Charlotte Bronte’s Little Books ….

Another of Charlotte’s miniature books has been returned to it’s home at the Bronte Parsonage and to celebrate, this wonderful event, I decided to focus on ‘Charlotte’s tiny books’.

The work of the Bronte sisters has had a massive impact on the world and is beloved by many. Looking back at them today, we understand what a winding path they all took towards being the famous authors that they were to become. They all travelled and taught, even tried to start a school and when finally Charlotte plucked up the courage to publish some of their work, Emily refused. Indeed the book of poetry, once published, was not an instant success – with only a few copies being sold. It’s clear, that very often and for a long time it was not at all obvious, that the huge and enduring literary success they acheived was to be their destination! However, a look at their early works shows us that they had a passion for literature well beyond the norm!

It was thanks to their ‘papa’ – Patrick Bronte that all the Bronte children were taught to read and write. He encouraged them to read many things (including some that would have been considered inappropriate for young girls, at the time). He felt it was vital for them to be well read and well informed young people, especially the girls who would need to go out into the world and make their own way and earn their own livings.

It’s but a small step from reading to writing and before long Branwell, Charlotte, Emily and Anne had all taken it. As children and young people they wrote stories, plays, poems and more, some of which survives today. The most beguiling of the ‘Bronte Juvenilia ‘ as their childhood efforts are collectively known, are the ‘tiny books’ or ‘miniature manuscripts’. The earliest is a joint effort by Branwell and Charlotte and dates to 1829 and is their version of the popular periodical Blackwoods Magazine. We don’t know how many they produced.There are several by Charlotte that are held by the British Library and the Bronte Parsonage and to my reckoning the are now 11 that we know of. Earlier this year one popped up at auction in New York and thanks to the help of the Friends of the National Libraries (FNL), a UK charity devoted to saving the nation’s written and printed heritage, it was aquired by the Bronte Parsonage and I cann’t wait to go and visit it!

Some of Charlotte Bronte’s tiny books.

These incredible tiny books are handmade, written and illustrated, mostly by Charlotte. They measure around 4 inches / 10 cm tall and the writing is so tiny, that most adults struggle to read it! They’re clearly a labour of love and contain articles, adverts, poems and stories that the Bronte children created, around a set of toy soldiers that Patrick had given Branwell for his birthday when he was 9 years old. Over the next few years the Bronte children created characters and a whole intricate world for the toy soldiers and these feature in the tiny books. It’s believed that some of the tiny books were gifts between the siblings and also for the soldiers and they are indeed the gift that keeps giving!

Thank you for reading & have a great week!

Sarah X

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The Bronte Sisters Mourning Jewellery

A lovely client has just ordered a pair of beautiful hand carved Victorian Whitby jet bead earrings from me. Whilst she was placing the order we got chatting about mourning jewellery and she very kindly recommended a couple of books and a film that had inspired her love of mourning jewellery. Whilst I’m not a collector, I’ve always been facinated by mourning jewellery and quite recently two pieces of mourning jewellery belonging to the Bronte sisters have turned up. So, off I went down an inspirational rabbit hole – lets take a closer look at mourning jewellery and specifically that owned by the Bronte Sisters.

We tend to view mourning jewellery as a very Victorian concept, as it reached it’s peack of popularity and fashion following the death of Prince Albert. On the death of her husband, Queen Victoria threw herself bodily into the act of mourning and created a an instant and veritable fever around mourning jewellery and specifically Whitby Jet mourning jewellery. It became so popular that demand for Whitby Jet mourning jewellery outstripped supply. The clever French glass artisans saw a gap in the market and came up with a cheaper alternative that could be mass-produced. Known as French Jet or Parisian Jet it is in fact Black glass. If you’re intrested in Whitby Jet and it’s substitutes, please check out my blog piece on it or indeed the lovely earrings I make from reclaimed antique and vintage Jet beads.

Despite the Victorians popularising mourning jewellery and taking it to the mass market, it had already been around since, at least the middle ages. It had also been very popular amoungst those who could afford it during the Regency era. On her death in 1817, Jane Austen’s Sister Cassandra had a mourning brooch made from locks of Jane’s hair.

Prior to the Regency period, hair jewellery was not popular, as there was concern that the hair in the jewellery would not be the loved one’s but that belonging to a stranger, as it might have been swapped. A concern that had mostly dissapeared by the time of the Regency and Victorian eras. Hair workers were highly skilled and sought after. Their work was often very intricate and delicate.

