The Yorkshire Brontë Garden won the gold medal at the 2012 Chelsea Garden Show. The Brontë sisters were known to walk in an area that closely resembles this facsimile, and are the inspiration for the 2012 entry.
Designed by Tracy Foster
The design is based on the neighbouring moors of the Pennines, a landscape that would have been recognizable to the sisters. The garden with its literary theme marks the 165th anniversary since the first publication of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey. The artisan garden also was given The People's Choice award.
When Charlotte was 25
years old, she and Emily Brontë were students at the Pensionnat Heger in
Brussels, they received instruction in French Literature from Monsieur Heger.
He taught them first to read and analyze the phrasing and structure of French
passages and then to choose their own subject matter and write out their stories
in a style that borrowed heavily from the original text.
Approximately thirty of these homework essays
(or devoirs) have survived.
one of Charlotte’s stories, dated March 16, 1842 and entitled L’Ingratitude,
has been found in the Musée Royal de Mariemont in Belgium. M. Heger’s son had
given the story to a Belgian collector in 1913.
Brian Bracken, an archivist,
found the little manuscript and discovered that “it was finished a month after
Charlotte arrived in Brussels and is the first known devoir of 30 the sisters would write for Heger.” Bracken believes
that Charlotte may have been using one of the works of the French fabulist La
Fontaine as her source for the story of an ungrateful and foolish young rat that
leaves the care and protection of his home for a more exciting life. The story is reproduced in French and English here:
Augustin Trapenard kindly agreed to respond to my previous post
entitled "Emily Brontë's
Diary Papers: Genius or Just Genial?"
Thank you so much for mentioning my
paper "Auctorial (im)postures in Emily Brontë's Diary Papers". I
found your review pretty interesting / challenging and it's always nice to
confront your point of view with another Brontë lover !
If I may, however,
I would like to try and make myself clearer.
1. At the end of the first paragraph,
I clearly specify that the autobiographical fragments are particularly
interesting as they bear the only
comments that Emily ever made on her own writing. This is why they deserve, in
my opinion, a close analysis. In other words, the point here is not the quality
or complexity of Emily's writing but the fact she pictures herself at work - in
her words and drawings.
2. When I
write that "the two sisters’ auctorial postures were at first
deliberately staged as a discursive imposture", I simply comment on their
original shared / joint authorship. The speech situation was indeed rather
unique as they posed as one unique speaker. Who actually
wrote what, we don't know and we're not supposed to.
the "illegible blotch", I'm not denying the alleged untidiness of
Emily : I'm just proving that these texts were NOT meant to be read by anyone
else than her and her sister.
3. Thus, when you write : "What if she really
were just an intelligent, wonderful, loving sister who had no literary
inclinations at all", you're not far, actually, from agreeing with me !
I'm precisely saying that these papers were mostly a game, and in no
way an authorial stance or a literary act.
I do think,
however, that they can be interpreted as a sign of Emily's
joyful refusal of any literary ambition. As I argue in my conclusion,
these defying and playful papers may be considered as a first step in the
constitution of her literary identity. Think of the Bell "nom de
plume": it is not far from Emily and Anne's shared little secret in the
4. As for Emily's role-playing and
"dramatized, protean self-image", you must admit that I refer to the
1845 paper, where Emily stages Anne and herself as actors in a civil war and as
multiple fictionalized characters. In my opinion, this taste for
story-telling and fiction-making may explain the imaginative leap that made her
write "Wuthering Heights".
(Augustin has taught English and American Literature, with a special interest in Emily Brontë and in the notion of authorship in Victorian writings. As a literary critic, he has written for various magazines, radio, and television. He lives and works in Paris.)
