronte wrote works which showed off his erudition in the form of classical allusions and which have dated terribly. See if you can read this without snoring...

Read more... )

Emily Bronte is my favourite. I would probably find her works too over the top if I had come to them as an adult, but I first read them in adolescence so they seem moving to me.

Read more... )

And this one which came from her imaginary world which she shared with Anne.

Read more... )

Anne Bronte wrote on a much quieter but still fine scale.

Read more... )

Some questions to aid discussion.

* What was with the obsession with death? A result of their upbringing or a general nineteenth-century preoccupation? Or a general poetic obssession?

* Does the use of rhyme lead you through the poetry?

* Compare and contrast the siblings.

Our first read of 2011!
emma_in_dream: (Default)
29 January - Poetry of the Brontes.

Choose as much or as little of their work as you like.
emma_in_dream: (Default)
Bronte wrote a preface arguing that the book stood up on its own terms even though it was her journeyman work and had been rejected by publishers many times. I disagree.

You can see elements of Bronte’s greatness in the work. I found the descriptions of Frances’ education insightful.

But it seemed so rough to me. The character of Crimsworth was intentionally graceless in a way that was reminiscent of Rochester, but without any of the tortured coolness of Rochester. Crimsworth and Frances have the same master/servant relationship that we see in Jane Eyre - Frances cries ‘Mon maitre! Mon maitre!’ when he seeks out her lodgings.

Also, the plot is, frankly, a good deal less interesting than Bronte’s other works. I like Bronte best when she writes OTT romances. I like her least when she calls on her own experiences of quotidienne life and the tradition of realism.*

* I must confess that I had confused *The Professor* with *Villette* when I chose it. Both use Bronte’s Belgian experience, but *Villette* transforms it into something interesting.

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