Whilst mourning jewellery and specifically hair jewellery feels very gothic and slightly macarbre, in our modern world, it was clearly a very loving and personal way of creating a memorial to a lost loved one. Without photgraphs and with the cost and inaccuracies of hand-painted portraits, it is easy to see how a piece of hair jewellery would provide a lasting and very personal way of keeping loved ones close, even after death. You could wear hair jewellery in plain sight of conceal it under layers of clothing, carrying an actual piece of your loved one with you, wherever you went. Mortality rates were very high during these periods and most people lost children, spouses, friends and loved ones and with death being such a constant presence, it’s not suprising that people took comfort by memorialising their dear departeds in such a manner.

The Bronte Sisters were no strangers to death. Their home in Haworth overlooked the graveyard and their father conducted funeral after funeral as typhus, cholera and consumption raged through the town. They lost their mother whilst still children and then also their two eldest sisters died in childhood. Their brother; Branwell died as a young adult, shortly to be followed by Emily and then Anne, and Charlotte died just months after her marriage. Consequently, it’s no suprise that there are several pieces of mourning jewellery belonging to and memorialising the Bronte sisters.

Most recently, a small ring was discovered in an attic, it was engraved with Charlotte Bronte’s details and is believed to have been given to her lifelong friend; Ellen Nussey on Charlotte’s death. The ring features a small hinged panel which opens to reaveal a plaited lock of Charlotte’s hair.

Engrave mourning ring containing Charlotte Bronte’s hair.

There is also this very famous and beautful Amethyst bracelet made from plaited strands of Emily and Anne’s hair.

Charlotte Bronte’s bracelet – she had it made from the plaited locks of her sisters Emily & Anne’s hair after their deaths.

The Bronte Parsonage hold a collection of jewellery and it contatins two rings that hold Emily’s hair and Emily and Anne’s plaited hair. The mourning rings are top right and bottom left in the picture and the one on the top right has a panel that opens to reveal the hair.

There is also a necklace made from Emily’s hair and two bracelets simply fashioned from hair, one belonging to Anne and one belonging to Charlotte.

A piece of mourning jewellery belonging to Charlotte Bronte. A necklace made from Emily’s hair.

The Bronte Parsonage & Bronte Society also have a Jet bangle that belonged to Anne and indeed it was noted as a piece of evidence that the Landseer Portrait was of the three Bronte sisters. In it ‘Anne’ is wearing a Jet bangle with a bow fastening very similar to that which she owned.

The portrait by Landeseer that is believed to be the Bronte Sisters.

To close I must say that I totally understand the comfort that mourning jewellery gave it’s wearers and it may even prove useful in detecting ‘lost’ portraits. However, the rumor that Charlotte mended her mourning shoes with Anne & Emily’s hair is nonsense. It as a mistake in the reading of an exhibit label that was then tweeted around the world!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little look at the Bronte Sisters mourning jewellery.

Thanks for reading & have a lovely day!

Sarah x

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Relax like a Bronte…

We tend to view stress as a modern phenomena, however, historical documents, biographies and interviews from almost any point in history show us that it has been around for as long as we have!

Common sense tells us that; having lived such hard lives and coped with such trauma and loss, it is inevitable that the Brontes, individually and as family suffered from stress, and anxiety and this is indeed backed up by their writing. The diary papers and letters they left behind also show us how they invested time and effort in attending to their mood and wellbeing. So, having immersed myself in Bronte life, here’s my top 5 Bronte inspired relaxation and wellbeing tips.