In most biographies of writers, you find the author reporting on
the subject’s dozens, if not hundreds of letters left behind, as well as early drafts of
their work, or discarded manuscripts that never got published. These works might have been kept by
relatives or in museums, or stashed away in desk drawers. Charlotte's output of
letters consists of 3 volumes. Writers must write. It's in
their DNA. Emily and Anne wrote a couple of letters and a few pages of diary/birthday papers. Emily and Anne weren't writers, but Charlotte made them into authors
when she announced to the world that Currer Bell, Ellis Bell, and Acton Bell
were three brothers. Later when the possibility of legal action necessitated
her having to admit they were actually three sisters, she kept their male pen-names on the novels, and died before revealing their real names to her reading public.
Why she did this is outlined and explained in detail inCharlotte Brontë’s Thunder.
A July 2009 article by literary critic Augustin Trapenard in the
Brontë Studies magazine, entitled “Auctorial
(Im)Postures in Emily Brontë’s Diary Papers” finds much to be admired in Emily’s
writing. (The diary papers are also discussed in my book, but this link is
Trapenard begins: “Of Emily Brontë’s experience as a
writer, the least we can say is that we do not know much.” He adds that reading
the diary papers, “is enough to shatter the icon of Emily as a Romantic genius
or Victorian martyr.” He says this because critics agree that the writing is
bad and, as Juliet Barker points out, “the dreadful handwriting and spelling
are scarcely credible as the work of a highly intelligent sixteen-year-old.” If we were shown these papers without knowing
who wrote them, we might bring a more objective eye to the childish musings, and
view the writing as mediocre, but if we’re told Emily is a genius, we search through her words for a multi-layered profundity that simply isn't there. I personally don’t
believe these diary papers contain sufficient complexity to warrant a close
analysis, but if a critic like Trapenard wants to try, we should respect his
efforts but be permitted to disagree.
Emily and Anne wrote basic facts about
their day and noted what had happened in the intervening years since their last
diary entry. Trapenard states that “the two sisters’ auctorial postures were at first deliberately
staged as a discursive imposture.” The sisters weren’t what they seemed. In one
of the lines from the diary paper of 1834, the meaning must remain ambiguous
because the last word is missing: “The last word of the phrase is an illegible
blotch.” That's because Emily always got ink all over her hands and left
blotches throughout her transcriptions of poems as well as on the diary papers.
She rarely held a pen, so ink stains were a bi-product of her writing. Trapenard
then analyzes Emily’s description of her interaction with Tabby the family’s
servant. First, Emily’s remarks about Tabby telling her to peel potatoes: “Taby said on my
putting a pen in her face Ya pitter pottering there instead of pilling a potate
I answered O Dear, O Dear, O Dear I will derictly With that I get up, take a
Knife and begin pilling.”
Trapenard notes that “the
use of obsessive repetitions, the multiplicity of plosives and aggressive
alliteration betray the speaker's refusal to work and her strong intention to
challenge authority. But the hero’s weapon here is certainly not the kitchen
knife (which she eventually takes to do her job) but the pen that she pokes at
Tabby’s face. Could we dream of a better metaphor for Emily’s domestic
He adds, “When writing is at stake, Emily appears as a powerful
ﬁgure—and everywhere in the Diary Papers, her pen acts as a tool to renegotiate
her position in the parsonage. Now if several critics have been alarmed by the
writer’s untidiness, ill-spelling and childish syntax, I would argue that for a
sixteen-year-old who has not ‘done [her] lessons and [. . .] want[s] to go out
to play’, these mistakes may just be a creative, underground resistance to the
rigid syntax of the domestic sphere.”
He concludes, “The auctorial posture that Emily Brontë adopts is
that of a role player, a chameleon actor, a Greek hypocrite whose multiple
faces are veiled, in other words an impostor. For what is suggested here but a
dramatized, protean self-image — an ethôs made of a plurality of ﬁctionalized
selves? Instead of legitimizing herself as a writer, Emily Brontë was
paradoxically staging her writing as something totally private, thereby
preventing anyone from authorizing her.”
