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Discussion Topic January, 2015

The Poetry of the Bronte Sisters

Our January 2015 meeting centered on the poetry of the Brontës which the sisters published before the coming of their famous novels.  Some of these poems were generated from the childhood fantasy stories Gondal and Angria the children told each other  These stories and poems were written in miniscule script in tiny, hand-made books the children crafted themselves.  Later poems emerged as the sisters, especially Charlotte and Anne, took up posts as governesses in districts far from home.  Fantasy was the initial driving force for each sister early on and continued to be so for Emily throughout her writing life.

We discussed the power of a fantasy world, self-generated and enclosed, on creativity as pointed out in Margaret Lane’s, The Brontë Story first published in 1953.

At a time in the history of the Brontë family, two older sisters had just died as had previously their mother. The surviving siblings had to endure a life of isolation that began to feed what Lane calls, “the violent, long-drawn uninhibited day-dream life”, which “produced an extensive and precocious literature – -which for them became a various times, a substitute for life.”  It’s power seems to be especially powerful on Emily, whose Gondal narratives continued well into her adulthood.  Charlotte eventually broke out of this fantasy world, as did Anne when separated from Emily’s influence.  According to Lane, Emily completely rejected actual life and lived in a self-created world of imagination. Branwell, partnered with Charlotte in the Angria chronicles, too, seems to have been unable to break out of this imaginative world.  In his case the effect was a loss in literary potential whereas in Emily, the effect was totally opposite.

Charlotte’s poems written in childhood and early adulthood, of course, lack maturity and focus mainly on romantic themes and characters typical of the early 19th. century style.  Anne’s poetry often reflects her anxieties and feelings about actual incidents in her life such as homesickness, loneliness and depression.  These early poetical experiments depicting characters, emotions and passions would eventually lead to bigger and better creations in the novels they would eventually write.

Emily’s Gondal poetry is mainly about melodramatic subjects and is written in simplistic meter and rhyme.  Themes of imprisonment and death give readers a rather claustrophobic feeling, but then so does parts of Wuthering Heights. Emily’s poetic world seems to have greatly affected her famous novel.

We ended our discussion with the questions,  “Are the poems of the Brontës really significant? Can they stand alone as effective poetry?”    

What do you think?  Let us hear from you:

Sources:   The Bronte Story: A Reconsideration of Mrs. Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte by Margaret Lane, First Edition, ed. 1953.

(Emily and Charlotte’s poetry) Poetry Siobham Croft Brounson, Winthrop University

(Anne’s poetry )     Anne Bronte — The Scarborough Connection

Jim Rowland                                                                                                                                   Knoxville, Tennessee USA

Discussion Topic Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2014

What is the Enduring Appeal of the Lives and Works of the Brontës?

We meet every fourth Tuesday of each month to discuss some aspect of the Brontë’s lives and works. October’s topic explored the question: Why do the works of the Brontës continue to appeal?  Why do the Brontës continue to fascinate, intrigue and mystify?

Several ideas came from the discussion. First mentioned was the use of contemporary themes found in the novels. For example, The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall  describes a situation all too common today. A young woman marries a man who she hopes will be a loving husband and father only to discover his true nature to be one of substance abuse and cruelty. When her personal safety is at risk, she and her child flee. She has little support and she must survive and protect her child never knowing when her husband may appear. The novel is an uncanny depiction of situations that are timeless and in this case, unfortunate.

A second point found in Margot Peters Unquiet Soul centers on the personal lives of the Brontës. This hugely talented family experienced great suffering during their all too brief lives.  Though out they drew on the strength of each other and that of their close friends. Their lives and works reveal a strength and endurance that continues to appeal to modern readers.

Also mentioned was the Brontë’s struggle for identity and validation as women of great talent.  They first wrote with male pen names so that their voices would receive recognition in a male dominated world. Charlotte and Anne had to appear at their London publishers to prove that they were women. Today the struggle for true identity resonates throughout our society.

My own personal favorite “appeal” is the fascination with the family and their close association to the place they lived. The village of Haworth surrounded by the bleak and romantic moors dominated by the crowded church yard have would surely have influenced both the lives and works of the Brontë family. This wild and romantic setting influenced the sisters’ creative abilities giving their works a unique focus. Visitors to Haworth today usually come away with an overwhelming sense of another world hovering just over the hill. 

These are some of the aspects of the enduring appeal of the Brontes. What appeals to you? Submit your comments to:

Jim Rowland                                                                                                                                   Knoxville, Tennessee USA

New England Chapter Meeting November 1, 2014

On November 1, 2014, the New England Chapter of The Brontë Society visited Concord , Massachusetts, for our fall meeting. We shopped at the wonderful Barrow Bookstore, where many of us found literary treasures to bring home. Alison Case gave a reading from her new book Nelly Dean, published by Harper Collins UK. She also discussed the research that went into writing her book. We had lunch at Concord’s Colonial Inn, and Nancy Joroff invited us all back to her lovely home for tea and desserts.

Julie Menders                                                                                                                   Norwich, Connecticut

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