  1. Write it Down. Carlotte, Emily & Anne all wrote huge amounts, not just the novels and poetry they were famous for, but, also masses of letters and ‘diary papers’. They used these to reach out and communicate with each other and the outside world about their hopes, fears & worries, important in guarding against isolation and loneliness. They also used their writing to express gratitude, again a really vital part of looking after your wellbeing. The Bronte Sisters also did something that we recognise as journaling and brain dumping today. They wrote their diary papers, allowing events, thoughts and feelings to escape from their heads and make a little room! So, if it was good enough for Emily, Anne & Charlotte it’s good enough for us. Reach out, write a letter, postcard or a note to someone, share how you feel with them. Use your letter or journal to express your gratitude, and clear your head with a brain dump.
  2. Get Moving. The Brontes were out and about almost every day, even when the weather was bad, they walked into Haworth to do their errands and up on to the moors for fresh air and relaxation, their work is festooned with references to how well they felt when they’d had a good dose of fresh air and excercise. Even in winter, when it was too cold and dark to venture outside, they would walk around their table. They felt it helped digestion of their meal, avoided stiffness and restlessness and helped them think. They were of course, right in their thinking, so follow their example.
  3. Read a Good Book. Thanks to their dad Patrick, all the Bronte children were taught to read and write at an early age and they all developed a real love of books, newspapers and reading. Their writing shows us that they read often and very much viewed it as an enjoyable and relaxing part of their routine. So why not adopt their habit and read a good book for a few minutes each day?
  4. Hang Out With The Animals. Emily, Anne & Charlotte all clearly recognised the importance of animals to thier wellbeing and they had pets throught their lives. Emily was so devoted to her dog Keeper that she insisted on feeding him herself just hours before her death, despite being virtually bedridden. Indeed research has shown that spending time in nature and with animals has a really positive effect on our health & wellbeing. So get a pet, walk the neighbours dog, go feed the ducks or just watch the birds through the window, but spend some time with other lifeforms!
  5. Create Something. The Brontes were ultimately creative and it sustained them, even after the loss of all her siblings Charlotte Bronte returned to her writing as a source of solance. As a family, they sketched, painted, embroidered, tatted, acted, cooked, wrote poetry, plays, novels and generally created. So, give it a try (whatever it may be that interests you). Create something – just for the sake of creating and expressing your own creativity.
  6. Nature Bathing. Emily, Anne & Charlotte all spent as much time as possible outside in nature. They viewed it as an essential restorative activity and we should too! Get out there, breath deeply and absorbe the natural environment!
A beautiful Autumnal woodland scene, drawn by Anne Bronte, at Thorpe Green near York.

I hope you enjoy these ideas for relaxing, inspired by the Bronte Sisters and their lives. Stress and strains are as old as we are and we must be mindful of getting some time to relax, even a few minutes to restore ourselves.

Enjoy

Sarah x

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Emily On The Moor….

Gone to the heather – As we gear back up to our ‘new normal’ things are really busy right now, so as the jobs stack up and the ‘to-do list’ lengthens I’m trying to remember to incorporate Emily Bronte’s fantastic habit into my own daily routine and you should too!

When all the duties and chores got a bit much, she’d take herself off to the place she loved best – the moors to re-charge herself and seek inspiration. She’d ‘gone to the heather’. Here’s Charlotte’s quote about Emily’s habit, it explains, beautifully, just why it was so important to Emily and shows us how important it is to us today.

So get out there and go to the heather – wherever yours is….

“My sister Emily loved the moors. Flowers brighter than the rose bloomed in the blackest of the heath for her; out of a sullen hollow in a livid hillside her mind could make an Eden. She found in the bleak solitude many and dear delights; and not the least and best-loved was – liberty.”

― Charlotte Brontë
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Thanks for reading & have a great day

Sarah x

Anne Bronte – What A Woman!

It’s Anne’s 200th birthday this year and to celebrate her and her life I wanted to look a little closer at her and how we view her.

The portrayal and our understanding of the Bronte Sisters has had many incarnations and has changed dramatically over the years. It’s always interesting to look at this, as it reveals other facets of their complex personalities, offering us another tantalising glimpse of who they really were.

The sisters have been variously portrayed as the scourge of decent society, the lonely gentle geniuses, victims of a hard, cruel and isolated environment. There are so many words that have been used to describe them and it’s all too easy to accept a one-dimensional view of them. They are long gone and as we view them through the lens of our current 21st century view-point we can easily mistake our contemporary impressions and influences that colour our view of them, for the actuality of their existence and who they were. This is especially true of Anne, we know relatively little of her and she’s often been portrayed as the quiet, weak sister.

She was born in Thornton West Yorkshire on 17th January 1820, the youngest of the Bronte children. Within a year the family had de-camped from Thornton to Haworth where Anne’s dad Patrick had been offered a parish to watch over and reasonable sized home for his growing family. Within a few months of arriving in Haworth, Maria Bronte; Anne’s mum had died, leaving Patrick to raise their six children alone.

Anne has often been described as gentle and sometimes referred to as weak, however, I really feel that she was so much more that this and her perceived weakness comes, in part, from her position as the youngest of the family. I also feel that looking at the events of her life and her writing she was really very strong and self-sufficient.

It’s documented that Anne was the only Bronte sibling that had no memory of their mother and so from the very start, that fact set her apart from the rest of her sisters and brother. When Patrick Bronte finally decided to send his daughters to school, it was decided the Anne was still too young to go, so she stayed at home, alone in a house full of adults.