The image of Emily as a wild child running loose
on the moors, storing visions and hearing truths with a mystic’s ear, is an
image that people love. The emotional tie to the romantic version of the genius
on the moors is understandable, which is why Emily is so much admired, but what
if she really were just an intelligent, wonderful, loving sister who had no
literary inclinations at all? If we're honest, is there really that much depth in those childish musings? Most critics see them
for what they are and scratch their heads in wonder, and ask how did Emily, within
a few short months of the final diary papers, transform herself into the genius
who wrote Wuthering Heights. O Dear, O
Dear, O Dear that kind of versatility requires a substantial leap from peeling
potatoes to “a dramatized, protean self-image.”
In December last year, this mini manuscript sold for $1.1 million to the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris, and now a letter Charlotte Brontë wrote to Miss Holmes, a woman who lived with the family of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, will be going up for auction this June.
Charlotte tells Miss Holmes that she can relate to the toil of governesses. She, too, had been engaged as one for several months, and later had introduced her readers to Jane Eyre, a character well familiar with the occupation while living at Rochester's manor. Charlotte understood how hard those women worked, and could well remember the weeks of loneliness spent in a stranger's house.
"That life has on me the hold of actual experience; to all who live it--I cannot but incline with a certain sympathy; and any kind feeling they express for me--comes pleasantly and meets with grateful acceptance."
Jane Eyre's experience as a governess was marred by the existence of the mad woman in the attic; consequently, she had to always look over her shoulder, for fear of physical harm or worse. The wild woman, locked in a room, is an apt metaphor for a woman's passion needing to be leashed, while her powerful sensuality waits for the right moment to escape the bonds of Victorian propriety. Charlotte's experiences as a governess usually forced her to subdue a different kind of passion: her frustration and anger over the lack of control of her wards, which drove her to conclude that she lacked the temperament for the job. She was able to transmit her experiences into Jane, a conscientious, moral, and intelligent character similar to the author herself, who also kept a watchful eye on those unruly thoughts and desires.
Charlotte's letters provide further insight into her feelings about how difficult it could be for her when dealing with people. One letter in particular praises her good friend Ellen for her ability to interact easily with strangers and friends alike:
"I know my own sentiments because I can read my own
mind, but the mind of the rest of man and woman-kind, are to me sealed volumes,
hieroglyphical scrolls which I cannot easily either unseal or decipher; yet
time, careful study, long acquaintance overcome most difficulties,and in your case, I think they have succeeded
well in bringing to light and Construing that hidden language whose turnings,
windings, inconsistencies, and obscurities, so frequently baffle the researches
of the honest observer of human Nature."
The 3-page letter to be auctioned next month is expected to fetch $30,000, or around $10,000 per page. This might be considered low since another letter of Charlotte's sold in June 2010 for $55,000.
Margaret Smith has painstakingly accumulated about 950 letters, ranging from 1829 to February 1855, in a wonderful three-volume set entitled The Letters of Charlotte Brontë. The book is priced considerably less than those auction amounts, but the letters are obviously not the hand-written versions. Nonetheless, Charlotte's correspondences to her friends and editors provide a glimpse into this very private woman's thoughts and views.
What would Charlotte think if she knew her little 'scribblings' were selling for astronomical amounts of money? She would certainly be shocked, but her real concern might be that her private letters were being read by thousands of strangers.
When Charlotte Brontë wrote 'The Young Men's Magazine' in 1830, she was l4 years old. She wrote in tiny script to mimic an actual magazine's typeset, and may have used a magnifying glass to help her see her printed words. In December, 2011, this tiny 19-page manuscript sold at auction for $1.l Million.
