What’s In A Name? The Bronte Pen Names …

(Almost) everyone has heard of the Bronte Sisters, but it’s only when we dig a little deeper into their story that we find that they each used a nom de plume and I will be exploring this a little more in this post.

The Bronte Sisters are now household names, but, before they found fame with their writing, they enjoyed the anonymity of being unknown. Charlotte Bronte famously wrote to her publisher “What author would be without the advantage of being able to walk invisible?” 

When in 1846, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte took the step of publishing a book of poetry together, they did so, using pen-names. They used the names Currer, Ellis & Acton Bell respectively, each keeping their initial from their first names and using the surname Bell. It is believed that they took the name Bell from Mr Bell-Nicholls a curate that had come to Haworth some months earlier to work for their father and later married Charlotte.  

Later when Emily published Wuthering Heights, Anne published The Tennant of Wildfell Hall and Charlotte publish Jane Eyre they continued to use their pen names.

The pseudonyms served them well as the storm of Victorian outrage shook the country over the ‘Bell Brothers’ novels. Meanwhile the Bronte Sisters were safe at home in Yorkshire, with their peace and privacy intact. It must have been wonderful to the retiring sisters, who very much enjoyed their peaceful existence on the edge of the moors.   It must have also been really quite entertaining for them to listen to the gossip and read of the chaos that their hidden identities had caused in the far-away social and literary worlds and to know the secret. 

So why did they reveal who they really were? Back in 1847, when Charlotte, Emily and Anne were trying to get their novels published, Thomas Newby agreed to publish Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey – they experienced some modest success. However, when George Smith published Charlotte’s Jane Eyre it was an instant hit and the press quickly made the connection between the Bell brothers. Thomas Newby saw his chance to make more money from Anne’s & Emily’s books and started the rumour; that the notorious Bell brothers were not three authors, but one person. The press ran with the story and very soon Charlotte’s publisher, George Smith became concerned and wrote to Charlotte (Mr Currer Bell) asking her to confirm that she was not also Mr Acton Bell and Mr Ellis Bell.

Charlotte and Anne set off for London, to put the matter straight (Emily refused to go, she hated leaving home and it did not need all three of them). 

When they arrived at George Smith’s office, they gave him the shock of his life and a story to dine out on for eternity. He arrived to be told that Messers Bell were waiting in his office and when he entered, he found two small, simple, provincial women there. Charlotte showed him the letter he’d sent to Mr Currer Bell and he asked where she got it – “you sent it to me” she said and the deception was over.  

I am in agreement with the Bronte sisters to walk invisible is a wonderful thing, we should enjoy our anonymity and their wonderful works!

I hope you enjoy this little dip into the Bronte’s world.

Thanks & have a really lovely day!

Sarah.

P.S. If you want a little bit more on the life of the Brontes then check out my post: A Potted History of The Brontes.

If you love the Bronte Sisters, check out our selection of Bronte inspired jewellery & clothes…..

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I re-read Wuthering Heights – after 25 years and here’s what I found…

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I am a Bronte fan and have read and loved almost all their work, revisiting much of it in book or film almost every year, with one exception – Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.

It has always been my least favourite book by the Brontes. I first read it when I was about 15 and I really didn’t enjoy it. I found Cathy & Heathcliff and indeed almost every character in the book spoilt, petulent and vapid, the atmosphere was bleak and depressing – the whole thing felt pretty whingey!

Having been a Bronte fan for a long time, I have discussed and debated many aspects of the Brontes & their work and I found that I’m not alone in my view of Wuthering Heights. However, I try to keep an open mind about most things and having discovered a love for olives, coffee, knitting and cherry brandy (all of which I hated in my teens) I decided I should give it another go. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while – about 20 years! Anyway, last week, I finally got around to re-visiting Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte and here’s how that little adventure turned out…

It was with some trepidation that I sat down and started with Wuthering Heights again. I told myself that I’d give it a few chapters and if it’s still not my thing, at least I tried. That first sitting lasted over two and a half hours! I only stepped away when backache and hunger could no long be ignored. I now have bags under my eyes from late night / early morning reading sessions! I couldn’t put it down and having reached the end I have taken a little break to read Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte and then I shall return and read it again. I am amazed and delighted at the change in my perception of this fabulous book.

Reader I loved it…..

My long awaited second reading of Wuthering Heights revealed how much I had missed as a teenager! Having now realised that the main protagonists of the story were barely adults themselves, I suspect that my original irritation with Catherine Ernshaw and Heathcliff stemed from the unflattering reflection it gave of my own teenage behavior and attitudes.

Also, I have yet to meet a teenager who would not stare blankly at the utterence of the phrase ‘ look at that view’, so it is clear that the remarkable depiction of the landscapes and environments that Emily acheived were lost on me, during my original reading. The ‘great love story’ between Cathy & Heathcliff was lost on me as I was a pretty cynical teenager – ah time is great teacher!

My more recent reading of Wuthering Heights has revealed a story populated by fantastiacally rich and nuanced characters. I discovered the landscape, so beloved by Emily, captured in intricate detail.

Most striking was her inherant understanding of the nature of love and how facetted and, at times obscure, it is. Yet, how it sits within the foundation of self and is unmoveable. I love how beautifully she illustrates that we often cannot be saved, especially from ouselves and that we must try to make peace with that.

I can’t wait to get back to Wuthering Heights again, I am sure I’ll find yet more wonderful detail and I long to escape back into that captivating world, so carefully created by Emily – it really has been a ‘gone to the heather’ moment.

My feeling is that; Wuthering Heights is one of The Bronte’s best works but, if like me, you struggled with it – then go and give it another chance. I hope it ensares you too!

If you need a new copy of Wuthering Heights then take a look at this edition, that is being released this month – it is a thing of beauty!

Finally, have a great week!

Thanks & Enjoy

Sarah

P.S. If you’d like to read a little more about Charlotte, Emily & Anne Bronte check out this new blog piece I’ve written about the Bronte Sisters Lives.

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