Only to be re-joined by her two eldest sisters when they returned home from school to die of Consumption, which they did in rapid succession. One can only imagine how traumatic these events must have been for young Anne and how self-reliant she must have had to be, whilst all attention was focused on her two dying sisters. We know that Helen Burns in Charlotte’s Jane Eyre was based on their eldest sister Maria and it is to be wondered if the Helen’s death scene described in Charlotte’s Jane Eyre was a result of Anne’s description of their sister’s deaths. A few days later her next two sisters Charlotte and Emily returned home, as the school closed due to the outbrake of Consumption. Anne must have lived in fear that they too would die. They did not succumb to Consumption, during childhood, but these events must have given Anne nerves of steel and a very solid sense of self-reliance.

It is very clear from the writing of the Bronte Sisters that the idea of becoming a governess was a terrible nightmare to them, but it was Anne who went and found herself a position as a governess to the Ingams at Blake house. Her letters show that it was indeed a nightmare; she was homesick and felt out of place and it is understood that several episodes in Jane Eyre; where John Reed throws a book at Jane and when the Ingrams discuss how they mistreated their governesses came from Anne’s actual experiences as a governess that she related to Charlotte. Despite the horrors, and the loss of her post at Blake House, she endured and was determined to help support her family financially. She found another post at Thorpe Green Hall, staying for over 5 years – refusing to give up and return home.

She even managed to get a place for her brother Branwell, who had a very sketchy professional history. This was no mean feat for a lowly governess and she was clearly aware that bringing her brother into her place of work, was a risk, yet she bravely stepped up.

Anne’s worries regarding her brother’s behaviour were well founded, but she kept going, as a governess, through the subsequent scandal as Branwell & Mrs Robinson proceeded to have an affair. She was revolted by their behaviour and had to put up with the humiliation of household servants, locals and friends gossiping, and she did. She only left her position when the Mr Robinson dismissed her and Branwell, after he found out about the affair. Throughout, she had shown remarkable strength of purpose and resilience – it wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last.

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Anne wrote her novel Agnes Grey, a largely autobiorgaphical account of the life of a governesss. She also wrote poems on the subject of love and loss which are ascribed to her (as believed unrequited) feeling for Willie Weightman, her father’s curate. Willie died of Cholera and her writing shows that Anne felt his loss deeply, but again her strength of character is evident as she kept to her purpose and plans regardless of suffering and how hard she found it.

In the following years Branwell met with further disappointments in his professional and love lives and he fell into alcoholism and Laudanum addiction. As his physical and mental health declined, Anne stoically nursed him, watching him waste away as he purged and ranted – not a task for the faint hearted.

After the loss of Branwell, Anne wrote her novel: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, It’s the story of Helen Graham, abused by her alcoholic husband, Arthur Huntingdon, she runs away. She meets Gilbert Markham and falls in love with him, but they are unable to marry. Anne’s depiction of Arthur’s decline was based on Branwell’s death. Anne’s story speaks clearly of the unfairness faced by abused wives, it is an unflinching depiction of alcoholism, she refused to romanticise what happened to her brother. Helen Graham is a clear-thinking, strong woman and Anne creates a narrative about the choices that the men in her story faced and how they handled them, which even today feels relevant – none of her sister’s Byronic heroes for Anne, just real men with real demons and choices.

Despite bravely facing more loss and heart-ache when Emily died shortly after, Anne also had great joy in her love of the seaside. Right until the very end of her short life, Anne retained her strength of character. As her health declined, Anne decided that she wanted to spend some of her little time left at the Yorkshire Coast. Charlotte and her farther both felt that Anne was too weak to travel and along with Ellen Nussey tried to pursued her that her plan was a bad one, but they failed. Anne, strong and independent as ever, carried her point and with Charlotte to help her, she travelled to her beloved Scarborough, where she died a few days later. Again showing her brave spirit, she remained unafraid of death to the end.

I feel that when we look at Anne, we have to accept that she was a multi-facetted, complex individual and far more so that then labels that have been applied to her would leads us to believe. She was gentle and quiet, but she was also clear-sighted, brave, persuasive, smart, resilient and really, really, strong. 

It remains only to say that; Anne was an amazing woman and she left an incredidble legacy. The best way to honour her and her birthday is to read her wonderful writing, so let’s do just that!

Happy Birthday Anne!

Thanks & have a great day.

Sarah x