One of Charlotte's tiny books
Charlotte and her younger brother Branwell made a number of tiny books with stories and articles based on Blackwood's Magazine, a popular magazine that their father Reverend Brontë subscribed to. The two young writers even included a table of contents and advertisements. A story in this 'Number 2' edition (there is a series of six), follows the adventures of a man who witnesses a murder, and contains a hint of what's to come in Jane Eyre when Bertha sets fire to Rochester's bed: the male character 'constantly raged about the spirits of Caroline Krista and Charles Wellesley dancing before him. He said that every now and then they glided through his eyes to his brain where an immense fire was continually burning and that he felt them adding fuel to the flames that caused it to catch the curtains of the bed that would soon be reduced to ashes.'
The director of the Brontë Parsonage Museum said, "The fact that it's unpublished and unknown makes it extraordinary." The discovery of this minute treasure was unexpected, which makes it all the more thrilling. Often, artefacts or letters surface 'out of the blue' to provide more insight into the mind of an artist or musician we thought we already knew, and our lives become richer for it. Here is a tiny precursor to a master work of literature that Charlotte would write 17 years later. The seeds of Jane Eyre had been hidden from view all these years, but now we see how her creativity mined the gems from her past and incorporated them into her adult fiction. What a wonderful new way to experience Charlotte Brontë.
This surprising discovery should encourage a willingness to explore the possibility that more secrets about this remarkable woman have emerged recently as well. Timing is everything. Perhaps the fact that I was able to uncover hidden revelations about this famous family is not unusual at all. As we see from this latest find, buried treasures occasionally do surface. Maybe Charlotte's spirit is amazed at the interest we take in her, and desires her admiring public know all.
I was old enough to go to school, my mother would tuck me into my bed at night,
sit down beside me, and open a book. I would follow along with her, looking at
the brightly coloured drawings, and listen to every word. The hieroglyphics
under the pictures were impossible for me to decode, but my mother's voice and
the action on the page assured me that great adventures were occurring right at
The question that circulated through my brain was, 'what
happens next?' The suspense was thrilling. If I chose a book I knew by heart,
the suspense factor intensified because, even though I knew what to expect, I
anticipated the glorious sense of reassurance that all would be well. Some
nights, my father would tell me a story. He never needed a book for assistance.
He was an extempore storyteller, making it up on the fly, winging it, and
elaborating with his collection of strange voices. He usually added humour,
which made me think of comic books. My dad was usually busy, writing stories for
a newspaper, so those moments with him before I went to sleep were
When I was finally big enough to go to school, I was able
to read. Learning became fun for me because I didn't need to struggle with the
words on the page. My curiosity about any subject could be satisfied with a few
hours sitting with a good book. Knowledge of every kind, at my level of
understanding, was now available. My vocabulary grew and my spelling improved.
Small steps at first, but reading became a worthwhile endeavour when I needed to
improve my grades.
The best reason for reading became obvious to me when I
began reading for pleasure: I discovered my imagination had no bounds. The first
grand books I read were The Three Musketeers and The Wonderful Wizard
of Oz. Both books involved the adventures of four characters who form a
special bond of friendship. Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d'Artagnan fenced their
way through the streets of Paris, shouting "all for one and one for all." They
were great friends who made me want to learn how to sword fight.
The adventures of Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man
sent me off into a magical world of Good Witches, Wicked Witches, Winged
Monkeys, and Munchkins. Several episodes caused me to chew my gum faster than
normal. When I closed the book, I didn't want my own lion or tin man or silver
slippers; I wanted more stories. Those books rocked my imagination, hooked me
for life on the joy of reading, and motivated me to get a library
card. Huckleberry Finn settled nicely into my book bag, and
then Little Women arrived, followed by Heidi, and A Christmas
Years later, Victorian novels entered my consciousness,
and I couldn't get enough of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë.
"I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!
How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book!"--Pride and
" . . . for my own part, if a book is well written, I
always find it too short." --Jane Austen
"Reader, I married him." --Jane Eyre
We create a special bond that grows with each loved book
we share with friends. Books take us on amazing journeys into knowledge,
philosophy, mystery, and love as they quench the thirst of our curiosity. I bet
you remember that first book from your childhood that carried you away to a rich
land of wonders.